Kittens sipping milk, bears doing Jumping Jacks, a cow jumping over the moon. A menagerie of wooden animals, people, and other items have taken up residence at the Discovery Museum!
Toymaker Gene West and his wife, Patricia, recently donated dozens of his beautiful creations to the Discovery Museum so Central Coast residents can experience some good, old-fashioned play.
“People young and old like to play with wooden toys,” West said. “They’re intrigued by the mechanical mechanisms, but also the artistry in making them. We have a lot of fun watching the people playing with the toys and figuring out how to make them work.”
West graduated from Santa Maria High School in 1948 and went on to study mechanical engineering at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he worked on large liquid rocket engines for Aerojet General Corp. and on shipboard weapon systems for the Department of the Navy at Port Hueneme.
Not long before retiring in Oxnard, West discovered a book on wooden toys at the public library. He’s made more than 700 toys over the past 20 years, including merry-go-rounds, puppets, and push-pull toys. Other items are activated by strings, cranks, springs, and balls. For years West travelled to libraries, schools, museums, and the Ventura County Fair to demonstrate how his creations work.
“They’re really a novelty because most of the toys made today are made out of plastic and are battery operated. In this case, you have to interact with the toys and make them do something,” he said. “And sometimes it’s surprising. It’s something entirely different than what you expect.”
This year, after celebrating his 85th birthday, West decided to donate a portion of his toys to the Discovery Museum for children and adults to enjoy.
“Entire civilizations have been built without circuits and electricity, and yet today’s kids think that they can’t survive without television, computers and cell phones,” shared Discovery Museum Executive Director, Chris Slaughter.” These gifts are more than toys, they are handmade mechanical works of art that inspire kids to discover the basics of engineering with fun, hands-on play.”
Located at 705 S. McClelland St., the Discovery Museum is fun for all ages, with 13,000 square feet of “please touch” exhibits, weekly programs and special events that explore ourselves, our valley, our world and beyond.
Admission costs $4 for adults and $8 for children; members are free. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Discover the power of play at the only children’s museum in Santa Barbara County.