Buzzing for Barbie by Alessia Belsito-Riera
There’s a buzz at the moment and it’s all about Barbie. Rolling into the capital is the gal of the moment, the toy, the collector’s item, the reflection of society, the embodiment of dreams.
During the entire month of August and through to the 10th of September, Wellington Museum has been transformed into a Barbie Dreamhouse for The Barbie Collector. The exhibition features close to 500 Barbie and Ken dolls belonging to Kiwi collector Patsy Carlyle.
If curator Megan Dunn were to describe The Barbie Collector in one word, it would be “delightful!” Alongside images of the dolls by award-winning photographer Yvonne Todd, The Barbie Collector features a Barbie craft station, life-size Barbie and Ken boxes for photo ops, and another surprising addition.
“My eight-year-old daughter came up with the idea to do a show about dolls, so it was important to include some of her toys in the display,” Dunn says.
Making her debut in 1959, Barbie has withstood the test of time. Dunn says she reflects the ways society changes “through her fashions, her figure, her accessories, and her multiple careers”.
A spotlight on Barbie and our ever-changing cultural ideals, The Barbie Collector is a snapshot of society, but it’s also a portrait of Carlyle. “People that you least expect collect,” Carlyle says. “They say people who collect things live longer.”
Carlyle began collecting Barbies in the 90s, saying, “it started as a bit of a joke to be honest, then it got a little out of hand”. Today she owns over 1600 boxed and more than 400 freestanding dolls. She says that “half the fun is in finding the dolls,” but she also loves the joy her collection brings to others.
Carlyle worked as a paramedic for Hato Hone St John Ambulance for over 40 years. She was the sixth woman to be offered a full-time job as a paramedic by St John after volunteering for seven years. “Collecting Barbies became her unlikely source of stress relief, joy, and fun,” Dunn says. “We want to share that joy and fun with our audiences.”