Craftsman Returns Children To Colonies Through Toys

Whimmy-doodles Are Leventry's Whittlings

December 24, 1990|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

By day, John Leventry serves as office manager for the superintendent of the U.S. Senate.

By night, he makes wooden whimmy-doodles, Morrice games and small "buzz saws" or tops -- all toys enjoyed by Colonial children.

Armed with plenty of pine boards and a few tools, Leventry, 54, settles into the workshop of his Churchton home to make the toys he supplies the London Town Publik House in Edgewater.

The museum of Colonial times provides the wood; he donates the skill.

Leventry, 54, has been making toys used in the children's educational programs at the museum house for nearly a decade.

This year, he turned out about 600 wood puzzles (with, he says proudly, 16 pieces each) for the children's Christmas programs, offered at the museum guest house early in December. In the programs, children learn crafts and skills they'd have needed 200 years ago.

Earlier this month, more than 500 children enjoyed traditional crafts by making wooden toys, spinning wool fleece and creating certificates of indenture such as many early Colonists signed to pay for their passage from England to America.

Leventry often prepares items, such as wooden tops, for the children to finish in the summer and holiday programs.

"It makes them think a little, which sometimes kids today don't seem to do enough of," he says.

One year he created whimmy-doodles, a notched stick topped by a propeller. A second short stick crosses the notches, causing vibrations that make the propeller move.

Another year he focused on Morrice, one of the world's oldest board games. The game is played on a wood board with 24 points, or indentations.

Colonial children would likely have used two colors of beans for their playing pieces, explains Anne Peret, assistant administrator at the historic site.

Yet another Christmas, Leventry made buzz saws, a sort of top.

The ideas come from books about Colonial-era toys, some sold at the museum. The museum, which includes gardens and a guest house, was once the home of William Brown, a local planter and cabinetmaker who operated the ferry service between Virginia and Annapolis in the late 18th century.

Peret praises Leventry's work and the help given by about 100 other volunteers at the museum.

"We're really lucky to have the volunteer input," she says. Inexpensive wooden children's toys, some made by Leventry, are sold in the museum gift shop. Visitors can find a sampling of miniature dollhouse furniture, barrels, buckets and pegged racks, as well as simple games.

Leventry emphasizes that he isn't an inventor, "but normally I can look at something and I can duplicate it."

One year he made 5,000 checkers for the museum's summer children's programs.

"They're time-consuming but not complicated," he says. "You use a hole saw, put in a drill press and drill a circle."

He's also made nutmeg graters for the museum's kitchen display and programs that teach children about Colonial cooking.

The volunteer first became involved in the program through his wife, Charlotte, who serves on the museum's educational committee.

"Woodworking always interested me, and I enjoy doing it," he says. "I just wish I had more time for it."

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