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Designer toys and art at Rivet Gallery

KidRobot, Tokidoki, Labbit, Dunny, Munny — these words might sound like an invented language from a child’s imagination. The words sound that way because they represent things children actually can play with.

People of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers to grandparents, are discovering the art of designer toys from these popular brands.

Designer toys are toys and collectibles made in limited editions from a variety of materials. The toys are made by artists with backgrounds in graphic design and illustration; some artists are even classically trained in art and design. The toys often resemble animals in caricature but can also include people, food and monsters.

Finding them is the real challenge because of their limited releases and handcrafted nature.

But getting a designer toy in Columbus just got a little easier thanks to Laura Kuenzli and her store, Rivet. Rivet is a retail space that offers a wide range of vinyl toys, select clothing and accessories, and a large assortment of art books and prints.

“In late 2006, I was organizing and curating a custom toy exhibit that allowed me to test the waters and see the public’s reaction to this artistic niche,” Kuenzli said.

The toy show was the beginning of her effort to make a store and gallery for designer toys.

Although these toy collectibles might seem unfamiliar , they have gained a following in larger cities such as Los Angeles, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

“Columbus is my hometown, and after moving back, I found there was no place dedicated to the toy subculture or focused on this art genre,” Kuenzli said.

Because of this lack of representation, and Kuenzli’s knowledge of designer toys’ potential success from past toy shows, she felt that creating a store dedicated to designer toy retail was a worthwhile endeavor, she said.

In March of 2007, Kuenzli found a rental space. She opened Rivet by June 1. The goal of the store and gallery is to provide a selection of designer toys as well as a gallery featuring monthly shows focusing on pop surrealism from artists worldwide.

The story behind the name is a play on words.

“In one sense the store and gallery demands and keeps your attention,” Kuenzli said. At the same time, the name reflects the industrial aesthetic and music of the store, she said.

Rivet carries many popular designer toy brands such as Kidrobot, Uglydoll, Qee, Shawnimals. It recently became an authorized Tokidoki retailer, selling clothing as well as toys.

Rivet also sells books, magazines and prints from various artists such as Mark Ryden, Jeff Soto and Gary Baseman. These products tend to overlap with the main focus of the gallery — pop surrealism.

The gallery has always been a part of Rivet, and Kuenzli wanted it to have as much focus as the shop. Rivet exhibits oil and acrylic paintings, glass and leather sculptures, watercolor and ink drawings, and other art.
“We’ve had the fortunate opportunity to host work by Chet Zar, Laurie Lipton, Brian M. Viveros, Shannon Bonatakis, Kathie Olivas, Elizabeth McGrath, Luke Feldman, and so many other wonderful artists,” Kuenzli said.

Rivet has also hosted a number of events in the past two years. Rivet has been home to a traveling cardboard art show that benefited the National Coalition for the Homeless, a custom toy show, and a cartoon-themed group show. The Darkness Into Light photography show, which featured a jewel-encrusted, 500-year-old human skull transformed into a dual pinhole camera, was also presented at Rivet.

This month, Rivet will hold its third-annual Stuff This! plush group show, featuring more than 30 artists from around the world. This show will focus on plush designer toys that sometimes resemble teddy bears and monsters, a subcategory of designer toys.

“It’s a fun show and a great opportunity for unique holiday gifts,” Kuenzli said.

Rivet also hosts painting parties and special events such as trading parties for the Blind Box Toys series. Next year, Kuenzli will add some classes and tutorials in customizing toys.

The growth of Rivet and its many events and exhibitions demonstrates the rise in popularity of these collectible designer toys.

“I believe with the growing exposure of toys in commercials, TV shows, movies, etc., that it is attracting people that may have previously never heard of vinyl toys or pop surrealist art,” Kuenzli said.

Rivet is in the Short North at 1200 N. High St. and is open noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. There is free parking at Magnolia Thunderpussy.

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