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TODAY

Wednesday, July 17

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Airbags

Back in the '70s, there was a huge stuffed animal factory just down the street from where we lived, on Western Avenue. One evening, the factory went up in flames, which for a 4-year-old, seeing plushy poodles and elephants burnt to a crisp, was quite a traumatic event.

After the fire had been put out, the kids in the neighborhood came out to survey the damage. Walking among the debris, salvageable neon green dogs, brown buffalos with flapping red tongues and orange cats were plucked, taken home, washed and found a new lease on life in their homes on their beds, their dressers, their living rooms. Never mind that kids were rummaging through burnt building remains and adults didn't give it a second thought, or that each stuffed animal still emitted the sweet stink of sulfur and singe fabric, we had cool new friends to keep us company.

While the '70s plush stuffed animal has fallen a bit along the wayside, the new Rotofugi Gallery and Designer Toy Store exhibit, "Plushtastrophe: The Art of Plush" brings them all back and then some. Rather than being displayed in a more traditional "look, but don't touch" art gallery setting, Rotofugi's inviting display of the show encourages you to touch all the pieces -- and with plush and felt, how could you not want to touch them? And, what great pieces they are.

Bwana Spoon's "Gray Squid" with its gossamer tentacles and seemingly floaty head, gives an almost ethereal feel to felt -- if you can believe that. 'Tis true. Mikas Mogo's "The Humms" has tiny family members made out of different colored materials, which means they can be Everyman and not the just blonde blue-eyed families that are the commercial norm. Carolyn Hwang's "Grrr" pays tribute to Mori Chack's Gloomy Bear with its bare fangs and dark humour. Who says all teddy bears must be cuddly?

Want to playfully torture a vegetarian or vegan friend, or pretend you are Henry VIII? Buy Sok Mungke's "Meat Friends Chicken Leg," a felty drumstick with a big ol' resplendent grin that just screams "eat me." There is, indeed, a piece to appeal to all tastes. Gonzo's "LV" may be the most affordable and original Vuitton purchase you can make this year.

Some of the pieces are esoteric, funny or nostalgic and some of them are quite striking. Jill Bliss' understated birds, "Karen," "Jen" and "Lauren," have a beautiful line to them in soothing pastel fabrics which remind you of a quiet spring morning, while Jing's "Lolly Poplita" is part Riding Hood/part Mark Ryder in a black cape and plaid dress. She easily could have been made of porcelain.

Many of the works remind you of toys your Nana might have knitted or crocheted for you. Abby Dansiger's polar bear "Harry" and kangaroos "Fannie and Den" bring on a nostalgia long missing from current toys. But what's great is that these works are far more than just toys. The craftsmanship, the stitching, the thought behind each design shows that the items being shown at Rotofugi are indeed works of art.

If you've viewed the show and can't decide which one to buy, don't worry. You can see every piece on Rotofugi's website and order them online.

Take your kids and show them that, yes, there is life in entertainment beyond an xBox or Playstation. My son loved touching the works and looking at the great colors, and the entire environment at Rotofugi was very welcoming, friendly and unpretentious. Sure your kids will be delighted with the exhibit, but go to this one for yourself. You know your inner '70s child wants you to.

Plushtastrophe: The Art of Plush will be on until May 8, 2005.

Rotofugi Gallery
1953 West Chicago Ave.
312/491-9501

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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