Forrest Scene

September 2012 News Releases

Sock Monkeys return to the Mulvane Art Museum

It's time again for monkey business! Sock Monkeys, on loan from the Red Heel Sock Monkey Rescue Shelter in Asheville, N.C., will make a return visit to the Mulvane Art Museum's Gift Shop from Sept. 18, 2012 to Jan. 27, 2013.

Sock Monkeys will be the theme of the family activity event "We Mean Monkey Business" from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at the ArtLab. Families can visit the exhibit then swing down to the ArtLab to create a special art project. ArtLab Family Day events are free and open to the public.

The Mulvane's Gift Shop will feature a variety of Sock Monkey related merchandise during the exhibit. A sock monkey is a toy made from socks fashioned in the likeness of a monkey. These stuffed animals are a mixture of folk art and kitsch in the culture of the United States and Canada. The sock monkey's most direct predecessors originated in the Victorian era, when the craze for imitation stuffed animals swept from Europe into North America and met the burgeoning Arts and Crafts Movement. Mothers there took to sewing stuffed animals as toys to comfort their children, and, as tales of the Scramble for Africa increased the public's familiarity with exotic species, monkey toys soon became a fixture of American nurseries. However, these early stuffed monkeys were not necessarily made from socks, and also lacked the characteristic red lips of the sock monkeys popular today.

John Nelson, a Swedish immigrant to the United States, patented the sock-knitting machine in 1869, and began manufacturing work socks in Rockford, Ill., in 1890. The iconic sock monkeys made from red-heeled socks emerged at the earliest in 1932, the year the Nelson Knitting Company added the trademarked red heel to its product. Nelson Knitting was an innovator in the mass market work sock field, creating a loom that enabled socks to be manufactured without seams in the heel. Around 1951, the Nelson Knitting Company discovered that their socks were being used to make monkey dolls. In 1953, Nelson Knitting became involved in a dispute over the design patent on the sock monkey pattern. They were awarded the patent in 1955, and began including the pattern with every pair of socks. The sock monkey doll was then used in promotional campaigns celebrating the widespread application of their product by inventive homemakers in the field of monkey manufacturing.

In 1958, the scrap-craft magazine Pack-O-Fun published "How to Make Sock Toys," a guide to making different sock animals and dolls with red heeled socks. Frequently cited as being their most popular book ever, this pamphlet went through multiple printings and was being produced in new editions up until the mid-1980s.

Sock monkeys remain a popular toy to this day. Most vintage red-heel sock monkeys found today are no older than the late 1950s, and many date from the 1970s. A number of methods for dating sock monkeys have been debated by collectors, including the shape of the red heel, the tightness of the weave, sock seams, the style of clothing worn and other features.

For more information on the Red Heel Sock Monkey Rescue Shelter go to www.sockmonkeydreams.com.

The Mulvane Art Museum, ArtLab and gift shop are open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free. The museum is closed major holidays.

The Mulvane is located on the campus of Washburn University, at 17th and Jewell Streets. Free parking is available directly to the west of the Museum. Call (785) 670-1124 or go to washburn.edu/mulvane.

Dena Anson, university relations, (785) 670-1711