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The Red Heel Sock Monkeys


Sock Monkeys, on loan from the Red Heel Sock Monkey Rescue Shelter in Asheville, North Carolina, will be on exhibit in the Mulvane Art Museum Gift Shop. The Mulvane 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 of 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.

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.

The Nelson Knitting Company was acquired in 1992 by Fox River Mills, and the original brown heather, Red Heel monkey sock is still in production by Fox River Mills. A distinctive change in the red-heeled sock design distinguishes monkeys made with Fox River Mills socks from Nelson Knitting Company socks. Fox River heels are more uniformly ovular, without the end points that gave Nelson Knitting-made sock monkeys their smiles or frowns.

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. The term "vintage" red-heel sock monkeys is typically relegated to sock monkeys made from red-heel socks knitted by the Nelson Knitting Company and from similar socks knitted with red-heels by other companies in the same time period. The term "modern" red-heel sock monkeys is normally relegated to sock monkey dolls created after Fox River Mills, Inc. acquired Nelson Knitting Company in 1992. Homemade red-heel sock monkey dolls usually have unique faces and body characteristics and are considered one-of-a-kind. Sock monkey dolls are also mass-manufactured in the marketplace. Sock monkey dolls mass-manufactured by a company normally all have the same face and body characteristics and not all sock monkey dolls are created from red-heel socks. A new trend is growing to create sock monkey dolls from colorful striped or polka dot socks-even mismatched socks.

October 16, 2010 - January 23, 2011

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