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December 6, 2012 12:10 am


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There's nothing like hands-on activity to spark a kid's interest in history. This weekend, there is an opportunity for kids to paint toy soldiers and learn a bit of Civil War history.



Where can you find a delightful mix of mystery and history, of playful innocence and fond reminiscence all in the same place?

It's all at this weekend's free toy solider event at the Fredericksburg Battlefield, co-sponsored by one of the most renowned names in toy soldiers, W. Britain.

As Richard Walker, general manager at W. Britain, points out, it's a perfect match.

"Unlike almost any other toy, soldiers can ignite a love and appreciation of history," he notes. "As a child playing with toy soldiers, a strange thing happens on the way to victory in the backyard or the living room floor: You begin to want to know more--how did they fight, where did they fight and why did they fight?"

Taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, it is part of a series of events that will commemorate the Battle of Fredericksburg that took place in December, 1862.

Those activities include special tours, evening programs, living history soldiers and civilians, children's programs, talks by park historians and bus tours of the battlefield.

This weekend's event is co-sponsored by Eastern National, which runs the park's museum store.

"The Fredericksburg location holds a special place in the hearts of W. Britain," says Walker. "This site's Eastern National store has been a leader on supporting the idea of bringing history alive through toy soldiers."

Eastern National is a nonprofit that manages the museum shops at many national parks, and a portion of the proceeds from the shops goes to the parks.

It's a unique way to take in one of the Civil War's most poignant battles. Fans of all things toy soldier- and history-related can head to the battlefield and see where the brave men on both sides fought in a nation divided.

And then they can head to the park's store to hold the figures in their hands, paint them and learn how the sculptors do their jobs.

The action-packed event is that elusive mix of fun and education--and just may be the perfect place to get that unique and hard-to-find present.

"W. Britain has a toy soldier for the child in every one of us," says Walker, who admits to setting up his own soldiers in dioramas at home. "As one of our retailers is fond of saying, all his customers are little boys--some are doctors or lawyers, and still others are really in fourth grade."

The list of activities this weekend should interest veteran collectors and children alike:

Unveiling of the new W. Britain/Hudson Allen Studios dioramas of the Battle of Fredericksburg

The first opportunity to see the new winter/Fredericksburg line of soldiers up close

Meet Ken Osen, W. Britain master sculptor, and the man behind all the Civil War figures and dioramas that W. Britain produces

Lecture by Osen on how he makes dioramas and figures

Special promotions at the Eastern National store

Free W. Britain figure for the first 100 children to attend

W. Britain door prizes

Silent auction of exclusive, one-of-a-kind W. Britain figures

Free paint-and-take kids' toy soldier painting class, sponsored by W. Britain

"For the collector," says Walker, "I hope this event provides a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at what goes into making toy soldiers.

"For children, it will be a priceless hands-on experience in painting and playing with toy soldiers, for free."

Dave Smalley is a Fredericksburg-area writer and former Weekender editor.

What: W. Britain and Eastern National toy soldier history event Where: Fredericksburg battlefield museum store, 1013 Lafayette Blvd., Fredericksburg When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, and Sunday, Dec. 9 Cost: Free

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