Life in plastic: Celebrate Barbie’s 60th birthday at Wilton Manors ‘Art of Barbie’ party

It took six weeks of allowance and an agonizing wait before Constance Ruppender had scraped together enough savings – three bucks – to buy her first Barbie doll at a Woolworths in 1959.

She was beautiful, slender and everything like the doll she saw advertised on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” with late-‘50s bubble-cut hair and a Jackie Kennedy-style orange coat and gray dress. To then-8-year-old Ruppender, she was perfect.

Which perhaps explains why Ruppender never stopped buying Barbie. Today she owns 300 dolls, all decorating an extra bedroom of her Wilton Manors home that she calls her “Barbie room.” The walls are purple and adorned with Barbies of every era.

“I should be doing dishes or laundry and I’m in there playing with dolls,” Ruppender says with a laugh. “Sometimes I go in my Barbie room and sit because it’s so peaceful. I think grownups forget how to play, but when you’re putting a group of Barbies together and accessorizing them, it’s play. It’s so relaxing.”

This week, for Barbie’s 60th birthday, Ruppender is putting 24 dolls from her personal collection on display at Art Gallery 21 in Wilton Manors, hosting “The Art of Barbie” exhibit on Saturday, March 9. Subtitled “Homage to a Fashion Icon,” the gallery will salute Barbie’s life in plastic and enduring appeal with a 60th birthday dance party, prizes, art installations, photographs and a Barbie and Ken costume contest. The show, Ruppender says, coincides with Barbie’s actual birthday, when toymaker Mattel first unveiled Barbie at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959.

Hoping for more of Barbie’s well-coiffed counterpart, Ken? Well, tough luck: He’ll make a few appearances but that’s it, because “it’s not about Ken,” Ruppender says. “It’s about Barbie.”

Ruppender’s display of 24 Barbie’s will be accompanied by an illustrated timeline charting the icon’s evolution. On display is bubble-cut Barbie, her favorite, along with dolls from the 1970s Malibu Barbie and 1980s Superstar Barbie eras. There also are modern dolls, such as Katherine Johnson Barbie, released in 2018 to commemorate the NASA mathematician featured in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

“She’s stayed relevant because she’s changed with the times,” Ruppender says. “There are four body types, so for any child, male or female, you can find a doll that looks like you.”

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