All images courtesy of the Rosendahl Design Group
Kay Bojesen animals at MOMA New York
Two years ago I was lucky enough to attend MOMA’s brilliant Century of the Child exhibition. It ran across seven galleries in the wonderful New York space, bringing together 100 years of toys and learning materials with great insight and analysis, revealing how design had shaped children’s experience of the world in the 20th century. It brought home how significant toys are in shaping us emotionally and intellectually and it amazed me how engaged the largely adult audience was with the subject matter.
With everything from abstract Bauhaus games from the 1920s, through to Eames toys in the 1950s, right up to video consoles from the 1980s and ’90s, it was demonstrated that there has been a quantum leap in the way we stimulate the minds of the younger generation. And yet for me, some of the most appealing exhibits were also the simplest. On display were the beautiful wooden family of animals by Danish designer Kay Bojesen, whose characterisation of these animals has a timeless appeal that crosses all ages.
KayBojesen: crafting a soul out of wood
Perhaps best known for his Monkey, there are in fact a small family of animals that carry the Bojesen name, each one equally charming. They are deliberately simple, solid and tactile, aimed at inspiring children to play and interact with them, combining contrasting timbers and moving parts that subtly bring out the features of each animal, as well as making them beautiful to look at. Story-telling played a large part in their conception – they were designed to be a family of friends, their story aptly able to change depending on who was telling it. They serve as a tool for the imagination.
Until the 1930s, Kay Bojesen worked principally in metal, having begun an apprenticeship in 1908, when he was 22, with Danish silverware manufacturer Georg Jensen. It wasn’t until 1919, when he became a parent to his son Otto, that Kay Bojesen began to experiment with toys made from wood, inspired by memories of his own father fashioning wooden toys for him.
Kay Bojesen: his family of wooden animals
In 1934 he designed the Dog, a comical-looking Dachshund that is still part of the Bojesen collection today and typifies its characteristics. He avoided over-complicating the forms with unnecessary detail and instead created a fun embodiment of how a child might picture the animal. “The lines need to smile”, he said once when asked about his designs, and they really do. In 1951 came the Monkey, in 1952 the Bear, in 1953 the Elephant, in 1955 the Hippo, and finally the Rabbit in 1957, a year before Bojesen’s death.
Kay Bojesen animals at Copenhagen store ‘Den Permanente’
One of the few places in the world where you could go to purchase a Bojesen animal was in Kay Bojesen’s own design store in Copenhagen, ‘Den Permanente’. This was a co-operative craft and design retailer which he set up in 1931 to showcase the best of Danish-designed furniture and objects. It was something of an institution in Copenhagen and where an entire generation of Danes first sourced these appealing little toys.
Kay Bojesen animals and Danish manufacturer Rosendahl
Unfortunately Den Permanente didn’t live up to its name, and closed in the late 1980s, thereby seemingly spelling the end for Kay Bojesen animals. That was until 1990, when the Rosendahl Design Group, a Danish manufacturer with several small Danish brands under their umbrella, managed to persuade Kay Bojesen’s family to allow them to take on the manufacture and marketing of his toys. Since then they have gradually reintroduced many of Bojesen’s toy designs to the same high quality specification as the originals, and created some of which had never been in production before.
Kay Bojesen animals live on today
While Kay Bojesen continued to win acclaim for his skill as a silversmith, receiving the prestigious Grand Prix design award at the Milan Triennale in 1938 for his cutlery collection, it is his simple family of wooden animals for which he will most be remembered. The way he managed to imbue small pieces of wood with so much character has ensured they have been acknowledged as icons of Danish design, and their timeless appeal and relative affordability have made them highly collectable pieces for the home. Like all the best toys, they engage with the inner child in each of us.
To find out more about Kay Bojesen animals, click here
To see other brands belonging to the Rosendahl Design Group, click here
More information on the Century of the Child exhibition at MOMA available here
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