Spielwarenmesse: 100 years Bauhaus: on the search of its traces in toy design

Choose language

 

Kleines Schiffbauspiel von Alma Siedhoff-Buscher.
  Market

Market

100 years Bauhaus: on the search of its traces in toy design

from Ulrich Texter

The Bauhaus will be 100 years old this year. The most influential school of architecture, design and art of the 20th century has shaped the lifestyle and tastes of generations around the world like no other style. The "rebels" of that time wrote history and, in the 14 years of the Bauhaus's actually existence, created not merely cult objects and timeless furniture classics, but also educationally worthwhile toys.

The Bauhaus will be 100 years old this year. The most influential school of architecture, design and art of the 20th century has shaped the lifestyle and tastes of generations around the world like no other style. The "rebels" of that time wrote history and, in the 14 years of the Bauhaus's actually existence, created not merely cult objects and timeless furniture classics, but also educationally worthwhile toys.

"Lego" as a vision

3D Arranging Game Rubius by Haba
The different-colored blocks of the Rubius 3D arranging game allow an amazing variety of patterns and shapes to be formed.

The New Masters' Houses of the world's most famous artists' colony were probably instrumental in establishing this myth of purism and minimalism. They were created after the move from Weimar to Dessau in 1925-26 and, after being restored, were made accessible to the public five years ago. What was perhaps conceived as the concept of "new living" and an experiment in serial construction comes across, with its nested bodies, like hermetically sealed cubes. It's as if an imaginary Lego brick had delivered the matrix and guided Gropius' pencil. Nonetheless, it was in the seven years that the Bauhaus existed in Dessau that the most famous buildings and products that have shaped our image from the Bauhaus to the present sprang up. And, just a few months after starting its teaching work, Bauhaus GmbH was founded in November 1925 to make use of the products developed at the school.

A synonym for progress

There is, however, a contradiction between the aspiration formulated by the 1919 Manifesto and what actually became of an idea that conquered the world: the Bauhaus sought to change the world through design only to end up selling luxury goods and design icons. Right from the start, the Bauhaus was an ambitious socio-political project headed by the "Gesamtkunsthandwerker", artisans that united all the "arts and crafts disciplines" (according to Gropius). What is undisputed is the fact that no other school has addressed in such depth, and in a time marked by crises, the issue as to how political, economic, social and cultural upheavals can be controlled through the means of design.

Cradle by Peter Keler
Cradle by Peter Keler. Klassik Stiftung Weimar. © Jan Keler

In view of the digital transformation, AI and biotechnology, these issues have lost none of their relevance: how do we wish to shape our everyday life, where we live and how we live together? And how should our children play in the future? They are possibly precisely the questions that still engage a lot of architects and designers today. In 2016, the Düsseldorf-based star architect Christoph Ingenhoven criticised the fossilisation of the Bauhaus idea for pure luxury goods and the "dangerous exploitability of the Bauhaus aesthetic" when he replied to the question of how the Bauhaus influenced his own work. He said that it was right to build museums on the anniversary of the Bauhaus because that was where it belonged. For Ingenhoven's famous New York colleague Daniel Liebeskind, things are not so straightforward. Topics such as clarity of thought and political commitment are of relevance to him even in the post-Bauhaus era.

Mission: improving the world

The Bauhaus is not alone with its progressive educational approach intended to create a "new human being", but it is the best in the history of global improvements in terms of image values. In the second half of the last century, it was, above all, the Ulm College of Design, founded in 1953, which was inspired by a comparable optimism and wanted to change the world in terms of design. The "Spiel Gut" (Play Well) working committee, established just one year later, also had progressive teaching aims in mind; it was mainly concerned about enlightened consumers in a free market. In the 1970s, the environmental impact of forest dieback and economic crises left their mark on the toy industry. In Germany, simple wooden toys become a hit again. The advertising of a newly formed group of toy dealers stressed having the "right toy" on the shelf. Which sounds a bit like German philosopher Adorno and his Minima Moralia that stated "There is no right life in the wrong one": there is no right play with the wrong toy! The aim of making the world a better place is not exclusive to the Bauhaus.

Toy wheelbarrow by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld
The Bauhaus also has a prior history, as the toy wheelbarrow by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld strikingly makes clear. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Foto: Thomas Goldschmidt

One of the recurring Bauhaus stories is that of "white modernity". It's more of a myth than reality. It is claimed that Gropius even once said that his favourite colour was "multi-coloured". Colour was not merely a decorative element for the "masters", as the instructors at the Bauhaus were called: it was also a means of design. This is evident, among other things, at the Kandinsky/Klee Master House. "After this year, nobody will reduce the Bauhaus to mere white cubes and stacked furniture", promises Regina Bittner, Deputy Director of the Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau in a conversation with a Berlin-based daily newspaper early in February 2019.

Work and play belong together

Just how colourful things were among the 1,287 students from 29 countries – 20% were foreigners! – in the 14 years of the Bauhaus's existence is demonstrated not only by the legendary parties. Dancing, playing, and stage productions were just as much a part of the training as getting to grips with forms, colours and materials in the preliminary apprenticeship or the instruction they received in woodworking, weaving or photography. In its current exhibition BAU [SPIEL] HAUS, the Neues Museum Nürnberg points out that the Bauhaus made deliberate use of the human motivation to play. Bauhaus members themselves stressed again and again that it was, above all, the creativity-fostering atmosphere at the Bauhaus that remained in their memories. And where can a human being show more creativity than when playing – if one disregards the stock market, which probably comes to the same thing!

Wallpapers and toys brought in money

Bendy string dolls by Alma Siedhoff-Buscher
Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, bendy string dolls, ca. 1924 (reproduction, 1990s). © Joost Siedhoff. Photo: Roman März

While the world today immediately thinks of lamps and tubular steel furniture when it hears the name of 'Bauhaus', toys were among the most economically successful Bauhaus products of the time, thanks also to the work of Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, who is regarded as the formative designer of toys and children's furniture. She also furnished up the children's room in the "Haus am Horn" in Weimar, now a World Heritage Site. Alma Siedhoff-Buscher developed toys that allowed for children to imitate adults as well as to enjoy free games. Her brightly coloured "Little Shipbuilding Game" is still being produced today. The colourful toy confirms to the Bauhaus style, because the shipbuilding game is reduced to a few geometrical modules – reminiscent of the puzzles of the educational reformer Friedrich Froebel. In fact, his pedagogical ideas exerted great influence – among others on wood sculptor Theodor Artur Winde, Paul Klee and...Alma Siedhoff-Buscher.

In her final year at the Bauhaus, Siedhoff-Buscher designed cut-out sheets and colouring-in pages for the publisher Otto Maier Ravensburg. Her best-selling products, however, were her Wurfpuppen, bendy string dolls with wooden heads. Paul Klee also created fascinating hand puppets, which occupied a space between artwork and toys. Lyonel Feininger designed wooden figures and railways, Oskar Schlemmer stylised figures, and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack a modular educational dolls house that would serve as a model for IKEA. Obviously, the Bauhaus not only wanted to make the world better and more beautiful through design, but also to change "aesthetic education".

 

Author of this article:

Ulrich Texter

Tags in this article:

Newsletter

Stay informed with trends and developments of the toy market. Register for one of our newsletter.

 

Newsletter

Stay informed with trends and developments of the toy market. Register for one of our newsletter.