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The evolution of toy design in the Czech Republic, from vintage to contemporary

‘Adéla’ wooden construction set, by Adéla Fejtková.
‘Adéla’ wooden construction set, by Adéla Fejtková.

When it comes to toy design, a small, land-locked country has punched above its weight for the past century. ‘Czech designers have always been well-aware of the importance of the toy, as they’re the first objects people take into their hands while developing their human senses,’ says Tereza Bruthansová, curator of a new exhibition on the subject, set to open during London Design Festival.

The earlier toy makers of Czechoslovakia drew on the country’s folklore, hand-making wooden delights for the Artel Cooperative, which was founded in Prague in 1908. This, combined with the tradition of Czech puppetry and animation, practised by the likes of Jiri Trnka, Jan Svankmajer and Aurel Klimt , has helped seal the country’s position as king of the toymakers.

Then along came plastic, and the quirky products manufactured by the company Fatra. One of its most significant designers was Libuše Niklová. Her 1970s collection of inflatable animal-shaped children’s seats has been reissued by Fatra, and added to by contemporary designers.

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‘Labu’, by Kutulu

Many of the latest generation of designers have returned to wood, creating some pieces that are good-looking enough to double as objets d’arts. RePello’s J™ model balance bike by Jiří Marján and Pavol Mikuláš is one such example.

These and more are on show at London’s Czech Centre from 15 September 2018. ‘Mini Wonders – Czech Toys Past and Present’ is a touring exhibition. Fittingly, many of the exhibits are displayed in Kazeto’s vintage cardboard suitcases, which will be familiar to anyone who grew up in Czechoslovakia.

But it is not only Czech-based designers who have had an impact on toy design. Tom Karen arrived in the UK from the city of Brno as a WWII émigré in his teens. He went on to create two of the 1970’s best-sellers: the Marble Run and the Raleigh Chopper bicycle.

As Bruthansová says: ‘There seems to be an active inner child in the Czech identity.’ §

‘Africa’ collection, by René Šulc

‘Zahumny’ collection, by My dvě

‘Amaris’, by Kutulu

Elephant, by Ladislav Sutnar

‘Pi-Pi’, by Kutulu

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