I was so thrilled when I discovered that part of the fantastic MoMA NY exhibition Century of the Child was exhibited at the beautiful design and art museum Vandalorum in Värnamo just nearby our Swedish country house. I remember how much I wanted to go to NY to see the exhibition when I read about it, and so it was a welcome surprise to discover the title in Vandalorum's program this summer.
It's a great exhibition to see with the kids, and after Vandalorum the exhibition will go on to Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen and Designmuseo in Helsinki. At these three Scandinavian museums the MoMA exhibition has a more Nordic perspective. It tells the story about childhood and design for children in a very broad sense during the past 114 years, including objects and subjects normally not represented in design history: clothing, textile, toys, furniture, books, school architecture, playgrounds, nurseries and creative projects. This very inclusive interpretation of design and childhood broadens up the view and our understanding onto a more socio-historical perspective.
All the four of us went through the exhibition with great excitement and joy of recognition, although Molly had a hard time understanding that she could not try on all the exhibited furniture and toys. Many of the objects were familiar everyday objects for us and it was so much fun to read the stories behind the things and see them in a larger historical context. For us the Nordic perspective spoke about a very close relation to nature and natural materials; a continuation of old Nordic craft traditions, and lastly a deep-rooted respect for the child and the idea about a child’s right to free play that is also embedded in Nordic design for children. The title of the exhibition comes from the Swedish design reformer and social theorist Ellen Key’s book Century of the Child from 1900, that with its progressive thinking regarding the rights, development, and well-being of children has been a source of inspiration and reform ever since.
We loved to see the exhibition and to get a more deepened understanding of what design for kids is and what its history and policy is. We loved to recognize all the old beautiful classics by Nanna Ditzel, Kay Bojesen, Alvar Aalto, Børge Mogensen, Arne Jacobsen and Marimekko – but we also loved to discover less known but not less important designs and theories about childhood.
The kids really-really loved the temporary playground in Vandalorum’s courtyard designed by the Norwegian architects Helen & Hard and build in cooperation with local kids and with materials from the local industry.