Bauhaus Children's Toys, A Reduction to Self
Outside the plush boundaries of the design world, another, simpler Bauhaus exists. A Bauhaus that is recognized for its tubular steel, primary color palette, right-angles and stark contrasts. This Bauhaus is defined by industrial design staples such as Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s tubular lamp, Marianne Brandt’s tea set, and for anyone slightly well-versed in design history, maybe even Oskar Schlemmer’s whimsical ballet costumes for the Triadic Ballet (Triadisches Ballett.) In its short existence, the Bauhaus experienced a shift in relationships similar to those experienced by its human counterparts – first there were mystical and esoteric beginnings where a particular style, or vogue was outright rejected by founder Walter Gropius. Later, issues of economy and interests in the mechanical and technical directed the Bauhaus down a different course – one that would come to define its aesthetic, indefinitely.
Although the individual’s relationship with their materials was the prime focus in the early years, some of the first objects and creations the Bauhaus conceived were children’s toys. Although the Bauhaus was one of the only institutions of higher education that admitted female students in the early 20th century, those admitted were ardently pushed and streamlined into feminine workshops and classes, such as weaving and mural painting. Eventually, Marianne Brandt and Alma Seidhoff-Buscher would push beyond these boundaries and expose the juxtaposition of Bauhaus pedagogies and their personal feelings towards gender roles and how to define the complexities of life for children.
Brandt, in particular, despised and rejected children’s fairy tales as an “unnecessary burden for small brains” and sought to create both toys and a world that was “clear and specific” and “as harmonious as possible.” Wooden building blocks, still in existence today, were one of Brandt’s first creations. The blocks were created in simplistic, geometric forms and included a variety of colors, with the larger blocks featuring primaries. As the weights, shapes, colors and sizes varied, children were forced to think about structures, laying strong foundations and understanding how to playfully interact with color. Practical in its approach, the simplicity of design left any and all imagination, narration and whimsicality to the child, aiding in problem solving and creative thinking skills.
There are explicit and strong parallels between Brandt’s building blocks and Alma Seidhoff-Buscher’s wooden dolls – the dolls offered additional, rounded shapes and a more varied color palette. Upon acceptance to the Bauhaus, Seidhoff-Buscher was originally denied access to her first choices of the carpentry and wood sculpture workshops and placed within the weaving studio with her female peers. Later, and after much reluctance, Seidhoff-Buscher was granted access to both workshops, but only with the understanding that she would be labeled a “guest” student, or attendee. It was in these two workshops that she would create ambiguous, androgynous wooden, sculptural dolls, allowing children to create human-like forms without the existence of gender, traditional physical characteristics and social class.
The most difficult question for any design historian or Bauhaus scholar to answer is this:
“What made the Bauhaus’s existence so profound?”
There are no right or wrong answers, the issue is not so black and white – the Bauhaus perpetually and mysteriously existed in a grey area that undoubtedly fused technology, biology and spirituality in design. And as the Bauhaus Centennial approaches, one can only hope for another 100-years to try to find an appropriate answer. Bauhaus children’s toys are an ode to reduction - a reduction of all that is unnecessary – gender roles, preconceived forms and ideas and whimsical narratives that often send children down a relentless (and hopeless) path of imitation. A reduction in everything, until the most important component is left – the self.