Swedish Wooden Toys represented the first in-depth study of the history of wooden playthings in Sweden from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century.

Featuring remarkable doll houses, puzzles and games, pull toys, trains, planes, automobiles, and more, this exhibition explored Sweden’s long and enduring tradition of designing, making, and consuming wooden toys—from the simplest handmade plaything to more sophisticated, mass-produced forms—and examined the cultural embrace of the wooden toy as a sign of timelessness and quality. Sweden’s forests provided an abundant natural resource for the toy industry and for amateur toy makers, but the veneration of the wooden toy was, and has remained, international.

Through ten thematic sections that highlighted the materiality of wood and the development of popular forms in Swedish toys, this exhibition not only reviewed the production of Sweden’s toy industries but also explored the practice of handicraft (slöjd), the educational value of wooden playthings, and the vision of childhood that Swedish reformers promoted worldwide. These themes included a study of the painted Dala horse as a toy and as an emblem of Sweden itself; a selection of puzzles and games that showed how designers and manufacturers directed both children and adults toward the acquisition of specific abilities; and an examination of popular culture’s influence on Swedish toymakers in the twentieth century. Swedish Wooden Toys showed that from the handmade objects of the rural farmstead to the mass-produced products of major firms, Swedish toys not only reflected but also informed the changing social and cultural values of their time.

Curated by Susan Weber, Bard Graduate Center founder and director, and Amy F. Ogata, professor of art history at the University of Southern California and former professor at Bard Graduate Center.

Organized by Bard Graduate Center, Swedish Wooden Toys was on view at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris from June 19, 2014 to January 11, 2015 with the title Les jouets en bois suédois, and at Bard Graduate Center, New York, from September 18, 2015 to February 28, 2016.

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