The National Museum in Warsaw

Polish design from the Collection of the National Museum in Warsaw

“We sometimes manage [...] to see a work of art or technology in which we can feel «a breath of the future»”.
Jerzy Hryniewiecki, “Kształt przyszłości [A Glimpse of the Future],” Projekt [Design], no. 1, p. 9, 1956
Between objects. Correspondences, confrontations…
Selected pairs of objects from the collection of the Modern Design Centre have been juxtaposed in order to bring Polish design from the 20th and 21st centuries closer to a contemporary public. "Old" toys from the 1940s, characterized by simplicity of form and construction, as a result of post-war poverty and shortages, are confronted with more contemporary ones, where the minimalism of concept is rediscovered. They can easily compete with more technologically advanced solutions. The simplicity of a hand puppet or a Push Stick toy is only superficial – great educational potential is hidden underneath, stimulating imagination, certain social behaviours, and a care and understanding for the environment. By showcasing building blocks, we wanted to confront the rough style of the late 1980s with concerns for the quality of Polish toys competing with the world brands.

A product as obvious as a carpet, a decorative textile floor covering, has been substituted by contemporary designers with interactive textiles, in which the element of play and the possibility of creating different patterns create an added value.

Furniture tells us a whole different kind of story. For instance, the famous bentwood chair from the factory in Jasienica, produced on a mass scale from the end of the 19th century until the present day, is juxtaposed with a table designed by Stefan Sienicki in 1929 and a chair by Marian Sigmund from 1956. The history of the two later pieces refers to an issue that has not been dealt with for years. Despite the fact that these were well designed objects, for different reasons they never saw serial production. Not even a renowned designer's brand could guarantee a product's popularity. Just recently a short series of the Sigmund chair has been re-launched.

Designers often reach for topics that respond to social needs, such as organising meeting spaces – cafés, waiting rooms, common recreational areas. The "Muszla" [Shell] table and chair set by Hanna Lachert is compared with the "Trefl" stool set by Piotr Kuchciński. Modern and functional forms, durable materials and great craftsmanship, typical of the Ład Artists' Cooperative, ensured Lachert's furniture to be long lasting and even return in a vintage version. Kuchciński designed a varied and multifunctional set of sitting elements - attractive in both form and colour – intended for public spaces.

Certain materials inspired Polish designers to adopt avant-garde solutions – in the fifties, Jan Kurzątkowski experimented with plywood, whereas Czesław Knothe played with metal wire and reinforced bars. Recently, Oskar Zięta has introduced FiDU technology to his metal products.

Selected pairs of objects from the collection of the Modern Design Centre were juxtaposed in order to bring Polish design from the 20th and 21st century closer to the public.
Theatre is life
In the 1940s Monika Piwowarska, designer of highly valued artistic fabrics, designed a series of hand puppets. Commissioned by Biuro Nadzoru Estetyki Produkcji [Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau], they were created as prototypes for serial production, both artisanal and industrial. The aforementioned institution was at the time commissioning and collecting objects and designs that were supposed to be manufactured in the future – toys, metalwork, jewelry, textiles, lace, clothing and other similar products. At first, those who delivered them were predominantly artists with pre-war educations, yet unfamiliar with industrial design. In the 1950s, the first designers with professional backgrounds started to emerge, being employed by the Institute of Industrial Design, the successor of the Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau.

Monika Piwowarska, hand puppet, 1945–1948, lathed wood, printed textiles, cotton thread

Hand puppets by Hanna Kośmicka are dolls that let us play "theatre", re-enacting stories from fairytales and legends. This classic childhood toy, animated by the movement of the hand placed inside it, does not change, despite the passage of time. Puppets may only vary in terms of the material they are made from and the artistic expression provided by the creator.

The studio-gallery of the artist (architect by education) operates in the Polish city of Sopot. Her works, often with high educational value, gained recognition in 1996 when she was awarded the Good Design Award by the Polish Institute of Industrial Design. We now present a collection of toys illustrating the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

Hanna Kośmicka, "Babcia" [Grandmother] hand puppet, 1995, textiles, sewing, embroidery

Hanna Kośmicka, "Gajowy" [Hunter] hand puppet, 1995, textiles, sewing, embroidery

Meetings and rest
The simple design of the ash wood table, with a black glass top, and often combined with the "Shell" chair by the same author, was produced on a mass scale by the "Ład" Artists’ Cooperative during the 1950s and 60s. As a successful product that properly satisfied users' needs, it ended up in many cafés, waiting rooms and private apartments. Today, being rediscovered, it has regained its popularity. The "Shell" chair is a piece of furniture typical of the style at the time, with a modern, organic shape, upholstered in bouclé fabric in mustard yellow, a fashionable colour at the time. Features that characterized furniture sixty years ago continue to be attractive to the contemporary consumer.

Hanna Lachert, "Ład" Artists’ Cooperative, "Muszla" [Shell] chair, 1956, ash wood, bent plywood, upholstery

The simple design of the ash wood table, with a black glass top, and often combined with the "Shell" chair by the same author, was produced on a mass scale by the "Ład" Artists’ Cooperative during the 1950s and 60s. As a successful product that properly satisfied users' needs, it ended up in many cafés, waiting rooms and private apartments. Today, being rediscovered, it has regained its popularity.

Piotr Kuchciński, NOTI, "Trefl" stool, 2012, wood, upholstery

The family of "Trefl" stool seats, upholstered with multi-coloured wool felt, was designed mainly for use in public interiors. The items can be combined freely, organizing space in whichever way is needed. One can also play with colours and different sizes of furniture modules. The seat and the low coffee table, which can become a wide stool after disassembling the tray top, is a small two-item set, perfect for meetings and relaxation.

On the floor
Even though it was executed using the traditional hand-knotting technique, with dense knots and long loops, it is characterized by a modern abstract pattern and interesting colour combinations (colours: lime, black, amaranth). It was made by one of the most highly skilled weaving artists who, in the 1960s, worked with unique decorative textiles, and was winner of many awards at the Lausanne International Tapestry Biennials, among others.

Jolanta Owidzka, "Zielenie" [Greens] carpet, 1961, hand-knotted wool carpet

Agnieszka Czop, Joanna Rusin, "Cars" carpet, 2004, laser-cut wool felt

After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, Faculty of Textiles and Clothing, the designers of the "Cars" carpet started collaborating with the carpet manufacturer Dywilan. They were one of the first to begin designing modern decorative textiles from laser-cut wool felt that could, at the same time, function as interactive children's toys. Within this series are lightly coloured felt carpets (several layers glued together) with cut-outs that can be stacked freely with different, colourful elements, e.g. in the shape of circles, animals or cars, were created.

Build and destroy
The "Town" wooden building blocks as well as models of historical buildings in Cracow – built by assembling and gluing these blocks together – were manufactured by Andrzej Latos and his wife in their family business. The economic crisis of the 1980s caused raw material shortages, so the company used simple technology, mostly recycled wood. Each set contains building blocks of different shapes, with which one can assemble tenement houses, bridges, etc. The concept allowed for the expansion of the existing building block sets, in order to include buildings alluding to masterpieces of Polish architecture.

Andrzej Latos, "Sukiennice market" and "Kościół Mariacki" model from building blocks, 1989, hand painted wood

Andrzej Latos, "Miasteczko" [Town] building blocks, 1990, hand painted wood

Barbara and Wojciech Bajor, Bajo Wooden Toys, "Kombi" wooden puzzle, 2000, wood, varnish

Barbara and Wojciech Bajor, architects by profession, designed their first toys in 1989, just for fun to begin with. While setting up their own factory from scratch, they used wood coming from surrounding orchards as material for production. Nowadays, Bajo Wooden Toys is a dynamic company, known worldwide for manufacturing high quality wooden toys. Perfectly finished wood – natural or varnished in different colours – as well as good designs are the key to creating safe educational toys that enhance childhood development.

Fragile beauty
Two of the most characteristic sets of pre-war china from Ćmielów – "Sphere" and "Flat" – are maintained in the modern art deco style. In the early 1930s, the factory bought the designs from the Paris-based studio of Bogdan Wendorf.

Bogdan Wendorf, "Ćmielów" Porcelain Manufacturer, part of the "Kula" [Sphere] set, 1932–1934, glazed porcelain, gilded

The "Flat" set is distinguished by an intriguing cubist-like pattern in the form of overlapping discs and circles.

Bogdan Wendorf, "Ćmielów" Porcelain Manufacturer, part of the "Płaski" [Flat] set, 1932–1934, glazed porcelain, gilded

Marek Cecuła, Ćmielów Design Studio, "Ćmielów" and "Chodzież" Polish Porcelain Manufacturers, part of the "Mix and Match" set, 2014, glazed porcelain, gilded

This collection of porcelain tableware with diverse decorations was designed by the Ćmielów Design Studio, led by Marek Cecuła, and designed precisely to enable the arrangment of personalised sets.

The items with decorative prints in three colours: grey, black and gold...

... and several pattern variants, among others; cubist inspired, op-art and a distinctive arabesque, can be combined freely within one set using the principle of harmonious eclecticism, based on attractive contrasts.

Sitting perspective
This bent plywood chair resting on structural elements made from solid beech wood was designed by Marian Sigmund, one of the key artists affiliated with the "Ład" Artists’ Cooperative. At the turn of the fifties and sixties, the designer collaborated with the Bentwood Furniture Factory in Jasienica. His A587 chair was intended for export to Great Britain as a school chair. The skillful use of decorative values of bentwood, both from plywood and solid beech, as well as the contrast between natural and stained black wood makes the chair stand out for its style and beauty. The Bentwood Furniture Factory in Jasienica, where bentwood furniture has been manufactured since 1880 (since 1923 sold under the Thonet-Mundus brand), is now part of the Paged Group. The factory in Jasienica has prepared a new, modernized version of the Sigmund chair.

"14" – the most popular chair by Thonet brothers – has been constantly manufactured since the end of the 19th century. Its modular structure and systematic technology enables large-scale production, whereas easy assembly and transportation add to its global popularity. The possibility of applying different seat cushions – extruded patterned plywood, woven or upholstered seats – is another plus.

The table by Stefan Sienicki, professor at the Warsaw University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture, was created in relation to the international contest announced by the Thonet Mundus company in 1929. It was designed as a set consisting of a chair and an armchair. The avant-garde designs of the 1930s are mainly associated with Bauhaus furniture, characterized by bent metal tubular structures, whilst Sienicki's design – equally innovative – used bent beech technology.

This armchair prototype by Jan Kurzątkowski, a distinguished Polish designer and professor at the Faculty of Interior Design, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, is part of the experimental furniture family, in which structural elements are made from bent plywood sheets, with the seat woven from elastic thread. Jan Kurzątkowski was a master of bent plywood forms, however, none of his experimental designs saw serial production.

Jan Kurzątkowski, armchair, 1960s, bent plywood, nylon lines

Roman Modzelewski, Vzór, RM56 armchair, 2012, bent plywood, metal frame

Half a century after the design and the prototype were created by the designer Roman Modzelewski, the Vzór company began mass production of the armchair with a bent plywood seat resting on a delicate, abstractly shaped metal frame. The designer himself, in 1956, created two seat models: one made from plywood and another one from, the then highly demanded plastic material, rigid PVC. The rigid PVC model received second prize in the Individual Furniture Pieces category at the II Polish Exhibition of Interior Design in the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in 1957, but even that did not help him find a manufacturer back then. But now, thanks to Vzór, the armchair has the chance to be manufactured in series, both in its plywood and plastic versions.

In times of common appreciation of modernity, novel forms and materials, but in the face of difficulties with acquiring the latter, Polish designers searched for their substitutes.

Some of the available resources included metal reinforcment bars, which enabled the easy shaping of seats and bases according to the popular (at the time) "organic form style".

Seats could be filled with different materials: string, plastic tubes, birch. Czesław Knothe constructed a seat using metal wire, covering the whole thing in black varnish. These "poor" materials served to create an elegant piece of garden furniture that can also be used indoors.

Czesław Knothe, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, chair, 1955, steel rod frame, wire seat, black varnish

Oskar Zięta, "Plopp" metal stool, 2008–2015, stainless steel, FiDU technology

The name of the stool, „Plopp”, is the abbreviation of the furniture's description – polski ludowy obiekt pompowany powietrzem [air-inflated Polish folk object]. It was executed using innovative FiDU technology (Freie Innendruck Umformung – free inner pressure forming), which Oskar Zięta had been developing for many years at the Department of Computer Aided Architectural Design, in the Federal Polytechnic in Zurich. The FiDU technology consists in laser cutting and welding together two identical metal sheets to create metal objects appearing to be under air or water pressure. Although they are light and resemble beach toys, they are made entirely of steel. Their advantages include: high production capacity, possibility of full recycling, clean forms, as well as extraordinary structural durability.

Running wheels
Students of Antoni Kenar at Państwowe Liceum Technik Plastycznych [Secondary School for Arts and Technology] in Zakopane, one of whom being Władysław Hasior, trained in wood carving techniques. In the late 1940s, a series of wooden products inspired by traditional folk toys, namely mobile toys on wheels moved using a push stick, were commissioned by Biuro Nadzoru Estetyki Produkcji (Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau). The funny and expressive "Cyclist" preempts the disobedient character of the designer's later works.

Władysław Hasior, Państwowe Liceum Technik Plastycznych [Secondary School for Arts and Technology] in Zakopane, "Cyklista" [Cyclist] stick push toy, 1948–1949, hand painted wood

Grzegorz Cholewiak, Drache & Bär Studio, Berlin, "Toll's Toy Laufrad" running wheel, 2010, plywood, beech

"Toll's Toy Laufrad" by Grzegorz Cholewiak is a wooden wheel on a stick designed for the youngest kids to play with. The product, which references traditional mobile toys, is characterized by extraordinarily meticulous construction and the high quality of materials used. It is an interesting continuation of similar designs from the forties by Jan Kurzątkowski, Antoni Kenar or Władysław Hasior. Since 2009, Cholewiak has been manufacturing his products under the Drache&Bär brand. He lives and works in Berlin (also in Cracow), and runs Dot Studio.

"Gothic" glass
Wiesław Sawczuk graduated from the Faculty of Glass and Ceramics, Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław, in 1959. One year later he started working in Zakładowy Ośrodek Wzorcujący, a design centre belonging to the "Hortensja" Glassworks in Piotrków Trybunalski. One of his first designs was a glass set, which included wine glasses in the distinctive shape of an hourglass. Simple, geometrical forms, conic bases made of float glass and the use of smoked and violet glass are a result of the artist's research. These simple forms can be compared to European concepts from that period, especially to Scandinavian design.

Wiesław Sawczuk, "Hortensja" Glassworks in Piotrków Trybunalski, carafe and glasses, 1960, smoked, violet and clear glass

Piotr Talma, "Sudety" Crystal Works in Szczytna Śląska, carafe and glasses from the "Gothic" glass set, 1996–1997, cut lead glass

Crystal glass is most commonly associated with heavy, densely cut forms and is often dismissed due to its bourgeois connotations. A good designer is able to propose a modern design even with this particular technology. In the 1990s, lead glass decorated with minimalistic, modern cuts emerged. Piotr Talma designed several sets suggesting historical styles, in this case being clearly inspired by soaring Gothic architecture.

Credits: Story

Exhibition curators
Anna Demska
Anna Maga

GCI curator
Magdalena Majchrzak

Małgorzata Juszczak

Post-Translation Editor
Charlie Smith

Photography – courtesy of
Piotr Talma

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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