Toys from Kraków Workshops

an artistic and social experiment from over a century ago

The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Dorota Majkowska - Szajer

Master Twardowski The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Toys, memorabilia, or tiny works of art?

The Ethnographic Museum of Kraków houses a unique collection of unusual toys. These small figurines were made a hundred years ago at the various studios of the Warsztaty Krakowskie association (Kraków Workshops, 1913–1926).

Spinning top (1920) by Kogut Józefa (Manufacturer: Warsztaty Krakowskie) The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The word “warsztat” (workshop) appearing in the association's name isn't a coincidence. A “workshop” is simultaneously a place, its tools, and work methods. It's movement and collaboration. 

Figurines (1916/1920) by Warsztaty Krakowskie [Manufacturer] The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Warsztaty Krakowskie put close cooperation between artists-designers and craftsmen in the spotlight. It was supposed to ensure a high quality of the items produced here.

Archival catalogue card The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The creators associated in the newly-established organisation proclaimed the principle of equal participation. “Workshops” adopted the form of a cooperative, where all members remained owners.

The association settled in the premises of the new building of the Museum of Science and Industry in Kraków (1868–1951) at Smoleńsk 9 Street in Kraków.

Batik studio in Stowarzyszenie Warsztaty Krakowskie association. (1923) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

It had used several of the museum's own studios – bookbinding, metalworks, and carpentry, but also set up its several of its own for making kilim, batik and dyeing, wood accessories and toys.

Tradeswoman and Harlequin (1916/1920) by Warsztaty Krakowskie [Manufacturer] The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Workshops became a laboratory of modern applied arts.

Following an initial wave of enthusiasm, rapid industrial development in the latter half of the 19th century began to raise concerns about machines dominating the world. Increasingly loud criticism of factory production was accompanied by a longing for items that were both useful and beautiful.

Highlanders The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

In Kraków, the idea of a craftsmanship revival became entwined with hopes for the revival of the Polish state – which at that point had been missing from the map for over a century.

Efforts around the creation of a national style, one fitting the spirit of the time, tapped into rural creativity considered indigenous and resistant to external influences. It was supposed to sit at the core of the local, Polish style.

Herons The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The impulse came from the English Arts and Crafts movement and found itself on fertile ground – the artistic and philosophical circles of Europe and America began postulating a revival of artistic crafts, techniques, and technologies.

Cracovians and Harlequin The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Regional patterns were utilised in ornamentation and architecture, raising them to the national level.

The drabness of cities was put in opposition to imaginative and colourful outfits of rural inhabitants. Industrialization was set against the honesty of folk art, its relationship with land, tradition, organic matter.

“Our life is awfully grey. Even the city taxis are grey. The clothes you wear, you unfortunate men, are a travesty of colour. Grey, grey, grey! (…) You need to go to the countryside to find colour.” Zofia Stryjeńska

Turkeys Turkeys (1919) by Warsztaty Krakowskie The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

It was believed that everyone possesses a sense of beauty.

The “instinct of perfection”, found in every person, was considered the reason of a universal sense of form and ornamentation.

Turkeys The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

This thought was laid at the core of Warsztaty's most famous department – Antoni Buszek's batik studio. The experiment, called “the Buszek method” consisted in hiring children in the studio and entrusting ornamentation to their unfettered imagination.

In the workshop of "Warsztaty Krakowskie" (1923) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Training began with drawing on paper. Girls were drawing lines and circles using marking pens filled with hot wax. After several days they were asked to create patterns of their own invention.

"We remembered painting at school ...

“…We began to draw birds, plants, animals, and various other zig-zags more boldly. Suddenly, the drawings became surprising and remarkable. With no copied patterns or forced designs.” Józefa Kogut (holding a plate in the photo)

Batik studio in Stowarzyszenie Warsztaty Krakowskie association (1923) by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

A total of 6 teenagers (at the time called “people's artists” in the press) were the first to study and work at Warsztaty Krakowskie, including the three Kogut sisters: Maria, Józefa, and Zofia. Józefa and Zofia Kogut would go on to win the grand prix at the 1925 world fair in Paris.

Archival catalogue card Archival catalogue card by unknown The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The toys made at Warsztaty Krakowskie were first shown in 1919.

They were unveiled at Zofia Stryjeńska's individual exhibition in the Zachęta gallery in Warsaw.

Goose and Woodpecker The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The MEK collection also includes several toys designed by Stryjeńska. Considering the variety of ornamentation, we believe that some were decorated by the artist herself while others – by Warsztaty's young trainees.

Birds The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The original form of these toys can be attributed to both their creators' creative freedom and manufacturing method – the bodies of dolls and birds were made of turned wood, giving them a distinctive shape.

Barrel organ (1925) by Józefa Kogut (autor of paintings) Warsztaty Krakowskie [Manufacturer] The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

The toys from Warsztaty Krakowskie are pleasant to the eye, and more. Despite their age and antique status, they still give off a feeling of interacting with unbridled imagination and… pure fun.

Krakowiak with Turon (1913/1926) by Warsztaty Krakowskie [Manufacturer] The Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

Mr Twardowski and the goose shake their spring-mounted heads, when picked up the dragon wriggles as if it were alive, the spinning tops keep whirling, the Cracovian on a pram waves his hand while chasing the turoń (an animalistic, festive monstrosity from Polish folklore).

They also remain a source of inspiration for new generations of artists and encouraging all to play with form and tradition. This is also the subject of the film “Zabawki z Wasztatów Krakowskich” (Toys from Warsztaty Krakowskie) made at the Ethnographic Museum of Kraków in 2020.

Credits: Story

Text: Dorota Majkowska-Szajer
Designed and created by: Natalia Ciemborowicz-Luber, Dorota Majkowska-Szajer, Katarzyna Piszczkiewicz

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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