Kay Bojesen’s works of wood

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To most riders it is their first horse. To the Danish designer, Kay Bojesen, the horse was the first toy that he ever created.

 

By Camilla Alfthan

 

 

The dragoon and his horse surfaced  in 1922 when Kay Bojesen presented them at an exhibition in Copenhagen where they caused a major sensation.

 

Until then, the designer was known for his intriguing works in silver – a craft he had learned from the famous silversmith, Georg Jensen.

Kay Bojesen’s own talent was undisputable. Two boat shaped salt cellars which he exhibited in 1918 were immidiately snapped up by the Museum of Industrial Arts while private collectors commisioned him to make exquisite designs in silver including a Buddha shaped silver bowl, elegant vases and silver jewelry in an art nouveau style which Kay Bojesen later abandoned for the minimal lines of functionalism.

His famous Grand Prix  cutlery was named after the prestigious Triennale Award which he recieved in Milan in 1938.

 

The toys happened by chance as Kay Bojesen originally made them for his son, Otto.

However, as the response was so enthusiastic he multiplied his designs over the years and to an extent that they, too, became synonymous with his works.

The warmth of the wood inspired Kay Bojesen just as its ability to patinate over the years which he found similar to silver. Moreover, the stories which the toys enabled him to tell became a lifelong  passion.

 

”Children need toys which aren’t too small so that you can emphasize each silhouette to stimulate their imagination,” explained Kay Bojesen at the time. Instead of trying to emulate  reality he wanted to make the children smile and reach out for his toys to play with them.

 

Kay Bojesen’s iconic figures continue to fascinate children as well as adults 

 

A twinkling monkey remains a bestseller, just as his wise elephant, a hippopotamus who holds a pen in his mouth, rabbits, dogs and, of course, horses who were just some of Kay Bojesen’s iconic wooden figures which continue to fascinate children as well as adults.

 

During Denmark’s golden years of modern design Kay Bojesen came to be known as the most lighthearted of the pack.

 

As the son of the renowned publisher, Ernst Bojesen, who represented some of the greatest contemporary writers while he also founded the satirical magazine, ”The Octopus” (Blæksprutten), Kay Bojesen grew up in an affluent home with parents who appreciated humour and even his occasional practical jokes.

 

His shop on Bredgade, 47 in the centre of Copenhagen became a magnet for children who inspired him, too. Kay Bojesen’s most important accomplices were his grandchildren who stayed with him and his wife during the summers at their Bella Vista home in Klampenborg in the suburbs of Copenhagen.

 

”I had my grandfather for ten years. He was always very intense and that is why I remember him so well,” tells Kay Bojesen’s eldest grandchild, Peter who spent hours in his study, transfixed as he watched his grand dad draw.

”I was never good at making anything mysef so I was fascinated by the things that he could make with his hands. We always had to be very quiet when he was working. After a couple of hours, when he had finished work he would take us out for some fun. We took a horse carriage to the Eremitage castle or to the amusement park where the roller coaster was a huge sensation,” tells Peter Bojesen when we meet during his grand father’s exhibition at the Sophienholm country house north of Copenhagen.

 

Most of Kay Bojesen’s toys were collected from around the world by a local fan, Tonny Christensen, and over the span of some sixteen years. Several of the toys were unknown to his family.

Other, long forgotten figures have resurfaced such as the sea parrot which has become a bestsellar along with Kay Bojesen’s iconic monkey  – over 300,000 were sold until this date.

 

At his Bella Vista home the designer had built a small theatre with wooden figures to entertain his grandchildren.

“He also used bamboo and he made a fishing rod for both of us. We’d sit in the shade of the life guard’s tower on the landing of the steamers and fish like old friends. We never caught anything but we had a man to man talk about the things in life which occupy a young boy’s mind. He understood me very well,” Peter Bojesen smiles.

”His shop was bursting with his designs and there he was in his white coat. He had a turning lathe and a table for sketching in the basement where he could only see the feet of people passing by. Every day the royal guards marched by his shop. When he made the wooden soldiers he did so as a subtle objection to the Nazi occupation during the war.”

 

Kay Bojesen also enjoyed international fame.  When the British cruise liner, Queen Mary embarked on her first journey in 1936 there were six play rooms designed by Kay Bojesen and complete with his toys. He had many famous customers. The legendary American pilot, Charles Lindberg came by his shop to order two silver bowls and later he wrote the designer to order one more.

 
When the British cruise liner, Queen Mary embarked upon her first journey there were six play rooms designed by Kay Bojesen and complete with his toys.

 

Not surprisingly, Peter Bojesen and his younger sister, Sus, were immensely popular with their friends as they were testing his many different prototypes. Likewise, hardly any child who entered Kay Bojesen’s shop would leave without him putting a toy or two into their pockets.

 

“I had a painted rocking horse and the wooden letters of the alphabet which I kept for many years. I had the train with the rails and grandfather also made me a go-cart which I raced down with in the hills of the woods. His elephant remains my favorite,” Peter Bojesen smiles.

 

As a generous party loving character, Kay Bojesen enjoyed to have people around at his house.

 

“Every Sunday he opened his home to his friends. Grandmother never knew if there’d be two or twenty guests dropping by. His friends counted some the most some of famous designers and writers at the time – Poul Henningsen, Piet Hein, Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl who owned several of Bojesen’s designs including his table wear.”

 

“Once grandfather was invited to dinner at Finn Juhl’s house where some American guests complimented him on his cutlery. Grandfather told them that they could have it if they wanted it. Finn Juhl could not object even if it was his cutlery. The following day, grand dad sent him a new set.”

 

“Grandmother was a former athlete. She looked after the house and eventually took over his shop. She never created anything but she sold his designs and she was just as cautious with her money as her husband was good at spending it.

Once, a newly wedded couple entered the shop to buy grandfather’s silver cutlery. Grandmother discouraged them by saying,  ‘You can’t afford it in silver, you need to buy it in steel’. The shop didn’t do so well during her time,” Peter Bojesen says with twinkle and a smile.

 

On a professional level Kay Bojesen preferred to be remembered for his elegant silver designs. However, he was not only an important  part of the creative Zeitgeist  – but also outspoken in public debates.  Though he loved horses as a motif his most memorable article lashed out at the local riding club, Mattson, after he and his wife had been run down by a bolting horse. As a consequence, Bojesen was hospitalised and unable to work for several months, without being able to collect insurance  let alone receive an apology from the stable.

 

His kind spirits, however, remained untouched.

When he could finally go home again he offered his nurse a beautiful silver broche – a token for life, signed Kay Bojesen.

 

To celebrate Kay Bojesen’s immense creativity as a designer, silversmith and illustrator, the book, The Lines Must Smile was published by Gyldendal in 2014.

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