2 mai, 2018

Interview: Renate Müller

Interview: Renate Müller

By Heather Jones



German artist Renate Müller's exhibition of revolutionary toy designs is on view at Kunsthall Stavanger from April 5–June 3, 2018. With her marriage of unique designs and traditional techniques, Müller has managed to create objects for children that are equally beautiful and useful. Below, Müller elaborates on her background in toy design and the theoretical ideas regarding early childhood development that drive her work. 

You grew up in Sonneberg, Germany, which is sometimes referred to as a Toy Town. Can you tell us about the early years of your life and how you came to work with toy design? 

I grew up in Sonneberg, East-Germany, which was the "Toy- capital" of the world from the end of the 19th century into the early/mid 20th century. I was born in 1945 after the Second World War. My Grandfather had owned a small toy factory since 1931, and my parents continued his work. In this background I grew up surrounded by a lot of various toys, dolls, plush animals and all the business life surrounding the family. This was a good education for my future life as a designer.


First you must have a deep and honest contact with children, an understanding of their wishes and way of thinking.

— Renate Müller

Your current exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger features toy designs spanning the entirety of your 50 year career, from individual objects to commissioned playgrounds and day care centers. How has your design process evolved during your lifetime?

My current exhibition at the Kunsthall features toy designs from all decades in my fifty years of work. After finishing my studies as a toy designer 1967, I started my working life in my family’s own toy factory. There I had a lot of tasks like the design of new products for the plush collection, to managing the production process and helping to organize the exhibitions in the spring and autumn at the Leipzig-Fair.

In 1967 we presented the first two pieces in jute-material (Rupfen), a rhino and a small cube. The first three patterns we bought with all rights from the art school. My life at this time was full of impressions about toys and play-ideas. In the following years I designed a large group of "Therapeutic Toys" in different natural materials, which received some important awards. After the nationalization of our factory in 1976 I became a member of the Community of Art and Design and in 1978 I started my work as a freelance craftswoman in my own workshop. In following years, I realized a lot of playgrounds and design solutions for kindergartens and children’s hospitals. I also worked for several years as a teacher at the art school in Sonneberg.

Friedrich Fröbel, the creator of the first kindergarten, was from the same area in Germany. And you studied with Helene Haeusler while you were at university. Can you talk about these influences and the philosophy behind your design process?

Friedrich Fröbel (1782 - 1852) was the creator of the first kindergarten in the world and worked mostly in our area in Thüringen. He infused in men, and many others, the desire to design good toys especially for preschool education. Every child should have a good childhood, poor or rich. I was also deeply influenced by the reduced designs of the Bauhaus Artists from the early 20th century in Halle/Dessau. When I studied with Helene Haeusler (1904 - 1987) my textile-teacher at the art school, she also taught us (the students) to think when designing toys that they should be toys for all children, both healthy and disabled. This philosophy has been the basis for my design for now over 50 years. I have also been influenced by other experiences such as my cooperation with Japanese educator Tadashi Tsujii.

Many of your designs are created specifically for children with disabilities. What is this process like and what requirements need to be met?

The process to realize such toys is not easy. First you must have a deep and honest contact with children, an understanding of their wishes and way of thinking. Than you can find the best way to design things that fit well within this context. Other partners in my work in the past were doctors and health-care specialists. Practical experience is the best way to get information and ideas. And then you have to realize transform this information into a well-designed three-dimensional form.

You now design and make by hand each toy yourself. Can you describe the process and timeline of creating these objects, and your choice of materials?

In addition to being a designer, I also have to be a "craftswoman.” Over time I learned different skills to be able to realize my designs in the highest quality. I think this is the key to my success. It's a great pleasure for me now to create each piece with my own hands (only my daughter helps me occasionally). From the design idea up to the final result – all is in one hand. Mostly the timeline for the creation of a toy is long (sometimes days or weeks to work on one big piece). The work is also physically difficult and strenuous. I like natural materials for my work: jute, cotton, leather, wooden stuffing or sheep’s wool, wooden construction inside (for the big toy animals) or carved pieces from trees for playgrounds in the past.

"Good toy – good childhood" is my slogan."

— Renate Müller

More generally, what do you see as the role of toys in early childhood development? Do you have any thoughts about the future of toy design? 

Generally, the role of toys in early childhood development is actually forever, also in the future. The effects reach far beyond childhood and into adulthood. Well-designed, real objects for children as toys are not to be replaced in our technical and digital world!

"Good toy – good childhood" is my slogan. It is the basis for a good understanding of the real world, of the management of tasks in the present and future, and of a satisfied and grounded human life. 

Read more about Renate Müller and the exhibition Renate Müller: 50 Years of Toys and Design HERE.

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