AMAZING MAKER | Libuse Niklova (1934-1981)
In 2011, while in Paris exploring the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, I happened upon a retrospective of Czech toy designer, Libuse Niklova. The first piece I remember seeing was her black accordion cat, Toy Cat. Toy Cat stuck with me (photo below), even though I had zero knowledge of the fame of this toy, or the artist's achievement of subsequent accordian characters. Though unfamiliar with her work, I was drawn to it. Each one of her special designs felt special, and at once familar, as if I had seen them in a movie, a book, or in my childhood.
This is the beauty of Niklova's work. Each toy is designed in line with the Modern Art movement of the era. Clever and simple, the shapes get to the core of the person or animal represented, peel back all the extra details till left with a basic but captivating object.
PLASTIC PLAYTHINGS (1954-1964)
Niklova was a toy designer from the start. With the intention of producing toys in mind, she began art school right as wooden toys were becoming expensive to craft and and plastic was emerging as a revolutionary technology. Niklova embraced it.
She recognized that the natural materials of the Czechoslovakian Artel movement would not withstand the demands of the future. Although people were sketching amazing toy creations they were unable to get them mass produced due to cost. Niklova recognized plastic as the solution, stating, “In the future, products from plastic matter will surround man just like the air, and they will become commonplace. Increasingly, natural materials will be a luxury and the object of admiration. The future, however, belongs to plastic.”
While developing her preliminary rubber toy designs, Niklova was eager to develop full sensory toys that would truly aid in a child's development. Initial creations (Towns People, pictured above) were simple in form but colorful, and made sounds when squeezed.
ACCORDION AND VERNIAN TOYS (1963-1968)
While working in the Fatra Napajedla factory, Niklova noticed a team developing a new toilet flush system that used a special accordion tube. From this tube Toy Cat was born. The accordion, the cats main feature, had the same qualities she tried to include in other designs but even more so. It allowed these characters to touch on all of a child's senses, making the form potentially irresistible. When combined with Nikova's simple design and fun colors, children agreed. These became some of her most famous designs to this day.
As further advancements were made in rubber and plastic, Niklova—who was recalled is recalled by co-workers as having an innate ability to see the infinite potential of the raw materials before her—began to be known for her sense of problem solving at the point of development. This quality resulted in always easing production while additionally improving the final piece. With these traits, and her whimsical creativity, her next toy creations (the adorable inflatable toys of the late 60s and early 70s) were inevitable.
INFALTABLE TOYS (1964-1972)
Throughout her career, Niklova was driven by a desire to design each detail on an object specifically to enhance it and increase the desire to touch and play with it. She felt other toy companies added paint or pattern without care to the object, and prided herself on making each additional color and shape improve each toys playability. Needless to say, the effect is obvious. Her creations are coveted to this day, and have been reference material for many toys and inflatable designs since.
Though Niklova passed early at the age of 47, we are lucky for the over 120 toy designs she created in her prolific 20+ year career. Niklova had two children, one of whom is an artist himself, Petr Nikl. Gratefully, he has helped in showcasing her toy creations, working with Tereza Bruthansova to author a lovely book on his mother. This is the only book I have been able to find on Libuse Niklova, and congratulate myself for picking it up on that memorable day in Paris.
Through Libuse Niklovas's work we are reminded how form and function, design and art can work together. When we create,' we need to keep each of these elements in mind to achieve a cohesive final product. We also learn the joy of remaining inquisitive. When we are open to being playful, open to the potential of things, happy accidents occur. This is a beautiful thing!
So whats the lesson to learn from my unknowing discovery of this amazing exhibit in Paris?
The next time you get an itch to head to a museum or gallery, don't think, just go. You never know what wonders will find you. For me, I'll always remember July 2011, as the time Libuse Niklova found me.
"When I drew the various small animals,
I had foremost in mind the idea that the child can play with the toy
in the most creative way."
Libuše Niklová, 1964
Name: Libuse Niklova (Kyselakova)
Known for: Toy Design
Born: April 1, 1934 - Zlin, Czechoslovakia
Dead: June 5, 1981 (47) - Zlin, Czechoslovakia