For someone who's been wading through the history of kids' design in the modern age for several years now, some of the stuff in MoMA's Century of the Child is immediately familiar. [Some of it is very familiar, but we'll get to that later.] But there's also amazing, stop in your tracks, WTF-mindblowing discoveries.
The early sections of the show and the catalogue go back to the kindergarten movement and child labor, health and social reforms to lay out the central role played by design [objects, space, process, materials] in the construction of modern childhood.
I knew that the high modernists of the inter-war years praised science and hygiene and evangelized for fresh air and outdoor life and against "anything that traps germs and dust". But adding the insistent warnings from a chorus of popular pediatric experts, and in the context of WWI's privations and the 1918 influenza pandemic, these tubular steel and smooth, unadorned classics feel slightly desperate, even paranoid.
Which is kind of a sobering setup for these two awesome finds, but let's go:
That's the Aalto children and friend, who've built a train [indoors, oh no!] in the living room out of their dad's kindergarten chairs, plus a pair of upended Breuer Wassily chairs. The Alvar Aalto Museum dates Aino's photo to 1929, but if that's Hanii in front, and Hamilkar [b. 1928] in the middle, I'd guess he looks around 3yo. So maybe it's a little later? Or maybe those Finns are so healthy and hearty and full-grown at an early age, they can play indoors once in a while without worry.
Meanwhile, in Modena: this amazing glass children's desk, which was designed by Gio Ponti [!] and produced by mosaic tile manufacturer Vitrex in 1939, in the midst of depression and the onset of war. I can't imagine how many were even made, much less how many survive. But you walk around the corner from Arts & Crafts Land and there it is, just blowing your mind. It is officially bonkers.