April 30, 2009

It's Baaaack! Knu Re-Reintroduces "Rocking Beauty," Gloria Caranica's Red Ball Rocking Horse


Or is that, "Knu re-reintroduces 'Red Ball Rocking Horse,' Gloria Caranica's Rocking Beauty"?

I got this press release in my inbox the same time as some other folks, but I wanted to get some more info before posting about it.

A couple of weeks ago, a Michigan furniture manufacturer named Knu ["new"] announced they were "re-introducing the Red Ball Rocker, originally created by toy designer Gloria Caranica in 1965."

For those familiar with the saga of this design classic, "re-introducing" is as interesting a term as the "Red Ball Rocker" name itself. Long known as the Hobby Horse, the design world attributed it to Philip Johnson without ever really making the distinction between Philip Johnson the architect and Philip Johnson the creative director of Creative Playthings.

But in 2006, DWR launched a children's catalogue with a "Red Ball Rocker" on the cover, which they described inside as an anonymous piece of folk art their visionary CEO had found at a garage sale and put into production.

I called bullshit on that on a Friday, and over the weekend, DWR hastily changed their online catalogue copy to credit Gloria Caranica, whose name was on an original design sketch for the "Rocking Beauty." And since that sketch didn't have the required copyright notice, the rocker's design was in the public domain. I spoke with Caranica at the time; she was hired by Johnson and had designed many of the innovative company's toys, but her contribution to design generally and children's design in particular has remained alarmingly underappreciated. [It so happens I just got off the phone with Ms. Caranica, and we're set to talk at length next week, so look for her full story to finally begin to be told soon.]

Anyway, Knu is a subsidiary of the International Woodworking Corporation, which happens to be the company DWR contracted with to knockoff CP's Hobby Horse. After DWR unceremoniously axed their children's business, the rocker went out of production, but IWC/Knu just decided to bring it back.

And to add a layer of karmic awesomeness and complexity to what began a few years ago as a clear case of corporate knockoffery, Knu has not only given Caranica credit for her design, they have offered her a royalty on sales of the rocker as well. So generally, a good thing.

the Red Ball Rocker by Knu is available from DT advertiser sparkability or from Knu for $265 [sparkability, getknu.com]

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