The Untold Tale Of An 18-Year-Old’s Magical Dollhouse For His Sister In 1912
Many young girls can only fantasize about owning a dollhouse like the one crafted by an 18-year-old Swedish gentleman named John Carlsson for his younger sister, Elsa, in 1912. This remarkable dollhouse, constructed from a reused display cabinet, boasts four stories, a wooden staircase adorned with gold-painted wire banisters, and a fully functional elevator ingeniously assembled from old clockwork components. When a crank is turned, a miniature telephone within the dollhouse rings, and each room is illuminated with electric lighting. The level of craftsmanship is so exquisite that it’s challenging to distinguish it from factory-made dolls’ houses.
This dollhouse is just one of over 300 items featured in the exhibition titled “SWEDISH WOODEN TOYS,” currently on display at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery (BGC) in New York until February 28, accompanied by a book bearing the same title from Yale University Press. Covering Swedish toy creations spanning more than two centuries, both the exhibition and the book delve into the cultural significance of toys, a form of naive art that often goes overlooked by scholars.
Peter Pluntky, a toy and antiques expert based in Stockholm who contributed to the exhibition, remarks, “Toys are small-scale representations of all aspects of human life, from warfare to the day-to-day inner workings of a household.” Swedish wooden toys, he explains, encapsulate agricultural practices, domestic tasks, modes of transportation, military endeavors, winter sports, games, educational tools, and elements of pop culture.
Susan Weber, the founder and director of BGC, emphasizes, “There’s tremendous inventiveness in Swedish wooden toys.” She attributes this, in part, to the fact that industrialization arrived in Sweden nearly a century later than in other European nations, affording more time for the development of simple “peasant” crafts.