Nordic Design Tells More: ‘Century of the Child’ Exhibition

Nordic Design Tells More: ‘Century of the Child’ Exhibition

Words by
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published October 6, 2016

Over the past century, the Nordic region has become synonymous with simplicity and functionality in design. From now until February 2017, The Nordic House is hosting the exhibition ‘Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to Today’. The exhibition displays almost 200 items that reflect both social and design changes within the 20th century, all revolving around children. It’s the first time this travelling exhibit will be shown in Iceland.

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I met with project manager Kristín Ingvarsdóttir for an inspiring tour around the showroom. Though the exhibit focuses on children’s design, it is not designed for children only. Kristín highlights the fact that it is meant for people of all ages; it is a childhood flashback for the elderly and a time machine for the youngest visitors.

The story of a century

“One of the key factors of the exhibition is the underlying story of how the role of children and ideas about children have developed throughout the 20th century,” Kristín says. She explains that nowadays kids grow up with unlimited ability to express themselves using modern technologies. “You only need to go few generations back to find children working in factories and so forth,” she continues. “Even though the 20th century is not such a long period, within it the Nordic region became a pioneer when it comes to children’s rights and children’s culture.”

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The exhibition gives historical background on how we see children, how this has changed through the years, and how this can be seen in improved goods for the youngest ones. On display are advertising campaigns aimed at children who lost their parents during wartime. Another focus is on the improvement of educational tools—books and illustrations, toys, and environments—that have evolved to pay more heed to children’s sensitive nature, creativity and development.

Something for everyone

Step by step, I’m led further into the exhibition of toys, literature, furniture, fashion, as well as architectural plans for schools and playgrounds. The amplitude of the work on show is wide and, as is particularly common to Nordic design, iconic.

Several characters evoke my interest. “Maximus Musicus is the most famous musical mouse in Iceland,” Kristín smiles. Maximus is easy to fall love with, but there are a number of equally endearing displays, like the Finnish “Dance Shoes for Father and Daughter” and the Icelandic Krumma-Flow play sculptures, located outside of the Nordic House.

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Towards the end of my tour of the exhibition, Kristín introduces me to its curator, Guja Dögg Hauksdóttir. She is collaborating with the Nordic House to produce educational materials designed both for the exhibition site, and to provide schools with online exercises in the future. It’s a fascinating look at how design can illustrate the history of children, and how it will evolve in future.


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