In the 1960’s German toy designer Renate Müller attended Sonneberg’s Polytechnic for Toy Design. There, lessons about the Bauhaus and Friedrich Fröbel’s (1782-1852) pioneering ideas on childhood education taught her to always use simple materials and simple forms, for the best understanding of children. Encouraged by her teacher Helene Haeusler she started to design hand-crafted toys that could be used therapeutically by children with physical and mental disabilities. Müller created large stuffed animals –alligators, rhinos, elephants, hippos, seals - made of jute with coloured leather accents. These animals were used to enhance orthopedic exercises and balance coordination, as well as for sensory stimulation and hand-eye coordination. They debuted at the 1967 Leipzig Trade Fair and were tested (and deemed successful) by German psychiatric hospitals and clinics.
Designed to lead a hard life, to be actively played with and climbed on by children, the big animals are essentially pieces of furniture. They have an internal wood structure and they are stuffed with “wood wool” (fresh wood shavings).
The combination of pedagogical value with a recognisable aesthetics of simple solid shapes and colours and appealing contrasting textures make Muller’s animals very attractive.