“Don’t be timid. There’s got to be a bit of circus in it.” –Kay Bojesen
Kay Bojesen (b. 1886) was a Danish silversmith best known for his hand-constructed, whimsical wooden toys.
In 1903, Bojesen’s father, disappointed with his teenage son’s perceived laziness, sent Bojesen to work for a grocer in Store Heddinge, Denmark. While a grocer, it is said that Bojesen took an interest in metal-smithing and asked a local goldsmith if he could draw patterns for him. In 1906, Bojesen began a four year apprenticeship with Georg Jensen’s new silversmithing company, and in 1910 studied at the vocational school in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Upon returning to Copenhagen, Bojesen’s unmistakable talents were noticed by Oscar F. Dahl and Royal Jeweler, Anton Michelsen. In 1913, Bojesen had the opportunity to purchase Oscar Dahl’s workshop, so with the help of his father, Bojesen opened his own silversmithing workshop where he was able to move away from the Art Nouveau style he had learned at G. Jensen and explore the Functionalist movement that was developing in Europe in the early part of the century.
In 1930, believing that a cutlery pattern “shouldn’t steal the picture at a table setting,” Bojesen crafted a Functionalist set that would go on to win a Grand Prix at Milan’s 1951 Triennale. The iconic “Grand Prix” pattern would eventually become the official Danish Embassy cutlery and is still used today at Danish embassies around the world. In 1952, Bojesen was honored with the appointment of Purveyor to the Royal Danish Court.
But it was Bojesen’s small wooden toys that would capture hearts around the world.
In 1919, after the birth of his son, Otto, Bojesen began crafting small wooden toys for his son, just as his father had done for him as a child. Three years later, in1922, he entered a toy competition at the Dansk Arbejde Association in Copenhagen, and Bojesen’s accidental career as a toy-maker would begin. Over the next ten years, Bojesen began hand-crafting boats, cars, and jointed dolls, and in 1932 opened Den Permante, a cooperative craft and design store at 47 Bredgade, just steps from the royal palace, Amalienborg. It was there that Bojesen would begin to design his beloved wooden figures and, in rapid succession, the first of Bojesen’s animals (Dog, Zebra, Terrier and Rocking Horse) were created. However, on April 9, 1940, the charmed life of the Danish toy-maker would change with the German invasion of Denmark. While Nazis occupied Copenhagen at street level, Bojesen continued to quietly make toys in his basement workshop at 47 Bredgade. In late 1940, Bojesen, as a sign of passive resistance, designed the “King’s Royal Guard”; wooden replicas of the palace guards that had been replaced by Nazi guards during the occupation. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Bojesen produced fewer toys between 1940 and 1945.
By 1957, Bojesen would create many more animals. Beginning with the iconic Monkey in 1951, which was created in response to a request to create a coat hanger for an exhibition of children’s furniture. The Monkey was followed by the Bear, Elephant (which was presented to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953), Puffin, Hippo, Rabbit and the colorful Songbirds.
Bojesen, who considered himself a craftsman and not a designer, was a master of many mediums. While best known for his use of silver and wood, Bojesen also used bamboo, melamine, porcelain, steel and tin for the over 2,000 objects he would create during his career.
But it was silver that captured his creative spirit. Bojesen once said, “silver possesses most of my craftsman’s heart and I’m going to die a silversmith.”
Bojesen died in Copenhagen in 1958 at the age of 72.