In the late 1960s and earily 1970s Bruno Munari and Enzo Mari produced a series of children’s books and products for Italian manufacturer Danese, who otherwise specialized in fancy desk accessories and stylish ashtrays (a rather Italian product mix). Despite this association, the two designers are reputed to have rather contrasting personalities.
Bruno Munari is one of the most universally beloved figures in Italian art and design. Having designed and illustrated children’s books for decades, Munari began, in the 1960, to travel the country giving workshops on art and creative thinking to young children and their teachers. While none of us at Swipe ever met Munari, several of our Italian customers of a certain age relate fond grammar-school memories of “Uncle Bruno”.
With Mari we do have some direct experience. In 1999, after having spent a day being shown around Toronto by a Design Exchange staffer, the diminutive Mari marching up to the counter at Swipe and announced unceremoniously: “I used to think Canada was the country of dreams, now I know it is the country of shit.” A second Mari story come by way of a customer who, while attending a party at the flagship Alessi shop on Corso Matteotti in Milan, noticed a man sitting all alone in a corner. When he asked his host who the sad looking gentleman was, he was told: “Ahh, that is Mari. Nobody likes Mari.”
What is most astounding about Mari’s reputation as a world-class grump is that he is, in fact, responsible for some of the most lyrical, joyful and empathetic pedagogical products ever designed. His 16 Animali and 16 Pesci puzzles, designed in 1957 and produced by Danese throughout the 1970s, are wondrous objects, equally delightful to any three-year-old as to the most critical aficionado of industrial design. Anyhow, perhaps Mari’s frankness is exactly what the design world needs today. At a recent talk hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco, Mari stated flatly: “Now, people frequently want to buy stupid things, but good design is not a copy of what people want.” Damn.
Nella Notte Buia / In the Darkness of the Night
? 1956: Bruno Munari
Arguably Munari’s most famous children’s book, In the Darkness of the Night is a poignant and touching voyage through darkness. First published in 1956, the book has become a landmark in children’s publishing for its tactile and interactive qualities. (1996: Corraini Editore; ISBN 9788875700799)
Bruno Munari’s ABC
? 1960: Bruno Munari
Munari’s ABC was originally published exclusively for the American book market in 1960, but its success led to numerous reprints in multiple languages, including his native Italian. Beautifully illustrated in Munari’s iconic style, ABC plays with whimsical combinations of text and image to create a playful introduction to the alphabet. (2003: Chronicle Books; ISBN 0811854639)
The Circus in the Mist
? 1968: Bruno Munari
As with In the Darkness of the Night, the elaborately produced and beautifully illustrated The Circus in the Mist is a wonderful book for children and adults alike. With a range of paper stocks, and the creative use and vellum and die-cuts, Munari captures the feeling of traversing Milan’s characteristic fog only to arrive at a circus dress rehearsal. (1996: Corraini Editore; ISBN 9788887942972)
Adapted from Munari’s famed Playing with Art workshops, this wonderful series for older children playfully explores the relationship between perception and visual representation. In Munari’s view, careful observation leads to liberated self-expression and actually connects the young artist to the essential nature of the subject. Make art, not pictures!
Drawing a Tree
? 1978: Bruno Munari
“When drawing a tree always remember that every branch is more slender than the one that came before. Also note that the trunk splits into two branches, then those branches are split into two, then those two, and so on, and so on, until you have a full tree, be it straight, squiggly, curved up, curved down, or bent sideways by the wind.” – BM (2000: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 888794276)
Drawing the Sun
? 1980: Bruno Munari
“When drawing the sun, try to have on hand coloured paper, chalk, felt-tip markers, crayons, pencils, ballpoint pens. Also remember that sunset and dawn are the back and front of the same phenomenon: when you are looking at the sunset, the people over there are looking at the dawn.” – BM (2000: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 8887942773)
Più e Mino / Plus and Minus
? 1970: Bruno Munari & Giovanni Belgrano
A unique visual game for children, Plus and Minus consists of 72 images printed on opaque and transparent cards, which can be superimposed to create landscapes, vignettes and narrative scenes.
As can be expected of Munari’s games, there are no rules and the game is only limited by the child’s imagination. This new edition of Plus Minus has been carefully reissued by Corraini, remaining completely faithful to the 1970 original. (2008: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 8033532910020)
Il Gioco delle Favole / The Fable Game
? 1965: Enzo Mari
The Fable Game is among Mari’s most beloved projects and is one of the high points in the history of design for children. Similar to the Eames’ House of Cards, The Fable Game consists of interlocking cards printed with characters from Aesop and La Fontaine, intended to encourage children to develop narratives based on the ‘intersections’ of the cards. Each new card combination brings together different characters and suggest a new story. (2004: Edizioni Corraini; ISBN 888794296x)
Drawing Cards 1: On Faces 2: A Train-Load Of… 3: Landscapes
4: Dreams and Other Things 5: Subjects and Sequences
? 1978: Enzo Mari
Another extraordinary concept piece from Mari, Drawing Cards anticipated Taro Gomi’s Doodles series by three decades. Each cardstock folder contains five long strips of thick drawing paper partially printed with images or graphic elements intended to provide a point of departure for young artists who would prefer to draw rather than simply colour. (2008: Corraini Editore; ISBNs 9788886250672; 9788886250665; 9788886250696; 9788886250702; 9788886250689)
$14.95 each set
Il Posto dei Giochi / The Place of Games
? 1967: Enzo Mari
Perhaps Mari’s key insight was his recognition that children are best left to imagine for themselves. With his die-cut cardboard play structure Il Posto dei Giochi, or The Place of Games, Mari provides a subtle suggestion of fantastic environments, leaving the child’s imagination to fill in the rest. Unfortunately, Il Posto dei Giochi is produced in Italy in such small quantities that it is priced more as a design object than as a child’s toy.
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