THE HISTORY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP OF THE FRITZ HANSEN ROCKING HORSE
The Curious Horse
In a remarkable journey through time and design, the Fritz Hansen Rocking Horse has re-emerged as a symbol of heritage, innovation, and exceptional craftsmanship. Hidden away in the depths of the Fritz Hansen archive, a forgotten photograph set in motion the first chapter of this captivating story. Today, this sculptural masterpiece stands as a tribute to our past, reborn in 2023. So begins the intriguing history of the Fritz Hansen Rocking Horse – from its origins and meticulous recreation to the choice of materials, intricate design, and craftsmanship that breathed life back into this 1946 curiosity.
A Discovery in the Archive
Heritage means a great deal at Fritz Hansen. The story of the Rocking Horse emerged from our appreciation of the company’s proud history. As a 151-year-old Danish design house, our legacy is central to our identity. The history upon which the company is built is archived and maintained by our heritage team. In 2021, the team came across two intriguing photographs – a rocking horse dating back to 1946, a curious, long-forgotten treasure buried deep inside the archive.
“Discovering those old photographs in our archives was like finding a hidden treasure chest of our history. It was an inspiring find that led us on a journey of love for craftsmanship and heritage that brought a hidden treasure back to life in 2023.” – Ida Leisner, Curator and Researcher.
The images of the rocking horse had been found in an old furniture catalogue. It was never intended for production but documented due to its exceptional craftsmanship. It is a striking piece for the time given the skill and artistry put in by the maker and interestingly, the photographer employed a mirror to create the illusion of multiple horses in an image.
Piecing together the origin story of the Rocking Horse, it was likely that a craftsperson at the workshop created the piece as a personal project for a child or grandchild. A labour of love. What happened to the original rocking horse, nobody yet knows. But the existence of just one copy adds to its allure.
Crafted like a Cello
Following the unearthing of the intriguing photographs in January 2021, and inspired by the mystery, Fritz Hansen’s Design and Product Development team began the painstaking task of recreating the rocking horse using just two photographs. Unlike traditional rocking horses that stand on two curved lengths of wood, the rocking function was cleverly embedded within the body of the horse, adding a unique sculptural quality and an extra challenge to the project.
Fritz Hansen is renowned for its production of curved, sculpturesque furniture using a mix of industrialised processes and hand crafting techniques. Taking on the challenge of recreating the rocking horse was a project that resonated deeply with our identity.
The recreation proved to be a long and meticulous journey. The team had just two small archive photographs to work from to grasp proportions, scale, and details. Crafting model after model, over time and trial, the team refined the shape and size, adding layers to create the ideal form through an industrial lamination technique. In the design process, they would make the expression as abstract as possible while retaining its horse-like essence. It was to be a sculpture resonating as an image of a horse.
Leading the project, Fritz Hansen’s Design Developer Mads-Ulrik Husum, whose passion for this project cannot be understated, shared how they solved the problem of finding the correct curvature for the design: “We found inspiration for the curvature of the piece from centuries-old techniques used in crafting musical instruments, like cellos and violins. Once we started to view the rocking horse as a musical instrument, we had a way to approach the design with a fresh perspective, utilising circles and lines to create perfect curvature. As soon as we tried this method, so many of the issues we had were solved.”
Design and Manufacturing
From the discovery of the images to the launch, it took nearly three years to recreate this delightful piece. A total of 12 models were crafted to find the perfect expression and construction.
The Rocking Horse today is an object of beauty, a tribute to the history of craftsmanship, as well as a toy for children. To ensure it was safe to play with, it was necessary to use only natural materials that were safe for children. The body of the horse is made from moulded veneer – the same material that Arne Jacobsen experimented with in the very same location to create his iconic stacking chairs. The Rocking Horse tail is made of halyard – the same material used in Poul Kjærholm’s PK25 and PK4 chairs. And the ears are made using leftover leather from Fritz Hansen’s production facilities as a way to ensure the absolute minimum of waste.
A dedication to creative workshopping and internal collaboration played a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity of the process. The result was a rocking horse that stands out in terms of design and longevity.