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This wooden steam train was made by Tadeusz Matusiak in the German prison camp, Luckenwalde (Stalag III-A), in 1944. Tadeusz Matusiak, who was born in Kęty in 1907, was a house painter by profession; from an early age, he painted pictures and carved in wood with great passion. He was a very talented artist.

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This wooden steam train was made by Tadeusz Matusiak in the German prison camp, Luckenwalde (Stalag III-A), in 1944. Tadeusz Matusiak, who was born in Kęty in 1907, was a house painter by profession; from an early age, he painted pictures and carved in wood with great passion. He was a very talented artist. In 1939, he participated in the September Campaign, taking part in bloody battles near Rajsko. After his unit had been broken by a unit of the Wehrmacht, he was taken prisoner and held captive until the end of the war. While in the prison camp, he was engaged in sculpting, which he hid from the Germans. He made wooden toys, which were designed for his three young children living in Kęty. At some point, the German guards discovered what the Polish captive was doing in the camp, but, being impressed by his talent, they suggested that he would also make toys for their children. For five toys made for the Germans, Tadeusz Matusiak had the right to send one toy to his family living in Kęty. Among the items sent from the Luckenwalde camp, there were train sets, cars, and houses. One of the toys that Tadeusz Matusiak's children received—a wooden locomotive—is still in good condition to this day. Three generations of children had played with the steam train before it finally arrived in the museum in Kęty. The locomotive is covered with light blue paint, with patches of red and white. The year in which the toy was made, 1944, has been painted with white paint at the very front.

Elaborated by the Aleksander Kłosiński Museum in Kęty, © all rights reserved

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Jan Oprocha's World of Toys

In the 19th century and up to the mid-20th century, Kraków was a major centre of the folk toy industry. This was because during winter (when bricklaying ceased), the masons of the suburbs of Kraków: Zwierzyniec, Krowodrza, Czarna Wieś, Ludwinów and Podgórze (which was a separate town until 1915) could earn extra money by building and selling cribs, as well as going carolling with puppet nativity scenes. They were also engaged in the production of popular toys to be later sold during annual spring fairs.

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In the 19th century and up to the mid-20th century, Kraków was a major centre of the folk toy industry. This was because during winter (when bricklaying ceased), the masons of the suburbs of Kraków: Zwierzyniec, Krowodrza, Czarna Wieś, Ludwinów and Podgórze (which was a separate town until 1915) could earn extra money by building and selling cribs, as well as going carolling with puppet nativity scenes. They were also engaged in the production of popular toys to be later sold during annual spring fairs.
One of the few artists creating wooden toys in Kraków known by name is the creator of The Lajkonik Parade, Jan Oprocha, born in 1858. He created his works up to the start of World War II. He made not only figures of Jews, but also other figures typical of Kraków and its suburbs, seen in various situations. His toys, which have been preserved in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, are easily recognisable because of his distinctive and unique style. All of them are slightly grotesque, with rounded shapes and chubby faces, which may not always make one laugh, but at least it brings a smile to the faces of people seeing them. Oprocha was the author of many figures representing professions and activities today long forgotten, for example a wandering herb trader, a wandering shoe trader, a dog catcher on a wagon pulled by horses. In his toys, he also presented funny situations such as: A carrier with a lady in the boat or A drunkard with a bottle on a swing. The artist also depicted one of the games popular in Rękawka up to the 1950s. With the pulling of a string, a wooden figure of a boy climbs up a rod imitating a pole in order to win the longed-for prize, as on the top of the rod there are shoes, sausages and a bottle. It must be remembered that these were mass-produced toys intended for sale. Figurines, often repeatable, composed in different groups or independent, were placed on stands. Under their shoes or feet they had springs, so they  could move, sway or bounce. This usage of springs in the construction of wooden figurines, depicting not only Jews, is a characteristic feature of the toys made in Kraków by masons. The same can be said about the stands on which the figurines were set, which were painted green, and sometimes decorated with white, yellow or pink borders.
Jan Oprocha’s name and work were carried on by his son until the late 1970s. His figures were similar in style, but they didn’t have the same grace as those made by his father. In the collection of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, the Lajkonik procession made by Jan Oprocha Jr. can be found, in the form of an arrangement placed on a stand without wheels, with figures fastened on springs, as well as the numerous figures of Jews, scythe bearers, a pair of Kraków citizens and a policeman with a dog.

More information on the toys of Kraków can be found in: Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz, Grażyna Pyla, Czar zabawek krakowskich [The charm of the toys of Kraków], Muzeum Etnograficzne im. Seweryna Udzieli w Krakowie (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), Kraków 2007.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków),© all rights reserved

See also:
Wooden toy — a cart pulled by horses

Toy Wooden locomotive

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Toy “Wooden locomotive”

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