Clay Toys

In May 2014, Alcor Edimpex Publishers brought out the album “Clay Toys”, accompanying the exhibition with this theme staged at the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant. It is for the first time in this country that researchers have dealt with that theme featured in an exhibition, the topic gaining the scope it deserves. The text of the album is written by the Deputy Director of the museum, dr. Georgeta Roșu and it has been translated by Ana Maria Palcu. Publisher Cori Simona Pop has taken the pictures and has done the desk top publishing. The cover of the album has been drawn by graphic artist Ioana Bãtrânu. The outcome of their work is praiseworthy, as one can see down bellow.




The presentation made by the author says:

“Games and toys have always been present in the children’s universe, being at the same time the most important means of developing their personality.

Several contemporary sciences show a constant concern for establishing the role of games and toys in the children’s life. Biology considers the game and the toy as a way of energy release, a time of recreation when the child can detach himself from aggressive impulses. Pedagogy and psychology pursue their instructive and educative role in the child’s development, in various stages of his life. Applied mathematics deals with the game as an activity involving two or several partners who must “devise” a game strategy, the child thus learning to socialize.

Any of those studies reaches the conclusion that the game makes the child high-spirited and mature; it allows him to act freely, with no constraints and helps him to watch and draw his own conclusions about what is going on around him.

It is important for us to make it clear that play and the game also create the framework for the child to practice and develop his abilities and propensities. Let us underscore the special role of informal education in the child’s mental evolution (spontaneous, unorganized influences from the environment, the family, the group of friends). The game and the toy develop the children’s “skills” for life, helping them to become active members of the community.



The study of children’s games and toys by the Romanian researchers gained momentum in the second half of the 19th century with the studies of Petre Ispirescu and Alexandru Lambrior, followed by George Ion Pitiş, Ion Muşlea, Ovidiu Bârlea and Narcisa Ştiucă. They pleaded with convincing arguments for the idea that the game and toys are a materialization of the surrounding reality. In their games, children draw on everything that surrounds them; they copy their parents’ life and build “a miniature universe” of their own after the model of the adults’ world.

Tudor Arghezi’s contribution is also original in the field, as he resorted to play and transposed it in his literary creation. He emphasized the double hypostasis of the game; one of them has philosophical implications, the game becoming a meditation on the changing fate, on destiny and chance, a pretext for disclosing the reality (even if it is not always pleasant). The second hypostasis overlaps the playful universe, which the poet “fills” with creatures that are familiar and close to the child: sparrows, swallows, snails, dogs, cats.

The matchless writer Marin Sorescu brings characters from the animal world, history and mythology into the children’s games, relying on imitation and copying the reality. The characters in those games find their “mate” in real life, having the daily occupations of any real man.

Over time, toys have evolved in an amazing way: from the simplest ones, at hand – the spinning top – to clay figurines and miniatures, from dolls made of maize stalks and husk with maize silk hair to electronic devices uttering a few words, crying or “calling” Mother, from little trains carved out of fir wood to the electric ones, and to little battery powered engine cars or super modern planes and spaceships.


Therefore, the traditional village was concerned with the children’s education. They were treated like members of the community, being at the age characterized by the need to learn, to acquire skills, given that skills and tastes took shape as early as childhood.

Through the game the child gained new experiences, developed his spirit of observation, attention and imagination. The toy amused him but it equally made him happy and educated him, developing his initiative.

What kind of toys did children have in the traditional village? What stuff were they made of? Who made them? Those are natural questions to which answers are given today, especially from the collections of museums. The pieces kept in the museums testify that old materials were sometimes used to make toys. Pieces of fabric from worn out clothes and maize husk were turned into dolls: old socks were coiled and tied with rope becoming balls for boys who wanted to play soccer. Miniature carriages or carts, weapons (rifles, pistols) or animals were carved out of wood. More often than not however, toys were shaped from clay.

Along its centennial existence, the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant has treasured in its collections nearly 2,000 clay toys shaped by potters from across the country.


Clay toys in a variety of cheerful and brightly coloured forms making up a real miniature world have enchanted the childhood of many generations and have brought joy to children both in the traditional village and in times closer to us. They have a history which is thousands of years old, pottery being a craft which we, Romanians, have inherited from our distant ancestors  who practiced it as early as the Neolithic Age.

The types of forms these toys take vary from one centre to another and even within the same centre. They can be:

  1. “Primitive” musical instruments: little pitcher-like pipes, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic pipes (pitcher-like pipes are thrown on the wheel just like big vessels, while anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines are partially shaped on the wheel, then they are finished manually); horses, riders, lions, women wearing bell dresses.
  2. Avimorphic and zoomorphic miniatures (poultry, exotic birds, horses, dogs, rams, fish, bears).
  3. Miniature household vessels (pots, mugs, pitchers, buckets, little baskets, saucers, little bowls, strainers, pound cake pans).

The child is fond of  both the form of the clay toy and the sounds which the latter makes when blowing it, mainly when it is filled with water. But for the toy to make the sounds that children are so fond of, the potter must focus his attention on making ‘the pipe”, which is usually cylinder-shaped and must be perforated along its length. If it is not perforated the right way, the toy will not make any “tril” (trill) and the child will be disappointed.

So, the toy is something serious, all the more so if it is viewed from a playful perspective, because children are just like their toys. The game has an essential function in the children’s life, developing complex relationships among them. Moreover, toys and games express certain psychic peculiarities specific to the age, which facilitate important accumulations of experience in terms of social relations.

Generally, the game observes the mentality of a certain society, the adults’ habits, the activity they carry out in various fields or incidents from everyday life. One lives life to the full in the countryside. The child in the countryside can touch all the objects of his house with his hand, he learns what they are, experiences them also from the way he handles them and “turns” them into toy objects. Even if it takes place when the child is all alone (his loneliness is devoid of anxiety), the game is a pure creation, it becomes the play with eternity.


Looking at the clay toy, we find that over time, a selection of forms has been made, according to the child’s sex and age: some children have started to use a number of toys, while others have used other toys, which reflects the traditional division of labour between sexes. So, dolls and miniature vessels have been the little girls’ preference in such games as ‘Play Mom”, or the cooking games for the above-mentioned reasons; pitcher-like pipes, “cucii” (cuckoos), puppies, little horses and horses and riders, along with clay tractors, plane-like pipes and clay pistols have stirred the boys’ imagination, releasing unsuspected energies in games like “Play Outlaws” or “Play Soldiers”.

Although today, our children skillfully operate the computer, the iPad, video games and WII consoles or other sophisticated electronic toys, they are still attracted to the clay peasant toys and get excited to see the stands with those small masterpieces.