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The wooden toys of Val Gardena

The wooden toys of Val Gardena and their beginnings in the 17th century

In the 17th century the people in Val Gardena were already good merchants and had a lot of experience in selling pillow laces and embroidery. They quickly learned that by producing and selling simple wooden toys they were able to make a living and earn money. The families in Val Gardena were often numerous and life was not easy so high up in the mountains and by filling this market gap, the people were able to provide for their families and to start putting aside some savings. Consequently many families in Val Gardena began to produce wooden toys.

Initially the products were very simple but they gradually became more and more detailed: nativity figures, animals, dolls in different sizes, horses, movable toys, calculation toys, nothing seemed to be impossible to produce and they were all made meticulously by hand. At first the toys were unpainted because the technique of coloring was unknown but after a little while and a lot of traveling, people learned how to color and paint the wooden toys. Because of the particular material the preferred coloring technique was the one where the pigments were mixed to the glue to obtain an unique brightness. During the middle of the 17th century there were around 40 to 50 manufacturing families in Val Gardena but soon after the number grew drastically and in the 18th century the whole population of Val Gardena lived and fed their families thanks to this industry. Toys were handcrafted until about 1930 but soon enough other industries started to rise and the production started to slow down until nearly disappearing. In order to continue this tradition, Judith Sotriffer replicates the old wooden toys with particular love an skill.