In the period after World War II childhood creativity was discussed as an untapped natural resource that could be cultivated and harvested for strategic future gains. It was understood in rosy, nationalistic terms and was materialized in artful building toys, sculptural playgrounds, children’s bedrooms and playrooms, postwar schools, special museums, and art products—all designed to cultivate an ideal of imagination in a growing cohort of Baby Boom children. By historicizing, rather than essentializing, the idea of childhood creativity, design historian Amy Ogata suggests that this notion, formed in a context of Cold War anxiety, continues to haunt everyday things, the built environment, and American culture.
Amy F. Ogata is a professor at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture in New York City. Her research explores the history of modern European and American architecture, design, and decorative arts, as well as world’s fairs, and the material culture of childhood. Her book Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America (University of Minnesota Press) was published earlier this year. Her book with an essay on the graphic and toy designer Fredun Shapur will appear in the fall. Ogata is also the author of a book on Belgian Art Nouveau architecture and design and many articles, essays, and reviews.