Homage to Tom Lindhardt – Part Two

In a recent blog I posted a reprint an article in which Tom Lindhardt, founder of Kompan, discussed his art and his career. I promised then that I would share my person recollections of Tom. Having overcome a two-week struggle to restore my workstation and data, I’m now ready to proceed.

Having had some time to consider this task, I’d like to make this simple by identifying the two impressions Tom left me with. The characteristic feelings I came to sense with Tom were pride and a certain melancholy.  I think the best way to convey those is with a few examples.

Over the years of our acquaintance, I began to recognize that Tom romanticized America much as I did Denmark. He loved the brashness and authenticity of Americans. I remember getting off a puddle jumper in the tiny airport in Odense wearing a Stetson hat, jeans, a big belt buckle, boots and a shearling jacket. I thought Tom would lose it. I was all I could do not to crack up.

Once when hanging out at his cabin in the woods, he suggested we do some forest management. Together with his son, we inspected the wood lot to identify trees that needed to be thinned. He would stand behind me and point to where he thought the tree should land. He would just shake his head when I dropped them in the exact location. Well, of course we Americans know all about being woodsmen!

After Kompan acquired BigToys, Tom wanted to see the Cascade Mountains. It was an amazing couple of days filled with the beauty of the area, great food, hikes. It was all that Tom had expected of the America and a great memory for both of us.

Tom’s sense of pride was very distinctive as it was free of ego. He could be both proud of his personal success while also being proud of his team. For him these were inseparable. Touring the factory, he would chat with everyone by name and ask questions that demonstrated that he knew them well. When Kompan received a prestigious award, of which there were many, Tom would accept these honors personally, but also for Kompan, which was also him, as well as the whole team that made Kompan function. His pride was well earned and simultaneously shared.

I also came to know his melancholy that was always a whisper in the background. My impression was that he could envision where things were not perfect. When Kompan acquired Speelhout, the playground producer in the Netherlands, we worked closely with the team there to create the 10 Plus range of active play apparatus for teens. In many ways this was a disruptive product that set the stage for the whole category of deck-less play systems that have since become commonplace.

While Tom was excited by the 10 Plus project, his disappointment was also palatable. He bemoaned design by committee, necessitated by the collaboration with Speelhout, made the system overly complex and too expensive. He also recognized that any Kompan product had to come from the whole team, and that he had to accept that he could not extend his leadership so that projects became under top-down control. I believe that this experience was a big motivator in his creation of a separate design team that was free of all of Kompan’s history. This decision resulted in the revolutionary Galaxy metal system that went on to be a huge success and set a very high bar for play functionality.

The last post about Tom got a number of responses from others who knew Tom. I hope this personal reflection will inspire others to share their recollections.

The Art of Play

Photo Playkx

Recently I posted a blog about play designers. When asked what I do, rather than say an artist which is what I consider myself, I often reply that I am a designer of play systems. By eschewing the business of art I am not alone. My inspiration in this comes primarily from Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaist who sought to promote art as a state of mind rather than a product. So, how can I claim to be an artist without being actively involved with the art world? I look at the elements of the system as only a scaffold and the artistic expression actually the resulting play of children.

I think of Penny Wilson as a visual artist who’s graphics are top notch, however, Penny prefers to be known as a playworker. In her work she uses her deep knowledge of child development to create stages with props arranged in such as way as the produce spontaneous play. What I find most intriguing is her use of fabric and the resulting “play happenings” are so much like dancing in the air. Here is how she explains the process that she uses at her adventure play program, Playkx, in England.

Playkx was designed as a play offer in the Kings Cross development area that was not a built play environment. Instead of timber or steel structures there is a team of experienced and skilled Playworkers and a vast collection of loose parts, playthings to be used in any way that children need. There are dressing up clothes, masks, nets, ropes fabrics, blocks, animal creatures, artificial plants and flowers, all of which can be used for dressing up, the construction of a den, sociodramatic playing of the creation of wild and wonderful fantasy worlds. Nothing is fixed. Everything is flexible.

Like most programs for children these days Playkx needs to fundraise. Penny has come up with an ingenious Kickstarter campaign  “Play Things” . The essence of the fundraiser are “Kits” comprised of many of the elements that are used in her program. The kits can be used to transform any static space into play a magical play space

What has really captured my attention is the use of the kit to transform traditional playgrounds. In the Gymboree Play and Music system we use loose parts as an integral part of the play environment. Indeed, most of the play apparatus can be reconfigured spontaneously. The result is that every visit to a Gymbo class is a new and exciting learning opportunity. This vitality is possible because each child is accompanied by a caregiver.  Because park departments can’t be certain of this supervision in public parks, loose part play has never been part of such environments and the result is greatly diminished play complexity and much shorter play episodes.

Enter now the Play Things Kits! Take a look at https://www.instagram.com/p/CIDHv6wHUUM/

As you can see from the video you saw at the link, the paraphernalia in the kit transforms the play structure into a fairy land of adventure. Since these play props are removed when the children leave, there is no reasonable objection to their use.

This is truly a disruptive idea that I hope catches on. I tried to get a similar process started with a range of concrete tables called Finger Parks that kids could use as a venue for match-box toys. It didn’t catch on because the park planners just didn’t get the concept. Penny’s approach will work as it expands a now common practice of bringing sand toys to the park. Well, that was common, but with the increasing loss of sand on playgrounds, it looks like the idea of play kits can make this a popular choice.

The Kickstarter Playkx campaign is specifically limited to their current needs. I hope and expect to see this idea gain traction as the threat of COVID-19 diminishes and the use of parks gets back to normal. Indeed, I fully anticipate outdoor play to become far more popular after the prolonged sheltering in place that kids have had to endure.

For more about Penny go to www.theinternationale.com/pennywilson, Medium.com/@playkx, Instagram.com/pennywilsonspictures or www.asgoodasmeat.com, a veggie sketchbook