Lenci König’s dolls and joy

Helenchen König, nicknamed “Lenci”, started making her first rag dolls in 1917, in an effort to move past the terrible loss of her first-born daughter, Gherda, killed by the so-called “Spanish flu”.

In “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, Goethe wrote that “they are happiest, who, like children, amuse themselves with their playthings, dress and undress their dolls”.

Thus this brilliant woman – born in Turin in 1886, from a German father who died too young and an Austrian mother who then had to raise four children by herself – lived her existence day after day in a dramatic mix of misery and happiness.

In 1919, Helenchen founded Lenci with her husband, Enrico Scavino. Writer Ugo Ojetti took her nickname and came up with the acronym for the Latin motto “Ludus est nobis costanter industria” (“playing is our constant activity”).

As Lenci felt dolls achieved international success (even Walt Disney wanted them), the company attracted the creative collaboration of artists such as Marcello Dudovich, Giovanni Riva, Mario Pompei, Giuseppe Porcheddu, Gino Levi-Montalcini, and Giovanni Grande.

In 1928, Lenci branched out into ceramics: among the characters Helenchen had invented, “la Nella” – a joyful, lively and outgoing young girl – was particularly popular. The company grew stronger thanks to the recognition of its original designs and fine craftsmanship.

And Helenchen continued to create dolls and other fine art objects until her last days, in Turin in 1974.

December 16, 2013