The work of designer and teacher Władysław Wincze is a prime example of the fate of artists from the pre-war generation. Initially, he was active in shaping the image of the new state, and in searching for the "style of the epoch" in designing everyday objects; and then, in the new social reality, he became devoted to teaching and passing on his wealth of experience.
Władysław Wincze, set of children’s toys - table / chalkboard and "Grasshopper" chair, produced by Cepelia, 1957, photo: Zdzisław Holuka
Wincze was educated at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where professors Karol Tichy and Władysław Jastrzębowski were the most prominent figures in furniture design. The young graduate’s achievements were sufficiently interesting that, after concluding his studies in 1936, he was accepted by Ład and began working on important commissions. His designs included furniture for the Polish day room in Rapperswil (1937), and, together with Marian Steczowicz, the interiors and furniture for the Bawełna Palace in Gdynia (1938). Simultaneously, he worked as an assistant to Professor Józef Czajkowski in the Shapes and Surfaces Composition Workshop at his alma mater. The outbreak of World War II interrupted Ład’s social and artistic activities for several months. Wincze was recruited and took active part in the September Campaign in Podlasie and in Małopolska; he returned to Warsaw in November. The board members in the city had salvaged some of the cooperative’s possessions, and managed to find legal loopholes that allowed them to revive their activities during the occupation.
- At the beginning, in the winter of 1939/1940, there were very few of us, and work was greatly complicated. The situation of Warsaw’s residents was dire, indeed. Both the residents who had survived the bombarding and those returning to the city, or expelled from the districts absorbed by the Reich, were suffering from shortages. There was a general need for the most basic items. I designed a folding sofa, a kind of field cot – very primitive and easy to make. Jaskulski’s carpentry workshop started producing them. The demand was enormous, and the price extremely accessible. Those were our beginnings, and our first source of cash […].(1)
The cooperative’s manufacturing activities in occupied Poland did not include furniture. In this period only the Szlekys-Wincze Company continued the pre-war traditions of Ład. One of their motives was a sense of professional responsibility. Both artists were active in the underground conspiracy, and agreed that if one got arrested, the other was to assume his obligations to his clients.
Władysław Wincze, bent plywood chair, 1960, collections of the Architecture Museum in Wrocław, photo: Michał Korta
Initially the partners designed individually, making the various commissions in their own separate studios. After April 1941 they were located at 15 Hoene-Wrońskiego Street, behind the parliament buildings. Their collaboration swiftly moved to include the creative stages (Works were thereafter signed with the SW monogram). While Szlekys was chiefly interested in construction and technological solutions, Wincze was able to give a form aesthetic virtues, softening harsh profiles and emphasizing proportions. The best woodworkers from Ład, including their partner, Władysław Jaworski, collaborated with the designers. The workshop was a laboratory of sorts, a place for experiments that focused on "the creation of a modern form of furniture with logical and spare construction, marked by a sophisticated simplicity, comfort, and lightness, both in the figurative and literal sense. […] The sketches swiftly went through all the imaging stages and became three-dimensional objects, subject to immediate testing and corrections."(2) The research and designs of both designers sometimes reveal an emotional approach to the material. They studied the morphology of wood, analyzed its structure, color, rings, and distribution of knots, treating these less as material defects than as natural ornament. This was typical of the artists of Ład, who often tried to use the wood of native trees – pine, gray and black oak, and ash – and highlight their natural grains.
Władysław Wincze, stool from the veranda set, Szlekys-Wincze Company, produced by the Ład Artists’ Cooperative in Warsaw, 1938-1940, collections of the National Museum in Warsaw, photo: Michał Korta
During the occupation the Wincze-Szlekys duo created at least a dozen sets for various interiors – mainly for dining rooms and offices. Three black oak ensembles produced in 1943 bear mentioning: a furniture set with a trademark "male heart" backrest; a set for the Sianożęcki fashion salon; and a set that alluded to the style of 17th-century Dutch furniture, commissioned by the Warsaw Tailors’ Association. Also worth mentioning is the surviving ash dining room set, designed in 1942 for Engineer Olgierd Hołownia, and the famous Fawn chair for children, whose form and construction drew from the folk zydel [stool].
1943 brought some improvement in the partners’ financial state. They had been limiting their own earnings, paying the carpenters and investing almost all their profits in equipping the workshops, and now they began to dream up designs for the post-war future.
They imagined it as a further joint design on a large scale, in a large modeling/production room, making Polish furniture to world standards. […] The building was to be made with the intention of humanizing the teamwork processes, its harmonious rhythms giving optimum results and satisfaction to all the employees, regardless of their role. To create the right atmosphere, they saw it necessary to replace the rumble of machines with gentle music […]. These visions grew from their own experiences of working in a small design/production company of people joined by bonds that were more than professional, and were surely strong indeed during the occupation.(3)
The work of the studio run by Szlekys, Wincze, and Jaworski during the occupation was interrupted by the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. Wincze headed the artillery and anti-aircraft defense of Mokotów. After the uprising was crushed, both designers were sent to prisoner-of-war camps in Germany. The following three-year phase of the company’s work was to begin after the artists’ return to Warsaw, in the fall of 1945. They immediately set about the reformation of Ład, donating the rights to their salvaged designs and their remaining property to the cooperative. In October both designers sat on the three-person board. In Warsaw they began organizing carpentry workshops and studios, and in Kłodzko and in Polanica (Lower Silesia) they set up small production factories. The designers intended these to produce furniture according to the prototypes created in the capital. Household items, fabrics, and small products from Ład were sold in company stores in Polanica and in Łódź, and eventually, in the capital as well.
Władysław Wincze, armchair "with ears", for the office of Professor Hirszfeld at the Immunology Institute of the Medical Academy in Wrocław, 1953, private collection, photo: private collection
Both designers also worked for the Design Office of the Central Board of the Wood Industry, observing the need to create the basis for a national furniture design, and counting on the possibility of shaping industrial furniture, which was being produced on an incomparably greater scale. It soon turned out, however, that their ambitions were incompatible with the industry’s aims.
In the earlier phase of rebuilding the country, the Ład Cooperative made interiors for public institutions, particularly ministries and diplomatic centers. Władysław Wincze designed a table and club armchair for the Polish Embassy in Moscow; and, together with Olgierd Szlekys, he designed the office for the director of the Central Planning Bureau in Warsaw.
The everyday products mass produced by Ład became increasingly accessible. The furniture designed in this period was marked by considerable thriftiness: simplified forms, minimized dimensions, and multi-functionality. These were mainly basic sets – chairs, armchairs, collapsible tables, adjustable shelves, wardrobes, desks, hide-a-beds, shelving-couches. This furniture was sold by the piece, or could be arranged into stylistically matching sets. It emphasized and displayed the construction and the grain of the wood as well as its natural color: the light golden tones of ash and the dark "burnt" pine. Ład furniture of the first post-war decade, chiefly designed by Władysław Wincze and Olgierd Szlekys, set the standard for the Polish residential interior of the period.
The Szlekys-Wincze Company was formally active till December 1950, when Szlekys left the Ład Board of Directors. Wincze had resigned from the cooperative in 1948. In reality their joint designs, still marked with the SW insignia, were made until 1947. For all this time, the cooperative chiefly made their designs, though they remained without any remuneration. The production of some of their earlier, post-war and occupation-era designs – such as the famous zydel and the smaller, child’s version – the Fawn – was extended by popular demand into the mid1950s.
After 1948 Wincze moved to Lower Silesia where he stayed. There he organized the Interior Design Department and the Metal and Wood Institute at the State Academy of Visual Arts in Wrocław.
The proposition was alluring, as it allowed me to explain, and thus, continue the program of the Architecture Department of the pre-war Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. This program was serious, and the achievements of its creators, Józef Czajkowski, Wojciech Jastrzębowski, and Karol Tichy, merited further development. The creative work of this department had been tried through its graduates’ many years of work, and above all, through the work of the Ład Cooperative, which was an extension of this program where the overwhelming majority of these people gathered together.(4)
The department was officially opened in 1950. Its education system involved close ties between theory and practice, transferring design concepts to spatial models and prototypes.
Władysław Wincze, table from the veranda set, Szlekys-Wincze Company, ca. 1938-1940, collections of the National Museum in Warsaw, photo: Michał Korta
Wincze’s design work in this period was, above all, participation in team projects to reconstruct Wrocław (From 1950–1952 he also designed residential and public interiors for Nowa Huta, adjacent to Krakow). Among them should be mentioned the interiors for the Immunology Institute of the Medical Academy (1953), the interiors and furniture for the Polish-Soviet Friendship Association (1954), and the interiors of the Rozmaitości Theater (presently the Współczesny Theater, 1957–1959). In the latter half of the 1950s he arranged the commercial spaces by the Market Square and in the Kościuszko Residential District; and in 1963 he designed the interiors and furnishings of the halls of the Senate and Rector’s Office of the State Academy of Visual Arts. Later came the interiors for the Civil Status Bureau (1965–1966), Wincze’s private home in Przemiłów (1968–1976), and the recreation complex and Reduta cafe on Partyzantów Hill (1970–1974). He simultaneously designed furniture sets or individual pieces for general use, such as a recliner commissioned and produced by the Industrial Design Institute (1952), children’s furniture (a toy cupboard, writing-board tables, the Ladybug and Grasshopper chairs, 1954), and an experimental table with drawers that came out like a book (1965).
Analyzing these designs, it is possible to trace the stylistic evolution of Władysław Wincze’s work. Till the mid1950s, the powerful influence of the Ład tradition was visible in both the form of his furniture and the type of decor he used. In his later period, Wincze departed from the design of massive pieces in favor of "modern" furniture. Bent plywood chairs emerged at this time, as did those made of fashionable metal rods, with forms reminiscent of the objects produced in the West at the time. In the mid1960s the designer returned to exhibiting the construction of his furniture and its tectonics, and thus to the designs of his youth.
"Designing interiors", Wincze claimed, "is creative work that brings harmony and order into a precisely designed space."(5) Both the transparent construction and the furnishings themselves within this space were subordinated to order. Their forms were designed for function – their main source of influence was culture, which is why students plumbed folk items for inspiration, and studied the tradition of Polish furniture making, thus enriching their consciousness of their materials, and their respect for them. Władysław Wincze carried out these ideas with success in his designs, and in his teaching work at the academy in Wrocław.
Władysław Wincze (1905–1992) studied architecture at the Warsaw Technical Academy and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (graduating in 1935 from Tadeusz Pruszkowski’s studio). In 1936 he became an active member of the Ład Artists’ Cooperative. During World War II he joined Olgierd Szlekys and Władysław Jaworski in founding a design company and in manufacturing furniture. After the war he reactivated the Ład Cooperative, organizing carpentry workshops and studios in Warsaw, Kłodzko, and Polanica. In 1948 he moved to Wrocław, where he created the Interior Design Department at the Academy of Visual Arts, serving as dean till 1972. He designed a range of furniture, both one-of-a-kind pieces for show interiors and public buildings, and mass produced for industrial manufacture.
Author: Krzysztof Charewicz
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.
For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl
(1) W. Wincze, „Ład". Sprawy i ludzie 1936–1948, Part II "Cepelia" 1984, no. 12, p. 15.
(2) W. Wincze, Wydział Architektury Wnętrz – Szkic historyczny 1948–1985 [typed manuscript, quoted from:] I. Huml, Władysław Wincze – twórca i pedagog [in:] Władysław Wincze. Architektura wnętrz, Wrocław 1994, p. 7.
(3) I. Huml, Olgierd Szlekys i sztuka wnętrza, Warsaw 1993, p. 37.
(4) W. Wincze, Wydział Architektury Wnętrz…, see above., p. 3.
(5) I. Huml, Władysław Wincze…, see above, p. 11.