She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and quickly became a respected graphic artist awarded in many important exhibitions.
In 1938 she got employed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Public Education as a vocational schools inspector. It was then that she became interested in teaching, especially developing the students' creativity and aesthetic sense. According to her, a real teacher was a person who helped the students explore and improve their abilities and talents.
In the Ministry of Culture and Art
World War II destroyed Telakowska’s artistic output almost entirely. She gave up on graphic arts since then, focusing exclusively on design instead. Telakowska wanted everyday objects to be both beautiful and functional, holding a belief that they should be designed by well-qualified and adequately educated artists.
In March 1945 she became the head of the Planning Department of Ministry of Culture and Art, which was soon renamed as Production Department (1945-1947) and then transformed into Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau (1947-1950). The main tasks of these units were to organize co-operation between the visual artists and the producers, prepare artists for it (by, for example, internships in factories) and gather projects that would serve as models and inspiration for future works.
In 1946 ‘Przegląd Artystyczny’ published an announcement issued by the Ministry of Culture and Art and Ministry of Industry, inviting visual artists and architects to co-operate with the industry sector. In order to prepare for mass production properly, every manager was asked to clearly specify their demand and conditions under which the objects were to be created.
As at that time the industry sector was barely functioning, the commissioned projects were mostly meant for craft workshops that used the cheapest local materials. Production Department, and later Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau, organized practice studios in which projects and prototypes of furniture, toys, metal objects, prints on fabric, clothes, accessories and other everyday objects were created. It was assumed that artists working on handicraft’s patterns would gradually take up jobs in the industry sector. Telakowska used different methods to prepare them for it.
The industry sector, however, was not eager to implement new projects. During the times of socialist economy, the demand would always surpass the supply, so there was no need to vary the production.
In the Institute of Industrial Design
The Institute of Industrial Design was founded in the fall of 1950. Its aim was to continue Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau's projects and conduct scientific activities. Wanda Telakowska worked there as an art director until 1968. Projects gathered since 1946 by the Production Department and Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau marked the beginnings of the Institute of Industrial Design's showroom. Studios of clothing, furniture, prints and painting on fabric got a new location. What is more, new workshops dealing with different matters were formed over the years and the old ones changed their names and range of activities. Projects by visual artist employed at the Institute of Industrial Design, prototypes for industry and also goods for sale, such as ceramics, printed fabrics or even furniture (small series production) were created there. They were available in some shops in Warsaw in the 1950s and 1960s.
A very specific method of designing was particularly important to Telakowska – its objective was to have specialists and amateurs – folk artists, children and youth – co-operate in the so called designing teams. First such groups were formed in the 1940s, whereas the last ones – in the 1970s. They designed chiefly patterns for printed fabric and woven fabric but also embroideries and lace. Sketches done by the teams were later perfected and produced in the Institute’s workshops. Some of them were put into factory production. Telakowska was convinced that this method would make Polish designing not only genuine and vernacular, but also modern and vital.
In 1978, when Telakowska retired, she made contributing the Institute of Industrial Design's to the National Museum in Warsaw happen. She did not want projects, models and prototypes gathered since 1945 to be scatter.
Actions taken by Telakowska were frequently used against her will by the authorities as a curve ball – in order to keep the appearances of prosperity and dynamic development of the socialist economy. The Institute of Industrial Design's unique works were presented on international exhibitions as a sign of high living standard in the Poland under the communist regime. Actually, they were usually just prototypes inaccessible for mass audience.
Her position among other designers changed over the years. After the Polish thaw in 1956, many young designers deemed Telakowska’s view conservative and wrongful. Her designing was believed to derive from applied arts, which was something contrary to the vision of modern design. Neither her fascination with folk art nor the idea of co-operation between the visual artists and amateurs was understood.
Wanda Telakowska was special in many respects. Her wit and brilliance were fabled. The album that she left behind – full of her sketches, caricatures, poems and dedications to many writers, artists and politicians – is not only a fascinating document but also a peculiar portrait of this exceptional woman.