Wäuwäu by Marion Michell

Originally posted here

The museum is honoured to have Marion Michell as a contributor with this startlingly beautiful and affecting post illustrating the rich layers of meaning contained within the object. Filial love, politics and an early memory of the genesis of an art practice are but some of the strands Marion explores. She asks if such a personal object has a place in a museum. It is an excellent question. For me the answer is yes but this opens up an important area of our work as object artists and I hope this will lead to some interesting comments.

03 wauwau


For a brief instant I thought ‘here is an object I can consider without worrying about history, politics or war-fare’, but as soon as I started writing I wondered about working-conditions at the place of production, employees (men? women? different levels of pay?), hours worked, matters of health and safety, sourcing of materials, who could afford buying, etc. etc. The mantra ‘nothing is innocent’ is like a worm in my brain, eating holes into each and every notion, as well it should. To think I’d also doubted if such a ‘purely personal’ object had a place in a museum for object research…

I remember learning to crochet (at school) as an alienated chore – little girls can’t be inspired by making two-tone pot-holders. A couple of years ago however, at my brother’s house, I happened across the tiny, salmon-coloured and rather close-fitting outfit I’d made for his favourite soft-toy: a little brown-beige Steiff-doggy which he’d had since he was a baby and whose once soft fur had become threadbare and was leaking its filling. With the best intention our parents had tried to replace it with a new one, the same kind, but looking like a gleaming, puffed up version of this love-worn pup, lacking its familiar scent and without the hairless indent around its middle (the opposite of love-handles) where my brother’s small hands had gripped it every night.

I had completely forgotten about it and wish I could recall its actual making, esp. as crocheting has become my medium. From he image I get a sense of yarn moving through sweaty hands, and an air of unaffected commitment and concentration, out of love for my little brother. My mom thinks I must have been eight or nine years old.

Steiff of course is a German company (founded in 1870 by the rather inspiring Margarete Steiff). Given my current project – how could I not research its history? Thing is, the question: What did you do in the war? has permanent residence on my tongue and wants frequent airings.

Too great a task though. All I will say after cursory on-line glances is that in times of conflict nothing is unaffected. On the simplest level: male employees become soldiers, manifold materials are unavailable, borders are closed/embargoes in effect, factories do ‘essential war work’ and produce military goods. From cuddly toys to gas-masks and grenade handles… And that’s just for WWI.

Well, Wäuwäu was probably bought in 1961/62, not long after a wall was built to separate East from West Germany – the Cold War in full swing. I don’t think my brother held on to many objects from childhood, maybe a book or two, and I haven’t got much either. For a long time it didn’t seem important. My Fuchsi though, a Steiff-fox, equally thin around the middle, slumbers on a shelf across the room. Looking back in time it’s easy to make connections which are rather too neat, but the outfits I fashion nowadays seem to throw an arc back to this one: a two-piece ensemble, consisting of a vest and pants which logically allowed an extra opening for Wäuwäu’s stubby tail.

Marion Michell