There is a certain quality about the toys created and hand-crafted by Athina and Jose that makes them instantly appealing. Perhaps this is so because they resemble many of the paintings created with childlike naivety by the Catalan painter and sculptor Joan Miró, or maybe because such a simple material as wood is transformed into a small work of art. Whatever the case, these toys are certainly created in a way that excites the imagination of children. From the moment these toys arrive, packaged in handmade, eco-friendly boxes, the recipient children are called upon to inject life into the pieces by assembling them.
Athina Doukaki and Jose Navarro are the creative duo behind The Wandering Workshop, “Toys Made of Dreams,” a Greek wooden toys brand whose base was recently relocated to a traditional Cretan village, Apokoronas, in the Hania prefecture. Athina studied archaeology and history of art in Athens before furthering her studies in Prehistoric archaeology, in Thessaloniki and Barcelona. As for Jose, he studied sculpting and applied arts in Madrid before going on to specialize in sculpture restoration and preservation, working in this field in Barcelona, as well as in excavation design on the Cycladic Islands.
The pair’s first toy was designed on Kea, also known as Tzia. It was on the island of Ios that Athina’s dream of working as an archaeologist on Cycladic island excavations was realized. Without any delay, Jose, a restless spirit, made a wintertime move from the center of Barcelona to the small Greek island. “The idea of becoming involved with the design and craft of wooden toys was a spontaneous one. It may have resulted from the time we spent at a workshop maintained by a friend or ours, Stella, on Kea, where we crafted useful household items,” explained Athina . “One winter’s afternoon, we simply decided that we wanted to make a wooden tricycle with rotating red wheels. The first model was made using a cardboard biscuit box from the main town’s grocery store. The afternoons of that year, spent at Stella’s workshop, were filled with drafts, miniature models, music, enthusiastic ideas and plans about our prospective Wandering Workshop, which was born that winter, in front of the sea,” Athina continued.
“The toys have character and their stories are created over time at the workshop while we experiment with colors, form, and technical solutions,” Athina noted.
The duo’s wooden toys usually begin as ideas in their minds before they are crafted in a highly imaginative fashion. “The toys have character and their stories are created over time at the workshop while we experiment with colors, form, and technical solutions,” Athina noted. “Sometimes the stories of the toys discover their plot later on. When we package a toy in its box and prepare to send it off to a new home, we often wonder what stories will be created by the child recipient.”
Both Athina and Jose oppose mass production and the questionable quality standards associated with the process. The pair’s toys are produced in small numbers with respect for the environment. High-quality materials of European origins are carefully selected, offering safety to children. All wood material used is FSC – certified, while the paints and varnish do not contain any harmful toxic substances. All toy parts are hand-cut, sandpapered and hand-painted to ensure smooth and gentle touch for children as they familiarize themselves with wood and its creative potential.
Athina and Jose are contemplating establishing associations with various spaces in Greece and retail outlets abroad, but, for the time being, remain focused on creating more toys. “The way we work at the workshop is very spontaneous and this offers capacity for experimenting with new ideas,” Athina concluded.