Meet Jen Murphy, founder of Polka Dot Club
Introducing Jen Murphy, designer and founder of everyone's favorite heirloom toy company, POLKA DOT CLUB
"In my twenties and early thirties I successfully carved out a business making one-of-a-kind teddy bears and animals for collectors worldwide, but once I had my own children I questioned why I was making “toys” intended for adults, often relegated to decorations. I wanted the objects I made to be animated by play and imbued with the love children give their favorite toys. In 2012, I launched the Polka Dot Club with this in mind and in the intervening years I’ve seen how that simple act of learning to sew all those years ago, has so deeply impacted the way I live, work, and parent. I wanted to reinforce the idea that everything in our home was crafted and didn't just appear on a shelf ready for us to digest. It came from someplace and someone, which is a very powerful idea- one that I’m committed to. It feeds the Less Is More ideas about consumerism and quality but it also empowers everyone to become a maker themselves.
How has what you make changed since you have had kids?
"So much. After making teddy bears and “toys” that looked and felt like old playthings for collectors to admire for some 20+ years,(a job I really loved) I couldn’t keep doing it after I had kids. It was amazing how quickly and palpably being a mom changed how I felt about what I was making and I knew I didn’t want to create teddy bears that were relegated to the shelf any more. I looked around and no one was really using mohair for toys and it felt like everything I’d done up to that point lead me here: I’m a second generation teddy bear/toymaker and I’m so happy the pieces I make are intended to be played with- and passed on to the next generation."
current inspirations / obsessions ?
"I’ve just recently come across these really beautiful pots made in the 1970’s in Romaninan: Horszu Pottery and I’m really into them. It connects so many things I love; the execution and level of craft is really present, each pattern/color/design is unique and there is a feeling of improvisation by the makers, and what’s not evident in these pictures is the way they feel in the hand. The bottom is rough and unglazed, while the top is so cared for… they’re so satisfying to hold."
"As a toymaker I’m always trying to hold onto my own childhood and remember the pleasure of play. I watch my kids- the way they animate their beloved toys and engage with the world. I’m trying to hone in on making objects that feel really special but not precious. Precious objects are meant to be tucked away and only looked at- that’s not what I’m interested in.
As a kid my mother and I would go to antique shows and actions all the time. We collected and admired so many things, but it was the antique teddy bears that we were both obsessed with. These were very special playthings that had been in the world for decades and they were evidence of play and love- They were imbued with childhood."
As a toymaker, I am sure you see it all. what’s on your list for your kids for holiday?
"We always get the kids books for Christmas and Bruno Munari’s is a favorite. They’re funny and unexpected. The way the pages are different sizes to cover and revel new scenes makes my little one laugh and inspires my older child to make books in different ways. These are two of our favorites: the Birthday Present and Animals For Sale."