A Local Waldorf Collective

Waldorf Play Clips-Bill Bluhm

Twelve years ago, I entered a Waldorf Kindergarten for the first time.  It was in the White Rose Kindergarten at Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm that my daughter had her first Waldorf experience. This kindergarten was unlike any other. It was alive with an “organic” feel and was a completely new world that my four-year old had stumbled into. She was immediately engrossed and knew what to do without explanation. The true beauty of this experience was that my daughter intuitively knew how to play with these toys that shockingly came without batteries, instructions or even a computer chip. One of these toys that caught my attention was a play stand with silks draped across and held in place by these amazing wooden clips. Fascinated, I found out that the Waldorf Play Clip was created by Bill Bluhm, a famous Northern California natural toy maker and owner of Heartwood Arts.

Heartwood Arts was founded in 1981, inspired by the Waldorf Education and the artistic and architectural indications of Rudolf Steiner. Created with the needs of the child in mind, Bill’s toys nourish the imitative and imaginative capacities of the unfolding child. They warm the heart and engage the hands in healthy play and are found in homes and schools throughout the world. Bill Bluhm is the inventor of the Waldorf play clip, each one made by the same hands that create beautiful gnome homes, play stands and wooden treasures. Bill is a down to earth and sagely wise man who is so incredibly thoughtful in his work. He is an artisan who creates toys that honor nature and allow children to fully explore where their imagination takes them. He is the “heart” of Heartwood Arts. His artistry in wood handwork is phenomenal. Bill’s handmade wooden toys represent the epitome of the Waldorf philosophy in toys, “natural and simple”. Each of these heirloom quality pieces is hand carved by Bill and made to last generations.

It was many years later that I had the privilege of meeting Bill and hearing the story of the creation of the play clip firsthand. It turns out that he had made clips in different sizes to use in his wood shop to clip notes and anything else around his place. One day while working in his shop with a colleague, a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher came and saw them and said they were perfect for use in the Kindergarten as the children often use fabric pieces in their creative play. She then asked him to make 40 of these clips for her. The man working for him at the time helped Bill sand the clips for this order and as they did so he told Bill this was going to be a great product to make available to children everywhere.

They worked to get the perfect sizes to fit little hands. Putting on the rubber bands on the hundreds of clips ordered was very hard on their hands and fingers so Bill invented a proprietary device to put the rubber-bands on and the clips took off from there. These now classic wooden play clips are an original invention from Heartwood Arts and can be found in virtually every Waldorf early childhood classroom.

The original Waldorf Play Clips are still made today by Bill. These rubber-band-powered play clips are wonderful for building forts and draping silks or play cloths over play stands or chairs. Made of pine wood, the natural finish allows the beauty of the natural materials to be seen and experienced. The simple design and practical utility make them a favorite among open-ended toys. They are simply a must for every serious builder as they are easy  for little hands to use. Hand carved wooden clips gently yet firmly fasten fabric, blankets, or giant silks to tables and chairs to enclose a play space or secret hideaway.   They are ideal for ages 3 and up. All of Bill’s creations are hand-made with care, the wood locally harvested and milled at his workshop. We are proud to count Bill as a member of the Circle of Hands Waldorf Cooperative.

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As children, we are taught to play nicely with one another. In kindergarten, this is emphasized as we learn our respective co-existence skills in a group. As an adult, this mutual cooperation is essential for peaceful relations, and for most of our lives this seems sufficient. Growing up in Los Angeles and attending a New York University, this “get along with one another attitude” fit into my hustle and bustle reality. Everything changed once we moved to Northern California. It was here that I had the opportunity to truly become a part of a community. I can honestly say that not a week goes by that I don’t’ run into someone I know from my personal friendships or my daughter’s school that I know well. At first it seemed odd, but then I grew to really enjoy this “small town” benefit in a not so small town. As my life has taken root here, I have been fortunate to be part of a great local community that has taught me that mutual co-existence is far from sufficient.

As a soap artisan, I recently became a part of a local Waldorf Cooperative. The men and women artists who are members of this co-op have always been a part of my network and to have the honor to work for a mutual goal is truly humbling. All of my Waldorf Heroes, Bill Bluhm from Heartwood Arts, the maker of fabulous gnome homes and wooden play kingdoms, as well as my personal hero Christine Schreier, owner of The Puppenstube, a master doll maker and proponent of creative play are founding members. It is in working beside them that I realize that a Co-op mirrors what “working together” looks like all grown up. From the outside, a co-op may look like any other business, since it provides products and services like conventional businesses do. But it’s what goes on behind the scenes that make it different.  Each and every member of the cooperative truly makes an effort to share their skills and knowledge freely with one another to benefit the whole.

A cooperative exists to serve its members, but what makes co-ops unique is that the members are also the owners. So, in addition to providing products and services, the co-op members are responsible for the care of the entity and the business decisions that the cooperative makes. Rather than rewarding outside investors with its profits, a co-op returns revenue to its members to further the work of the cooperative and provide an outlet and livelihood for the respective members. This democratic approach to business results in a powerful economic force that benefits the co-op, its members and the community it serves.

The cooperative that I recently joined is the Circle of Hands Waldorf Collective. Its many members include: Tania Prosser, Soap Cauldron, Sofee and Lenee, The Puppenstube, Heartwood Arts, LPinzo Designs and Marali Creations. What connects us all is a belief in fostering the development of the whole child. Each of us respectively through our work, whether it be soap, handmade dolls, beeswax candles, natural fiber clothing, wooden toys or upcycled crafts, believes that a sustainable future requires us to foster a healthy childhood. We know that our efforts to provide a more natural lifestyle will produce amazing young adults who will change the world with their contributions. It is our privilege to be a part of that process.

NEW COOPERATIVE MEMBER ARTISTS WANTED

At the Circle of Hands cooperative, this mutual energy is very much part and parcel of the identity. We are dedicated to providing a venue and frame work for members to display, sell, and promote Waldorf and Waldorf-inspired products, handmade or otherwise, inspired by beauty and functionality, to the community. According to Circle of Hands, “Cooperation through sensitivity, tolerance, sound judgment, and labor has and will continue to be the key to our success.”

We are proud to announce that we are expanding and welcoming aboard new cooperative members. As a larger group we will be able to bring our work to a wider audience. As the number of local private and charter Waldorf schools grows, the availability of new artists and interest in natural toys and lifestyle items increases. At Circle of Hands, we encourage new members to apply and join in the efforts to bring a natural approach to a wider audience. Interested individuals can contact us through our Facebook page, email us at circleofhands95472@gmail.com or call at 707-829-1274.

Our group the Sonoma County based cooperative, Circle of Hands – a Waldorf Collective is located in Sebastopol, CA. We chose a location that was central and accessible to all the local Waldorf families from the many schools we are fortunate to have in our community.  We are excited to share our art with our local community. Most of us are current or former local Waldorf parents; a co-founder of a Waldorf school; some of us have been in business for over 30 years and some are newer to their craft. We all strive for the highest standards in our work and are proud of this.

Our member artists include Heartwood Arts, The Puppenstube, Sofee & Lenee ~ German Kinder Accessories,  the Soap CauldronTania Prosser, and Lipinzo Designs. Our offering is broad including German clothing and kinder accessories, artisan Waldorf dolls, Handcrafted soap and wooden treasures, fiber art and beeswax candles. We keep our friends in the loop of our happenings with our Facebook Page Circle of Hands.

As a collective we agreed that we could foster the intention of our work by donating 5% of our sales to local Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired schools and we are honored that our donation effects change in our community.

We are currently having open season for new members. We encourage all local artisans who wish to be a part of our community to email us at circleofhands95472@gmail.com.

Our address is 925 D, Gravenstein Hwy S. if you are in the neighborhood please stop by and see us and thank you for spreading the word!

Circle of Hands