The School's Animal: Donald
A handcrafted teddy bear doll, designed by Donna Wilson, and inspired by the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott.
Donald is a soft toy designed to offer comfort to adults and children alike. Each Donald has been lovingly embroidered and assembled by hand in East London, making each one individual. He was created in collaboration with designer Donna Wilson.
Donna Wilson set up her company in 2003 after making odd knitted creatures for her final show at the Royal College of Art. The creatures sold out and since then she has built her business designing and making a collection of curious cushions, luxurious lambswool blankets, and variety of products for you and your home.
"It was a wonderful commission to work with The School of Life on a transitional toy. My own teddy bear was my most treasured possession when I was little, and I loved the idea of creating this symbolic object for adults or children. Donald is no ordinary teddy bear; he has a lot of character in his embroidered face and looks like he’d keep all your secrets! He’s made from the softest lambswool and has cosy knitted shorts to make him stand out from the crowd."
The English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott was the first person to write seriously and with sensitivity about the business of teddy bears. In a paper from the early 1960s, Winnicott described a boy of six – whose parents had been deeply abusive to him – becoming very connected to a small animal his grandmother had given him. Every night, he would have a dialogue with the animal, would hug him close to his chest and shed a few tears into his stained and greying soft fur. It was his most precious possession, for which he would have given up everything else. As the boy summarised the situation to Winnicott: ‘No one else can understand me like bunny can.’
Winnicott knew that mental well-being depends on having to hand a repertoire of more gentle, forgiving and hopeful inner voices. To keep going, there are moments when one side of the mind needs to say to the other that the criticism is enough: that it understands, that this could happen to anyone, that one could not have known… It is this kind of indispensable benevolent voice that the child first starts to rehearse and exercise with the help of a stuffed animal.
If our development has gone well, what was trialled in the presence of a stuffed animal should continue all of our lives. Every healthy adult should possess a capacity for self-nurture: that is, for retreating to a safe secluded space and speaking in a tone that’s gentle, encouraging and infinitely forgiving. We should honour stuffed animals for what they really are: tools to help us on our first steps in the vital business of knowing how to look after ourselves.
Read more on the serious role of stuffed animals, visit our blog The Book of Life.
32cm tall soft lambs wool toy | Assembled by hand in London | Supporting booklet