Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tribute to Tapio


Isn't this picture of Tapio Wirkkala amazing? (Image courtesy of Rut Bryk Foundation) He was such an incredibly talented designer/ artist who didn't really want to draw a line between the two diciplines. I find that very evident in his work. I've always loved  his Ultima Thule series, designed in 1968. It's so breathtakingly beautiful, looking like eternally melting ice. The design is both beautiful AND intriguing, I keep noticing more great details all the time. The only downside is that they don't stack, but I totally forgive them, and could easily clear out all my other glasses to make room for them.

Imagine my joy this morning when I found an ad for 7 of these beauties! Turned out the seller was fairly local too, and I was able to pick them up just an hour later! Until now, I've only found four dessert bowls. Ultima Thule is still being sold in shops over here, but buying them new in a shop somehow feels like cheating. Besides, I love the idea of great design being passed on rather than gathering dust in a cabinet somewhere.

My lucky find today consists of one large beer/ longdrinks glass, three large tumblers and three small ones. When I came home and unwrapped them, I noticed that the seller had thrown in a beautiful small creamer too. The weather is so amazing here today, we've had clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid 20s. With the sun bathing my living room in it's rays, I couldn't stop photographing these beautiful icicles.
  
 


 

 








Did you know they were originally designed for Finnair? They were comissioned for their new route between Helsinki and New York in 1969. Wirkkala also designed plastic tableware and cutlery for the same route. The plastic products were produced by Fiskars, the Iittala Group's parent company today. Ultima Thule has become one of Iittala's most popular glassware ranges ever.

When holding an Ultima Thule piece in your hands, the image most likely to come to mind is of a block of ice that has melted, as if by nature, into a glass. In reality, the rough exterior characteristic of these glasses was the result of years of development work: "For years now, I have been pursing the ideas expressed in these glasses. Earlier, I tried breaking up the surface by cutting, but only now do I think I'm on the right track when I get the desired result in the glass-blowing stage."

The birth of the Ultima Thule range of glassware in 1968 tells us a lot about Wirkkala's approach to design. Inspired by the melting ice in Lapland, the form he created for Ultima Thule is based on what is known as the ice glass technique, which Wirkkala was involved with in developing at the Iittala Glassworks. Always the innovator and always keen to roll his sleeves up, Wirkkala did this part of the job himself at first. The original molds for the collection were hand carved by Tapio in wood, so that the first pouring of hot dripping glass altered the mold as it ran down the sides, making the distinctive dripping effect.

Not surprisingly, Wirkkala began his career as a sculptor and through his works in plywood, acquired a unique position in between applied art and sculpture. He was one of the earliest representatives of abstract sculpture in Finland. His best-known sculpture was most probably Ultima Thule in laminated birch (Images below, courtesy of Kaufmann-mercantile.com and expo67.ncf.ca) which he made for Expo 67 in Montreal. The resemblance to an arctic landscape is striking. Tapio Wirkkala did not wish to mark any boundaries between his work in sculpture and design. For him, they were about  the same thing.



A large amount of his sculptures were carved out of  plywood, as these in the image below, from an exhibition at Sørlandets kunstmuseum last year. (Image courtesy of skmu.no)


Never having had a tradition of lavishness or luxury materials, Finnish post- war designers embraced the concept of clean lines and truth to materials, and combined it with a naturalist craftsman feel. Tapio was trained as a decorative carver and sculptor, graduating in 1936 from the Institute of Industrial Arts in Helsinki. He was so adept in his art, that he would often carve the molds for his pieces by hand, including the ones made of metal. This unusual level of personal skill ensured that the hand of the designer was evident in the final product, and allowed him more control over the surfaces and textures of each piece than if he were simply handing over a stack of flat sketches to be interpreted by the factory foreman.

Nature was an important source of inspiration for Wirkkala, and he felt most relaxed and free of the pressures of his work as an international designer in Lapland. During the time he spent there, he was always whittling away at a piece of wood, sketching, or doing something else with his hands. The latter were very much an extension of his mind. "Making things with my hands means a lot to me. I could even say that when I sculpt or mould nature's materials it has an almost therapeutic effect. They inspire me and lead me to new experiments. They transport me into another world. A world in which, if eyesight fails, my fingertips see the movement and the continuous emergence of geometrical forms."


Sources:

8 comments:

  1. Så interessant, fin historie! Det er han som har designet de Tssaikka også ikke sant? De har jeg etter mine foreldre, perfekt til G&T:)

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    1. Tusen takk! Tssaikka kjenner jeg ikke, men er veldig interessert i å se:-) Fantastiske ting å arve! Gleder meg til å ta disse i bruk også, alle slags farget væske ser så flott ut i glassene hans:-) Liker veldig godt både Tapio- serien og Niva. Niva har det samme "finske" uttrykket som Ultima Thule.

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  2. Ja, vi er så enige, så enige... :-) Vi samler både Niva og Ultima Thule. Har faktisk nettopp pakket de ned for å ta med på hytta..., for å kunne sitte inne foran de store vinduene og se på havet rett utenfor, på vær og vind og med disse glassene i hånda eller på bordet. Veldig flott og interessant innlegg!!!

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    1. Takk, det var hyggelig!! Dere også ja? "Great minds think alike"- er det ikke det de sier:-) Gurimalla, Ultima Thule med noe godt i foran store vinduer med hav utenfor, det høres da bare helt himmelsk ut!!

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  3. I love Ultima Thule too. I found one of the large carafes at a very low price on eBay the other day and got sidetracked and forgot to bid on it! Of course, I love his white and noire Studio Line pieces for Rosenthal too. Still determined to get that Pollo on the cheap!

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    1. Oh yes, the carafe is so beautiful. The large one would be a dream find! And the center of attention on any dinner table. I really hope you find a reasonably priced Pollo some day, they are truly wonderful!

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  4. These are so beautiful. I have never seen them before. They look strong and fragile all at once. Like ice... :)

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    1. Thank you, Rebecca, I'm glad you like them! The design is a Scandinavian classic and one Wirkkala is very known for over here. I think they're the most beautiful glasses I know. I keep getting surprised every time I touch them that they're not cold:-) Thanks again!

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