Friday, May 31, 2013

Festivo - more finnish gorgeousness

I have a thing for icy cool finnish glass, and this week has been very rewarding in that respect. I found some gorgeous Ultima Thule glasses, featured in my previous post, and now these! Remember I mentioned in a recent post that the lady in my nearby thriftstore had reserved something for me that just needed to be unpacked from all her boxes? That was four Festivo candle holders in two different sizes. Or at least I thought it was... When I popped by a few days ago, she was really sorry about having discovered they were copies. I was so disappointed, but bless her for not trying to convince me they were originals. However, yesterday, I found two specimen of the genuine article- they're even signed! Sadly there are many copies around. Over here, I often see the kind that are too regular and don't have that special icy expression at all. The real ones have a rougher surface and look more "individual". If you're lucky, like I was this time, you'll find the older ones that have Sarpaneva's initials TS etched under the base. I highly recommend you to check out this post over at RetroScandinavian if you wanna make sure you're getting the real deal. It's a really great blog, by the way, a great resource on Scandinavian pottery and glass.

I want to collect a whole group in different heights, like in this great retro Iittala ad I found. It must date from the early years, maybe even from the time they were launched. The retro typeface is so cool. Aren't they gorgeous in a large group like that? The tall ones are hard to find, we'll see how that goes... My mom has a pair with one ring that my dad bought for her on a business trip to Helsinki in the early 70s. She confessed to me a little while ago that she's never liked them, and wants me to have them. She wants to break it to my dad gently, though, she never told him she didn't like them... For the record; my dad doesn't read my blog!

I guess many of you are well acquainted with Festivo and the amazing Timo Sarpaneva, but if you're not- let me introduce you! The story goes that designer Timo Sarpaneva originally designed the Festivo candle holder as a wine glass for himself. The idea was to fit an entire bottle of wine into a single glass. A rough-surfaced, ice-like glass was born, with the bowl and base sections blown separately. When the base sections of the glasses were sitting in the factory on their own, the idea came to use them as candle holders – and so the prototype of a new classic was born. The Festivo series has been manufactured since 1967 and has become a true icon.

Timo Sarpaneva came from a family of craftsmen. He would mention his maternal grandfather, a blacksmith, whose profession Sarpaneva claimed as his family's tradition "for hundreds of years," and said others were textile artists noting his mother used to make tea cozies. His one-year-older brother Pentti was a graphic designer and made the most amazing brutalist bronze and silver jewelry.

Timo Sarpaneva's professional response to glass was related to his early memories of molten metal in his grandfather's workshop. A childhood sensation that he would periodically recount later as inspirational for his innovative approach to glass objects spoke of transparency and space:
"At the age of eight or nine, I held a piece of ice in my hand until I'd made a hole in it with my warm finger."
His organic hole in a glass body then appeared at roughly the same time as Henry Moore began to make use of concavities in his human sculptures, and some of his other work with glass is suggestive of that experience.

Sarpaneva graduated from the Institute for Industrial Arts (the forerunner of the University of Arts and Design in Helsinki in 1948 and received a PhD later. Shortly after he began to work with glass. He was hired by Iittala in 1951. Radical for that time, his involvement extended to the design of the packaging and of Iittala's name with a prominent, white, lower-case letter i in a red circle as the new line's trademark, which the company then adopted as its universal logo through the 21st century.

Sarpaneva's first international recognition in glass work came with a Grand Prix from the Milan Triennale  in 1954 that included Sarpaneva's series Orkidea ("Orchid"), Kajakki ("Kayak"), and Lansetti ("Lancet") adopted for production by Iittala.

Trained as a graphic designer, he spent the majority of his life in industrial design while seeing himself more as an artist than a designer. During his amazing career, he created great designs in glass, porcelain, fabric and cast iron, to name a few. However, glass was always closest to his heart. He said of his favorite material:
"Glass is very mysterious. It's changing all the time. That's what makes it magical. It released me from the conventional and the three-dimensional. It opened its deepest reaches to me and took me on a journey to a fourth dimension. I understood the opportunities that clear, transparent glass gives to an artist and designer."

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 and 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

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."


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My aunt's cabin

I can't wait to visit my home town this summer. I usually spend Easter there too. This year, however, I didn't get the chance to go, so I'm really, really homesick. Even though I've lived half my life away from it, I still call my beloved stretch of North sea coast home. It's truly where my heart is. Every time I go, one of my top priorities is to spend a day at my aunt's cabin. It's at a place that, according to my vocabulary, is pretty close to paradise.

The cabin is tiny and was built right after WW2. It has wood cladding, on both the exterior and interior, and is by no means great architecture. The beauty is in the wild flowers in the windowsill, the embroidered cushions, the old pots and pans, the woven wall hangings. It's not even meant to be either "vintage" or any other kind of style, she's just gathered what she needs there. She has an orange Cathrineholm bowl there that she uses for biscuits, but she has no idea of how sought after they are....

My aunt and uncle's farm is just 5 minutes away, and my aunt mainly uses the cabin to spend a few hours walking the beach, picking some wild flowers and having some coffee while watching the weather and the gorgeous scenery. My uncle doesn't have the patience... Even though she has 6 (!!) daughters, she always makes time to spend a day there with us, because she knows I appreciate it so much. She brings along some homemade cake and coffee in a basket. There is no water, so we do the dishes by hand afterwards with hot water from a thermos.

We always go for a long walk along the beach that she has right outside her doorstep, it's one of the widest and most beautiful in the area, and the one that has the tallest sanddunes. We walk the beach on our way north, and often walk behind the ridge of dunes on our way back. On the beach we find driftwood, bottles from the North sea shipping lanes, stranded jellyfish, polished stones and beach flowers. In the sheltered area behind the dunes there's rich plantlife and you can find all kinds of strange insects. There is a lot of birdwatching, as this is the point where the migrating birds from all over the country leave our shores for warmer ones in the fall, and where the first ones are seen back in the spring.

I'll leave you with pictures from my visit there last summer, and hopefully there will be some new ones in a couple of months:-) I will try to get some decent pictures of a really beautiful piece of architecture nearby, a small museum of the area's flora and fauna, designed by a local architect who, sadly, passed away too early. He really grasped the characteristics of the landscape.








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