100 years Tapio Wirkkala – the anniversary 2015

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Article from the 2015-06-01, by Sabrina Pflüger

Tapio Wirkkala is considered to be one of the most versatile Finnish designers. Despite of his uncountable creations, reaching from glass products to different graphic designs, his oeuvre is less known than the one of other Scandinavian designers. In this year he would have celebrated his 100th birthday – Tapio WIrkkala, the artist, designer and graphic designer. That’s a good reason for us to look back to the life and work of the Finnish designer.

The beginning

Tapio WIrkkala was born in south Finland on the 2nd of June of 1915. When he moved to Helsinki, WIrkkala went to the University of Arts from 1933 to 1936 there, where he concentrated on his passion of sculpturing. His later, organic designs with sculptural charm are inevitably influenced by that education, which Wirkkala knew to use for Iittala, Rosenthal und Venini as a glass designer, among other roles.

Wirkkala worked as graphic designer during the first years after his graduation. Thereby he won a competition with the design of stamps for the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1940, which wouldn’t take place at first because of the war. The career of the designer shone at the end of the war. He married the artist Rut Bryk and finally won the glass competition of Iittala in the following year. A key moment, which was the beginning of a lifelong, successful cooperation with the Finnish traditional house.

One of the most famous works of that starting time is the Kantarelli Vase (1947) among others. The Chanterelle-like vase is still an important piece of the Iittala Collection. Iittala honours the 100th birthday with another, later design: The special edition of the mouth-blown Wirkkala bottles, which was first produced between 1959 and 1968, which celebrates the handicraft art of glass-blowing – the bottles therewith symbolically represent the focus of the Wirkkala design.

Nature as a source

The glass design and the commercial graphic works – like stamps and banknotes – are accompanied by Wirkkala’s experimental work with the sculptural quality of wood. Some results are the 1951 designed “Lethi” (lead), a wooden plate which was inspired by the natural shape of a lead and called to be the ”most beautiful object of 1951” from the House Beautiful magazine in the event of the Art and Design Fair Milan.

Wirkkala moved to New York after the success of his “Leaf”, where he started to look closer to the economic aspects of design in the studio of the American designer Raymond Loewy. It was Loewy who introduced Tapio Wirkkala to Philipp Rosenthal – heir of the Rosenthal porcelain factory.

Wirkkala finally designed more than 200 different porcelain objects for Rosenthal: vases, carafes and dishes. One of the most special designs should be the Paper Bag of 1977. This one is a vase which looks like a crumpled paper bag. Wirkkala raised the simple everyday object to a design object. The vase imitates the appearance of a paper bag by means of keeping the buckles, wrinkles and the characteristic zig-zag border.
In the event of the 100th anniversary, Rosenthal honours the designer with an anniversary edition of the paper bag, offering different colours of it.

Wirkkala proved his fine sense for the beauty of everyday objects with the design of his paper bag vase. The translation into porcelain or glass is the method of Wirkkala of conserving those evanescent shapes with longevity materials.

Wirkkala didn’t only work for Iitala and Rosenthal, but for customers like Asko Furniture, Airam light design and others, before he remained in Lappland, searching for new power and inspiration in the middle of nature.

Iittala - Ultima Thule Jigger 5cl

The Ultima Thule designs are leaned on the natural beauty of Scandinavian’s nature. The melting glaciers were a great source of inspiration for the designer in that time. Glaciers are an example of how the designer introduced landscape phenomena, shapes and patterns into his creations, always respecting the natural qualities of the material.

”All materials have their own unwritten laws. You should never be violent with a material you are working on. The designer should aim at being in harmony with his material.”Wirkkala

Wirkkala worked with many different materials during his career, including wood, porcelain, metal and glass. The organic designs of the artist and designer Tapio Wirkkala mirror the versatile shapes of Scndinavian nature, encouraged by his great handicraft understanding. Poetical, timeless designs of one of the most versatile Finnish personalities.


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