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Arts & culture

Tapio Wirkkala

By professor Juhani Pallasmaa, March 2009

© Designor Oy Ab

Designer and sculptor

  • born 2.6.1915 Hanko, died 19.5.1985 Helsinki
  • eminent Finnish designer who contributed to high international reputation of Finnish design
  • the natural environment of Lapland greatly influenced much of his work
  • best-known creations: Finlandia vodka bottles, Iceberg vase, Ultima Thule crystal object.
  • worked for Finnish glassware company Iittala from 1946 until his death
  • won awards at the Milan Triennial (1951, 1954, 1960, 1963), the World Fair in Brussels (1957) and the Domus Golden Obelisk, Milan (1963)
  • awarded the following honorary titles: Honorary Royal Designer for Industry, London, England 1964; Royal College of Arts, doctor honoris causa, London, England 1971; Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, honorary membership, London, England 1971; Member of the Finnish Academy 1972
© Iittala Glass
Tapio, 1954

Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985) was a father figure of Finnish applied art. He rose to world fame in the early 1950s following the breakthrough of Finnish industrial design at the triennial fairs of 1951 and 1954 in Milan. Wirkkala was an exceptionally versatile artist who was not held back in any design project by challenges of scale, materials or conventions.

He is best known as a glass designer although his artistry ranged from postage stamps to a fell-sized landscape memorial and from a tumbler to a futuristic cityscape. Wirkkala was an artist in whose work the sources of inspiration evolved into powerful shapes like natural phenomena. The object achieves perfection when the mind and the matter, the idea and its realisation, the form and the function merge. Shape was just not an aesthetic goal or intellectual perception for Wirkkala. It was born of a sensitive dialogue between thought, hand, eye and material.

© Iittala Glass

Wirkkala's themes often derived from nature; from leaves, from the swirls of seashells, from the shapes of birds or fish or more distant observations of nature such as ice formations or the movements of water. Usually his primal emotion is so deeply ingrained in the object created that its origin can no longer be identified or analysed. He also sought inspiration from his travels abroad and from early Renaissance art.

Wirkkala combined art and craft in serial manufacture, when artistic form met anonymous industrial production methods. He bonded Finnish rural simplicity to universal elegance, sensitivity and discernment. He wedded light-hearted experimentation to a sense of high seriousness. His objects feature both a sculptural theme and a scientifically researched functionalism.

© Iittala Glass
Sonaatti, 1983

Wirkkala's artworks and objets d'art are exhibited in the most important museum collections the world over, while his anonymous household utensils have been well-worn in the hands of the Finnish people for decades. His name is so widely linked to luxury objects that few know, for example, that such everyday items as Finnish banknotes and ketchup and liquor bottles are Wirkkala's creations.

Tapio Wirkkala spent long periods abroad, most notably in Italy, Germany and Latin America. His modesty, diligence and professional skill removed barriers of language and culture whether he was working with glass blowers in Venice or traditional silversmiths in Mexico.


Tapio Wirkkala by National Biography

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