Tapio Wirkkala, Finnish Master of Many Mediums

Finnish industrial designer, Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), was a master in the many mediums he used for his designs in glassware, tableware, cutlery, jewelry, art glass, furniture and more.

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Tapio Wirkkala

An artist and sculptor at heart, Wirkkala’s work took a necessary, practical approach after the war and turned to industrial design. A recluse that preferred the isolation of the woodlands of Lapland, Wirkkala’s main inspiration was nature and the frozen landscape of his homeland. He translated that love of home into some of his most well-known designs such as the iconic Ultima Thule (Ultima Thule is a mythological distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”) and Aslak (a Finnish boy’s name meaning “supporter of Thorgest,” a 9th century Viking chief) glassware for Iittala.

Wirkkala also created an extensive collection of porcelain and stoneware for Rosenthal Ag starting in 1956, a career which produced eight tableware services and over 200 porcelain decorative objects, and colorful, blown glass for Venini.

And while Wirkkala is known for some of the most beautiful, modernist housewares of the mid-century, he’s also known for many utilitarian masterpieces. A plastic ketchup bottle (Paulig Company), an incandescent light bulb (Airam), the Finnish markka banknotes (1955-1981), and the Finlandia “Frozen Ice” vodka bottle (1970-2000).

A modest man, Wirkkala was “a maestro without a maestro’s affections.”

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Row 1: “Avena” vase for Iitala, 1970; “Alpina” vase for Iitala, 1966; “Ultima Thule” glass for Iitala, 1968; “Kalvolan Kanto” vase for Iittala, 1948; Row 2: Model 9020 coffee table for Akso, est. 1958; silver pendant, 1957 (photo credit: Wright 20).

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