Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tapio Wirkkala: Finnish Excellence

Tapio Wirkkala isn’t a name that everyone knows, but if you have ever bought a bottle of Finlandia vodka and held the ice-inspired form in your hands, you have experienced the design of Tapio Wirkkala.
Tapio Wirkkala

Tapio was born in Hanko in 1915 and died in 1985 -- in his 70 years, he became a leading (possibly the leading) figure of modern Finnish industrial art. Wirkkala’s wide ranging portfolio stretches from more traditional mediums like sculpture and glasswork to commercial graphics, city planning, furniture, postage stamps, and even banknotes designed for the Finnish treasury!

The "melting ice" effect of Wirkkala's Ultima Thule glass work became the basis for this commercial art that was used for over 60 years by the makers of Finlandia.

 The beginning of his career was interrupted by the second world war, after which he worked in an advertising office. He entered many design competitions, and promptly won the Iittala glass design competition in 1946, launching his work into the public space. Wirkkala excelled when exploring the creative space that surrounded specific crafts: glassblowing, woodwork, engraving, and metalwork.

Postage stamps celebrating the Helsinki Olympics


His work in glass, for example, pushed the boundaries of what was possible -- his designs required not just an understanding of form, but demanded glassblowers develop new methods to achieve the look required. Wirkkala was happiest living and working in the remote woodlands of central Finland, or in the far north Lapplands. At one point in his career, production samples had to be brought to him by helicopter, so remote was his studio!



He took inspiration from nature, and natural forms he found in Finland’s wilderness: “Take a piece of ice in your hand and find our culture in it; find it in a stone smoothed by the rapids, or in sand that waves have shaped." His rejection of the machine-made perfection achievable in post-war manufacturing shifted the entire design world towards more organic forms.

Plywood sculpture by Tapio Wirkkala


Tapio Wirkkala influenced modern Scandinavian design by ensuring that the object doesn’t forget to imitate the natural world it comes from. Check out some of Wirkkala’s enduring designs at fjorn.com, or in person at our showroom in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

Ultima Thule glassware as designed for Iittala