Scandinavian Glass

Born of fire

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Above: The ‘Tulpan’ vases designed by Nils Landberg for Orrefors in 1957. Photo: Sothebys

Literally born of fire, glass is a mesmerizing art form. Catching the light and freezing colors in a permanent, still tableau that will last forever, and forever remain the same. But almost belying the delicate and beautiful forms the process of making glass is hardly so. Hot, dangerous, and physically demanding work, traditional glass making methods go back centuries. Without a doubt, some of the finest glass produced are those made in Scandinavia.

Glassmaking arrived in the Scandinavian countries in the 1500’s, which may seem early but relatively late compared with the rest of Europe. The wealthy and aristocratic of the region, wanting some of the fine glass being created particularly in Germany and Italy, built glassworks and hired skilled workers from all over Europe. Over the following years, with increased numbers of glassworks and highly skilled local workers, glass became more and more accessible but still remained a luxury.

With increased demand glass became such an integral part of Scandinavian culture that entire communities were built around the glassworks, and it was demanding and dangerous work with little protection for the workers. Entire families worked for the glassworks with child labor not only being rampant, it was also expected from the owners. The influence of the industrial revolution brought glass (as it did with many products) within reach of the average person and by the second half of the 19th century Scandinavian glass was exported worldwide.

Despite its international popularity and high degree of craftsmanship Scandinavian glass was – inexplicably – held in somewhat low regard in the rest of Europe. At the trade shows and fairs of the late 19th century international critics were simply not impressed with that which was being produced. It wasn’t until the Paris World Fair of 1925 that Scandinavian – particularly Swedish – glass finally gained international recognition for its quality, beauty, and craftsmanship.

After a difficult time during the second world war, Scandinavian glassworks went back into full gear and readily embraced the new modern aesthetic. Companies like Kosta, Boda , Orrefors, and iitala experimented with color and new shapes, and produced some of the most beautiful glass pieces ever made. Like so much in Scandinavian design the pieces are often simple, some seemingly delicate, but always striking.

Some colorful Scandinavian glassworks. Click on image to view full size.

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Risto Pyykkö
7 years ago

Wonderful stuff — according to Iittala though Sarpaneva’s “Ring of Trajan” was first produced in 1996 as a series of ten pieces.

RodandRach Maier
7 years ago