Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985)
”All materials have their own unwritten laws… You should never be violent with a material you’re working on, and the designer should aim at being in harmony with his material.” This is said by Tapio Wirkkala, who is the symbolic figure for Finnish design.
He was an artist of exceptional diversity. For him no material was alien and he left no area of design unexplored. Although his artwork and unique objects are to be found in the world’s leading museums, Finns have used his anonymous utility objects for decades. His work ranges from plastic ketchup bottles and metal ware to advanced unique pieces of glass, ceramic and wood.
Tapio Wirkkala’s design from the 1950’s reflects nature’s own forms – such as leaves, mushrooms and melting ice. These forms with pure and elegant contours are easily recognized in the laminated birch dishes made in a technique called aeroplane veneer. This for Wirkkala so typical plywood was also used for larger sculptures. One of his plywood pieces was voted as the most beautiful object of the year in 1954.
As an artist, Tapio Wirkkala was a craftsman who learned the properties of his materials by working them on his own as well as with skilled assistants. Wirkkala was ultimately a sculptor for whom his own cellar workshop was the most important studio. This was his alchemist’s chamber, from which he drew ideas and found new inspiration.
In 1946 Wirkkala won his first design award in a competition organized by Iittala. He was made artistic director of the firm and begun a lifelong relationship with the company. He also designed for other international companies, for example glass for Venini and ceramics for Rosenthal. Throughout his career Tapio Wirkkala received numerous design awards, among them no less then three Triennale Grand Prix.