Sweden, Denmark, and Norway declared neutrality when World War I broke out, while Finland, then a part of Russia, gained its independence at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Because of the war, the Scandinavian countries suffered hardships due to a disruption of trade relations. During the 1920s, when trade conditions improved, Sweden prospered. Denmark and Norway had unemployment problems although Norwegian industrial production did increase. To a greater extent than the other Scandinavian countries, Finland’s economy was still dominated by agriculture since the new nation had little incentive or opportunity to build an industrial base while annexed to Russia. The Great Depression of the early 1930s affected all the Nordic nations although Sweden had almost completely recovered by the end of the decade.
Though political situations differed somewhat within the Nordic countries, all had relatively liberal governments during the interwar years. Many reforms were instituted ranging from ensuring the vote for women, increasing social services, and regulating the work week. In Sweden, the reform program of the 1930s was characterized by the term folkhemmet, which defined Swedish society as a “people’s home” that would take care of the population’s needs. The term was coined by then Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson.
None of the Scandinavian countries were extensive manufacturers of mass-produced products, although several had industries that were internationally successful. In general, the Nordic countries exported more raw materials and agricultural products than manufactured goods, while all produced some goods in smaller quantities for home consumption. Consequently, the crafts continued to play a considerable role in their economies and numerous debates occurred during the interwar years about the value of the crafts as a means of production.
In Sweden, the Deutscher Werkbund influence was evident in the reorientation of Sweden’s Svenska Slöjdföreningen (Swedish Society of Crafts and Design). Its secretary was the critic Erik Wettergren (1883–1961), who, along with Gregor Paulsson (1889–1977), an art historian at the Swedish National Museum, sought to bring about a collaboration between Swedish industry and the country’s young designers who wanted to create a new modern aesthetic that was suitable to mass production. Paulsson, who spent time in Germany before World War I, was the central figure in the society from the time he joined it in 1916 until the 1930s. He served as the society’s director between 1920 and 1933 and edited its periodical, Svenska Slöjdföreningens Tidskrift (Swedish Society of Crafts and Design Magazine) between 1920 and 1934. In Germany he had been taken with the aims of the Deutscher Werkbund, particularly the ideas of its prime mover, Hermann Muthesius, but he was also strongly influenced by the writings of the early Swedish design reformer Ellen Kay (1849–1926) who argued in her pamphlet Skönhet åt alla (Beauty for All) of 1899 that ethics and aesthetics were closely related. Enhancing public taste and raising design standards for everyone, Kay claimed, could help bring about social reforms.
Paulsson’s important book of 1919, Vackrare vardagsvara (More Beautiful Things for Everyday Use), was a powerful call to provide attractive objects for everyone. He aligned himself with the wing of the Werkbund that called for an industrial aesthetic and mass-produced goods, thus playing down the rustic country style that Ellen Kay preferred and the belief in the craftsman that William Morris emphasized. For Paulsson, the artist was to create beautiful forms that could then be shared with everyone through industrial production.
In 1917, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design launched a polemic to bring good design to the working class with its Home Exhibition, held in Stockholm. Prominent Swedish architects and designers such as Gunar Asplund (1885–1940) and Carl Malmsten (1888–1972) designed model rooms with unpretentious furniture as well as glassware, porcelain, and other domestic wares. Among the furniture designs were historic styles along with more simplified pieces that were better suited for standardization and mass production. Two years earlier, the Society of Crafts and Design had established an agency to find work for artists in Swedish industries and by the time of its exhibition several industries, notably the glass manufacturer Orrefors and the Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory, had hired artists to work as in-house designers. Several of the glassware artists designed plain glassware that broke with the more complicated faceting of earlier pieces. A leading manufacturer of such designs was the Kosta Glassworks, which brought out its first examples of inexpensive glassware and ceramic dinner services.
Wilhelm Kåge (1889–1960), a former poster designer, joined the Gustavsbergs Porslinsfabrik (Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory) in 1917 and that year he designed an inexpensive dinner service with three different kinds of ornamentation called Liljeblå (Blue Lily). The service featured Kåge’s blue flower and border designs on a plain white ground (Plate 31), recalling earlier designs from the 19th century. Its price was sufficiently low for it to become known as the Workers’ Service. Although it remained in production until the 1940s, it was purchased primarily by progressive intellectuals rather than the workers for whom it was originally intended.
Kåge’s dinner service exemplified the Society of Crafts and Design’s interest in inexpensive well-designed objects. The society had preceded the Home Exhibition with a competition for inexpensive interiors and industrially produced goods of high quality. Thus all the designers and architects who entered had to indicate the costs of their goods and interiors to the consumer. The organizers had sufficient entries to display 23 furnished rooms for small apartments along with a host of other objects for the home, including glass, ceramics, and furniture. As design historian Cilla Robach has noted, most of the objects had their origin in those that filled the 19th-century rural home or else displayed the simplicity of 18th-century design. For the exhibition’s purpose, any objects that represented the “democratization of beauty” were preferable to highly original but expensive alternatives.
By contrast to the Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory’s emphasis on ceramic design for the working class, the Orrefors Glasbruk (Orrefors Glass Factory) hired Simon Gate (1883–1945) in 1916 and Edward Hald (1883–1980) the following year to emphasize glassware for a more affluent clientele. Both men were painters, Hald having studied with Henri Matisse in Paris, and neither had any previous experience with glass. With the help of Orrefors’ craftsmen, Gate developed a genre known as Graal, which involved cutting figures from layers of colored glass that had been laid on a clear surface, then reheating the glass and covering it with a layer of clear crystal. Hald also worked in this genre and both men additionally created drawings that were then engraved into layers of soft clear glass. Gate preferred Neo-Classical subjects, mostly mannered nudes that were cut in deep relief (Fig. 26.01) while Hald depicted male and female figures with a lighter touch. In the late 1920s, Orrefors brought in a third artist, the sculptor Vicke Lindstrand (1904–1983) who put more emphasis on the forms of the vessels and the reflective qualities of the glass, while also continuing the engraving techniques that Gate and Hald had initiated.
Orrefors glassware by Gate and Hald was extremely well received at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where Orrefors won a gold medal. Though Gregor Paulsson was the superintendent of the Swedish Pavilion, it did not feature the populist designs that were on display at the Home Exhibition. The Swedish government most likely wanted to emphasize furniture and decorative arts for export and thus requested a pavilion more in keeping with the conventions of Swedish tradition. Hence, it was designed in the Neo-Classical style that represented the country’s strongest design heritage. Among the furnishings were traditional chairs by Carl Malmsten (1888–1972) as well as an expensive furniture suite by the architect Gunnar Asplund (1885–1940). Though Asplund would become the chief architect for the modernist Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, his conception of furniture design at this point, exemplified by his “Senna” chair that was made of mahogany, leather, and ivory (Fig. 26.02), looked back to the style of the National Romantic movement rather than forward to the Deco designs of the French or the steel furniture of the Germans.
Paulsson was a pragmatist who accommodated the Swedish government’s intention to project an international image based on tradition, but in fact he was equally taken with Le Corbusier’s prefabricated Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau as was Uno Åhrén (1897–1977), one of Sweden’s first modernist architects who, along with Asplund, played a major role in the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930. He then designed a Swedish factory for the Ford Motor Company in 1930–1931. He also collaborated with the Swedish sociologist and social reformer Gunnar Myrdal on a 1934 publication on social housing that would later become influential in planning the social democratic Swedish society.
In the years just after the Paris Exhibition, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design increased the pressure on companies to hire artists and architects for design positions. The bus manufacturers Tidaholms Bruk and Hägglund & Söner recruited the Functionalist architects Eskil Sundahl (1890–1974) and Sigurd Lewerentz (1885–1975) as designers, while a more unusual relation developed between the portrait painter Helmer Mas Olle (1884–1969) and the fledgling Swedish automobile manufacturer Volvo, whose intention was to build a car more suited to the Nordic climate than the American imports. Mas Olle styled ten prototype bodies for the ÖV4, which Volvo began to sell in 1927 (Fig. 26.03). For a number of reasons, however, Volvo subsequently turned over the design function to its engineers who took the safer route of using American cars as models.
Another artist, the Norwegian painter Jean Heiberg 1884–1976), created a successful design for a new cradle telephone that the Swedish telephone company Ericsson adopted. Earlier, Ericsson’s first phone to combine the speaker and receiver in a single handset, the Model 88, had achieved wide success in Europe after its launch in 1908. Two decades later, Heiberg, working with the Norwegian engineer Johan Christian Bjerknes (1889–1983) at the Norsk Elektrisk Bureau, a Norwegian subsidiary of Ericsson’s, designed a modern sculptural version of the cradle telephone, which went into production in 1932. Manufactured with a Bakelite casing that replaced the existing metal one, the DHB 1001, as it was called, consisted of a curved base that housed the dialing mechanism and a rounded handset that rested on the base (Fig. 26.04). The Ericsson phone based on Heiberg’s and Bjerknes’s design became the standard model for the Swedish Telephone Company, and the British Post Office adopted a variant for use in Great Britain.
Besides its campaign to improve the quality of everyday goods by pressuring companies to hire artists, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design entered into its own collaboration with a large furniture manufacturer, AB Svenska Möbelfabrikerna, to mass-produce furniture of high quality for a wide public. The company’s collaboration with the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design was only a small part of its large output, which comprised about 100 different furniture suites as well as individual pieces such as card tables. The society’s collaboration with AB Svenska Möbelfabrikerna represented a firm commitment to creating attractive goods by industrial means rather than encouraging the many small craft-based workshops that comprised the bulk of Sweden’s furniture industry and for which there was still strong support. Some of Sweden’s leading furniture craftsmen and architects designed furniture for the Nordiska Kompaniet, a large department store that had its own furniture workshops. Gemla, a company that produced toys as well as furniture, began producing its own version of bentwood furniture with the help of specialists from abroad.
Svenskt Tenn (Swedish Pewter), an interior design company that Estrid Ericson (1894–1981) founded in 1924, also produced furniture as well as textiles. In its own Stockholm shop, the company sold both, along with the modern pewter that Ericson favored and from which the company took its name. In 1933, the Austrian designer and architect Josef Frank (1885–1967), who had emigrated to Sweden from Austria that year, began to produce textile and furniture designs for Svenskt Tenn, becoming the company’s chief designer two years later. Frank favored complex textile patterns, many derived from plants or animals (Plate 32), while his taste in furniture reflected a simplified Neo-Classicism that was modern without being strictly Functionalist.
Despite the successful participation of a few artists and architects with industrial companies, engineers designed most industrial products, emphasizing a split within all the Scandinavian countries between the artists, craftsmen, and architects who designed furniture, ceramics, textiles, and other domestic goods, and the engineers who were mainly responsible for industrial products. For example, Gustav Dalén (1869–1937), the chief engineer of Svenska AB Gas Accumulator Company, designed the revolutionary Aga stove in 1922 (Plate 33). It was named after the initials of the company, which replaced the prior gas burners with two large hotplates that could deliver intense heat from an internal storage unit. The stove had dual ovens that maintained different temperatures from the hotplates as they were not the same distance from the heat source. A thermostat controlled the heat, so no knobs or dials were required. The Aga ranges were first imported into Great Britain in 1929 and achieved considerable success there, thus contributing to Sweden’s economic recovery in the 1930s.
Several other industrial companies introduced important new appliances and models during the interwar period. Elektrolux, formed in 1919 from a merger between the Lux vacuum company and another Stockholm company, Elekromekanista, introduced its new vacuum cleaner, the Model V, in 1921. Designed by Axel Wenner-Gren (1881–1961), inventor of one of the first vacuum cleaners, the Model V featured a cylinder perched on runners with a sweeper attached to an extended flexible hose. This model became the prototype of other vacuum cleaners for many years to come (Fig. 26.05).
In 1925, the company purchased the rights to a machine designed by two Swedish engineering students that converted heat to cold and produced its first refrigerator, the Electrolux L1, between 1931 and 1937. The company continued to manufacture refrigerators in large volume and by the mid-1930s had established factories in Great Britain, France, and the United States to produce its growing range of appliances. In the late 1930s, Electrolux intensified its marketing by commissioning the American industrial designer Raymond Loewy to design several products in the streamline style, notably a cylinder vacuum cleaner, a floor polisher, and the stylized L3000 refrigerator.
Sweden was also an active manufacturer of motorcycles during the interwar years. They were made by Husqvarna (Mill House), one of Sweden’s oldest industrial firms, which was founded in 1689. Originally the company made musket barrels, but with the construction of a foundry in 1872, Husqvarna began to manufacture a broad range of household appliances from wood-burning stoves to sewing machines. In 1896, the company produced its first bicycle and from 1903 it began to manufacture motorcycles. Initially Husqvarna bicycle frames were fitted with single-cylinder engines from other manufacturers, but in 1920 the company initiated the manufacture of its own engines. Two years later, Husqvarna began to market a large four-cycle machine that was comparable in size to the Indian, the Harley-Davidson, and the BMW (Fig. 26.06). Around 1929 the engineer and designer Folke Mannerstedt (1901–1987) joined the firm with a mandate to improve the competitive capacity of its motorcycles in European races.
An expert in the use of light alloys for the engines as well as the body designs, Mannerstedt helped Husqvarna become a successful racing competitor. In the mid-1930s, however, the company stopped entering races, ceased production of its large engines, and concentrated on building smaller cycles with two-stroke engines. In part because these machines did not require a driver’s license, they proved to be very popular and Husqvarna sold thousands of them.
While companies that made industrial products had no problems encasing them in clean modern forms, the debate between funkis (Functionalism) and tradis (tradition) intensified in the late 1920s within the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, as Gregor Paulsson, Uno Åhrén, and others promoted a comparable Functional aesthetic for household goods and architecture. Led by the furniture designer Carl Malmsten, the “traditionalists” defended the role of the individual craftsman. Nonetheless the Functionalists prevailed and in 1930 the society, led by Paulsson, organized the Stockholm Exhibition, an extensive display of household goods and architecture that firmly grounded Functionalism as a dominant aesthetic in Swedish design.
The architect Gunnar Asplund designed the principal structures—the main restaurant with its glazed walls and Corbusian roof garden and the plain exhibition halls. On display was the full range of household goods—furniture, textiles, glass, ceramics, and metalwork. Visitors could also see inexpensive interiors for the working class, as well as hospital and hotel interiors for an industrialized society. The exhibition gave a new impetus to the society’s program of “beautiful things for everyone,” and led to further designs for low-cost and mass-produced household goods, many in the new Functional style. Among the leading examples of such goods at the exhibition and in the years that followed were Wihelm Kåge’s Praktika earthenware service for Gustavsberg in 1933 and the Eva chair by cabinetmaker Bruno Mathsson (1907–1988), which was made of laminated bentwood and webbed fabric. Unlike Kåge’s earlier Blue Lily service whose design derived from a Swedish folk style, the Praktika earthenware dishes had a plain green ring around each bowl and plate, avoiding any reference to a national tradition. They were also designed to nest within each other for economic storage, particularly in smaller flats. However, despite critical praise, they did not appeal to Sweden’s mass market, nor did Mathsson’s chair, which he designed in 1934. The curves of the bent wood and the resilience of the webbing derived from his research into forms that would provide the most comfort to the sitter, but both broke with the traditions and techniques of Swedish furniture manufacturing, resulting in Mathsson producing the chair in his own workshop since he could not find an existing manufacturer to do it (Fig. 26.07). Mathsson’s choice of wood and fabric were exemplary of the Nordic preference for natural materials, and the use of such materials came to characterize Swedish Modern. Though tubular steel furniture was widely shown at the Stockholm Exhibition, it did not receive a very welcome reception in Sweden or anywhere else in Scandinavia.
As a follow-up to the exhibition, in 1931, five architects—Uno Åhrén, Gunnar Asplund, Wolter Gahn (1890–1985), Sven Markelius, and Eskil Sundahl (1890–1974)—along with Gregor Paulsson issued a book-length manifesto in support of Functionalism. Polemically titled Acceptera! (Accept), it was a plea to the public to recognize Functionalism, standardization, and mass production as valuable components of a new set of cultural values.
For the designers and architects such as Uno Åhrén who espoused Functionalism, the Functionalist philosophy was part of a desire to construct a socially progressive environment that would meet everyone’s needs. This resulted in new architectural typologies such as the service-flat housing block that the architect and planner Sven Markelius (1889–1972) designed in collaboration with the sociologist Alva Myrdal (1902–1986). Similar to some of Moisei Ginzburg’s 1930s Constructivist experiments in Russia, the intent of the block that Markelius designed was to relieve professional women with children of responsibilities for childcare, cooking, laundry, and other domestic functions by providing communal facilities for these functions.
Attention to social needs was also evident at the Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory after the Kooperativa Förbundet (Swedish Co-operative Union and Wholesale Society) acquired it in 1937. Better known for its high profile dinnerware, Gustavsberg also began to produce bathroom porcelain such as bidets, sinks, and tubs in 1939. Under the leadership of Hjalmar Olson (1902–1990), a pioneer in the field of design management, Gustavsberg sought to juggle a profitable balance sheet with a strong sense of social responsibility. This challenge paralleled that faced by the architects and designers of the modern movement in Germany during the 1920s, but Sweden was able to move forward with a socially progressive design program in the 1930s because its government was dominated by Social Democrats rather than the repressive Nazi regime that came to power in Germany around the same time.
In Denmark, the Landsforeningen Dansk Kunsthaandvaerk (Danish Society of Crafts and Design) was founded in 1907, but it did not promote a new design direction in Denmark as strongly as the Society of Crafts and Design did in Sweden. Instead, several organizations—the Danske Kunstindustrimuseum (Danish Museum of Decorative Arts), the Department of Furniture and Interior Decoration at Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakakademi (The Royal Academy of Fine Arts), and the Københavns Snedkerlaug (Copenhagen Cabinet Makers’ Guild)—worked along common lines. As a counterpart to The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the Museum of Decorative Arts established its own Haandvaerkerskole (School of Crafts), whose first director was Hans Tegner (1853–1952), an artist, illustrator, and designer of stamps and banknotes who was also the design director of the porcelain manufacturer Bing & Grøndahl between 1907 and 1932.
Beginning in 1927, the Cabinet Makers’ Guild initiated an annual exhibition, and later a competition, at the Museum of Decorative Arts to promote the design of new furniture. The guild’s major figure in the 1920s was Kaare Klint (1888–1954), who was trained as an architect before founding the department of furniture and interior decoration at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1924. Like most Danish architects of his day, Klint was strongly influenced by Neo-Classicism but he also researched earlier styles and materials to discover principles and technique for contemporary design. His own chairs were based on a careful study of prior designs such as the knock-down chair used by the British Army abroad and the folding chair found on the decks of passenger ships.
With his students at the Kunstakademi, Klint collected and correlated data on the human body to enhance the development of furniture that corresponded to the body’s characteristics. This was an early example of gathering human data for design purposes, a practice that later developed into the science of ergonomics. Klint also placed great emphasis on craftsmanship, thus characterizing the Danish approach to furniture design as an alternative to the industrially based aesthetic of the German modern movement.
Klint’s folding deck chair of 1933 for the furniture manufacturer Rudolph Rasmussen, with its wooden frame and cane surfaces, exemplifies his combination of craft skill and rational proportion (Fig. 26.08). His interests, however, ranged beyond chairs and he worked closely with his students to develop a rational approach to storage furniture such as cupboards and cabinets.
Modern Danish furniture owes a great debt to Klint, not only for his own designs but also for the influence he had on his many assistants and students who also became prominent designers. Mogens Koch (1898–1992) was a former assistant whose MK Safari chair of 1932 retained Klint’s interest in rational form but departed radically from Klint’s approach with its use of tightly woven fabric for the back and seat. Koch’s chair parallels closely the precedent of a similar folding chair that Gerd Hassenpflug designed at the Bauhaus in 1928. Like Bruno Mathsson’s Eva chair, created two years later in Sweden, the Safari chair was too radical to attract a manufacturer when it was designed and was not put into production until 1960. Koch’s subsequent furniture was less controversial and included various pieces that were inspired by earlier historical types. Like Koch, Ole Wanscher (1903–1985), a student of Klint’s, also based his designs on historic precedents, particularly those of the 18th century, although one of his better known pieces, produced in 1960, was derived directly from an early Egyptian folding stool.
The rising quality of Danish modern furniture was due in large part to the enlightened views of a few progressive manufacturers who collaborated closely with the Copenhagen Cabinet Makers’ Guild. Unlike most Danish furniture companies, these firms were interested in producing high-quality designs at moderate prices for a broad public. The firms included Jacob Kjaer, Rudolph Rasmussen, A. J. Iversen, and Fritz Hansen. Of these, Fritz Hansen was the first to market modular sectional furniture that could be put together in different combinations.
In 1926, Poul Henningsen (1894–1967) and a group of fellow architects initiated a radical call for a new social approach to design. They declared it in the first issue of their magazine Kritisk Revy (Critical Review), which they published until 1928. The group had little interest in aesthetics and placed their emphasis on social needs. According to Henningsen, the designer should focus on a single useful object and develop its possibilities. His own specialty was lighting and he had begun to design hanging and table lamps for the lighting manufacturer Louis Poulson in 1924. Known as the PH series, these lamps diffused the light through several layers of metal shades whose curvatures Henningsen carefully calibrated to reduce the glare of the electric bulb (Fig. 26.09). Over the years, Henningsen continued to refine his design, adding more and more layers to the lamps. He opposed any celebration of the crafts and designed his lamps for mass production. Their modern industrial aesthetic made them popular abroad, especially in Germany where the Deutscher Werkbund and the builders of the Neue Frankfurt promoted them. Though known primarily for his lighting, Henningsen was interested in other uses of industrial materials. His tubular steel furniture for the manufacturer V. A. Høfding was formed from curved pieces of steel to which were attached leather and fabric-covered seats and backs. For another manufacturer he designed a piano with curved steel legs and a transparent acrylic cover in a steel frame.
Henningsen thoroughly subverted the conventions of standard object and furniture types with his industrial aesthetic that was based on a radical social agenda. Less radical though also socially conscious was Kaj Bojesen (1886–1958), a silversmith who had trained in the workshop of Georg Jensen. By 1931, Bojesen had established his own workshop and begun to design tableware with plain forms that was suitable for mass production. Ultimately his designs were produced for a wider market in stainless steel. Another prominent designer of silver was Kay Fisker (1893–1965), an architect rather than a silversmith. As a writer for the architectural journal Arkitekten (The Architect) between 1919 and 1927, Fisker promoted modern design through polemics, while as a designer for the manufacturer A. Michelsen, he produced silver tea services, cocktail shakers, and pitchers in pure sculptural forms with subtle historical associations. Fisker was less successful as a designer of furniture. His wingback chair of the 1930s was an attempt to modernize the 18th- and 19th-century models by substituting curved wooden arms for the earlier upholstered ones and plain wooden legs for the more ornate legs of the earlier models.
The success that Georg Jensen had achieved before World War I (see Chapter 17) through his designs and those of Johan Rohde and other designers continued to ensure the firm’s success in the interwar years. One of Jensen’s leading designers during this period was Harald Nielsen (1892–1977), who created simple unadorned silver teapots and other hollow ware as well as flatware patterns. His Pyramid flatware of 1927, which featured a stepped design at the base of each piece of cutlery, recalled the forms of Art Deco and became one of the firm’s best selling designs. When Georg Jensen died in 1935, the company was managed by his son Jørgen and continued its successful course.
A counterpart to Nielsen’s plain unadorned forms in silver was the glassware that Jens Bang (1890–1965) designed for the Holmegaards Glasværk (Holmegaard Glass Factory) in the 1920s. Bang joined Holmegaard’s design office in 1924 and became its artistic director in 1928. The clear Purist forms that he designed for Holmegaard during the 1920s were in marked contrast to the elaborately decorated glassware that Simon Gate and Edvard Hald were designing for Orrefors in Sweden at the time. Bang’s Hogla beer glass of 1928, a beautifully shaped sculptural vessel with a thick transparent stem and base, marked a turning point for Holmegaard’s shift to mass production. His Primula glassware of 1930 played more with curved forms and varied stem shapes but still preserved the pristine sense of form that characterized his work with Holmegaard until he left in 1942.
As in Sweden, Danish entrepreneurs, engineers, and informal designers were primarily responsible for the design of electrical goods and transportation during the interwar years. In 1910, the year Axel Wenner-Gren introduced his cylinder vacuum in Sweden, two Danish entrepreneurs, Peder A. Fisker (1875–1975) and H. M. Nielsen (1870–1954), patented a canister vacuum cleaner after founding a company to produce small electric motors four years earlier. The Nilfisk vacuum, which took its name from the company’s founders, was the first portable vacuum cleaner of its type. It was regarded as a technological breakthrough because the designers condensed so much cleaning power into a small object. During the 1930s, it took on a more elegant appearance in order to appeal to the housewives who were its primary users.
Fisker & Nielsen also produced a popular motorcycle, the Nimbus, which Peder Fisker designed. His first design, the Model A, was manufactured between 1919 and 1923. It was known as “The Stovepipe,” because of its large rounded frame, which also functioned as a gas tank. A new Model B was basically the same machine with an improved front fork. The early models of the Nimbus were produced primarily for domestic consumption, though they never became big sellers because they cost almost as much as Henry Ford’s Model T automobile. In 1934, Fisker’s son Anders designed a more streamlined and longer-lasting version, the Model C, which was called “The Bumblebee” after the sound of its exhaust.
Bang & Olufsen, which in later years became the premier manufacturer of high-end sound equipment, was founded in 1925 by two engineers, Peter Boas Bang (1900–1957) and Andreas Grøn Olufsen (1897–1949). Their products, including an early radio with push-button tuning, were innovative from the start and displayed their strategy of combining sophisticated technology and visual elegance. This was evident in their streamlined Bakelite radio cabinet of 1939, the Beolit 39 (Fig. 26.10).
Besides being a designer of tableware, Kaj Bojesen was also the driving force in the establishment of Den Permanente, a cooperative association with a large showroom in Copenhagen, where artists could display and sell their own designs. As a vehicle for distribution, Den Permanente gave individual designers access to the market, thus bypassing the traditional attitudes and taste of many Danish manufacturers. Progressive merchants could play a similar role. In Copenhagen, Kaj Dessau (1897–1987) created BO (Living), a retail outlet for interior furnishings and household goods that strongly influenced the Danish reception of modern design. The store featured everything for the home: furniture, upholstery fabrics, ceramics, glass, and lighting fixtures. Dessau based his commitment to sell well-designed goods at attractive prices on his knowledge of the Bauhaus, the Deutsche Werkstätten, and Britain’s Design and Industry Association. He also looked carefully at Sweden’s handicraft organizations and furniture factories.
In the store’s first phase, Dessau strongly emphasized Swedish goods including some small exhibits of objects from the Stockholm Exhibition, but he began to promote Danish goods in 1935 when he opened an exhibition that featured furniture, rugs, and upholstery made in his own workshops. The director of his weaving workshop was Marianne Strengell (1909–1988), who left for the United States in 1937 to head the weaving department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Dessau also fostered the establishment of other workshops by committing to selling their wares. Among these was Saxbo, which featured stoneware colored with the rich glazes of Natalie Krebs (1895–1978). The workshop mass-produced high-quality stoneware for sale at low prices, a value that accorded with Dessau’s own views. Saxbo also featured the expressive artistic vessels of Axel Salto (1889–1961), who worked as well for the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Factory, where he developed many stoneware pieces that anticipated the post-war interest in organic forms.
In part due to Dessau’s promise to sell her screen-printed fabrics, the fabric designer Marie Gudme Leth (1910–1997) founded her own textile workshop, Dansk Kattuntrykkeri (Danish Calico Print Works). Leth’s fabrics featured images drawn in a folkloric style rather than abstract patterns. However, she was not nostalgic. Her fabrics Landsby (Village) I and II of 1935 and 1936 feature rural houses and windmills but include images of factories to acknowledge the presence of industrialization. Dessau also collaborated with the Haderslev Klaedefabrik (Haderslev Cloth Mill), a factory that produced rugs woven on power looms. The “Hadersbo rugs” featured abstract patterns designed collaboratively by Brita Drewsen (1887–1983) and Dessau himself. By 1941, BO had become an important promoter of modern design in Denmark through its network of workshops and its creative exhibitions, but Germany’s invasion of Denmark in 1940 led Dessau, a Jew, to close his store the following year. He moved to Sweden in 1943 and there he found a welcome reception for his ideas before he eventually settled in Switzerland. As in other countries that the Nazis occupied, initiatives to design modern dwellings and household goods dwindled and only experienced a resurgence after Western Europe was liberated in 1945.
Both Norway and Finland gained their independence considerably later than Sweden and Denmark, a factor that may account for a continuing influence of folk culture and National Romantic ideals in both countries at a time when the two older nations were more readily absorbing influences from abroad. Norway did not have its own design organization until 1918 when the Landsforbundet Norsk Brukskunst (Norwegian Society of Crafts and Design) was formed.
Through exhibitions, publications, and contacts with industry, the Landsforbundet became an important forum for design debates between the wars. Its president for the first several years was the architect Harald Aars (1875–1945) and its vice-chairman Jacob Tostrup Prytz (1886–1962), head of the firm Jacob Tostrup, a leading producer of household goods and jewelry in gold and silver. Prytz remained with the Landsforbundet for almost 30 years. Other members included Hans Aall (1869–1946), founder and director of the Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Folk Museum), and Thor B. Kielland (1894–1963), an art historian who became curator of the Oslo Museum of Decorative Art in 1928, along with textile, furniture, and ceramics artists. As the late design historian Frederik Wildhagen has shown, topics of the initial debates within the Landsforbundet paralleled those occurring in Germany, Sweden, and Britain: notably how to produce attractive products for everyone and how to relate handicrafts to mass production. Initially the Landsforbundet supported a program similar to Gregor Paulsson’s in Sweden. In 1920, it organized the exhibition “New Homes,” a display of low-cost domestic environments that recalled the similar Swedish exhibition of several years earlier. By the mid-1920s, its social program and its discussions of machine aesthetics had waned. Neo-Classicism became the preferred form language as it was in Sweden, and the urban middle class the primary consumption community. In 1929, a group of craft-oriented artists broke away from the Landsforbundet to form a new group, the Prydkunstnerlaget (Association of Decorative Artists), that wished to replace the emerging Neo-Classicism with a vernacular Norwegian tradition. The group also criticized the anonymous quality of mass production and sought to relocate design in the crafts. From 1931, this group was known as the Brukskunstnerlaget (Association of Applied Artists) and that year it became a subgroup within the Landsforbundet Norsk Brukskunst.
Despite these turns, some designers and manufacturers chose to design and produce household wares in a modern style. Unlike Denmark, this was less the case in furniture than in ceramics and metalware. One exception among furniture designers was Herman Munthe-Kaas (1890–1977), whose cantilevered tubular steel armchair known as the “F-17” of 1929 followed closely the basic form of Marcel Breuer’s Cesca chair of 1928. Munthe-Kaas added a softer seat and back support covered by fabric, though he retained Breuer’s wooden arm rests.
In ceramics, Nora Gulbrandsen (1894–1978) was recommended by the Landsforbundet to the Porsgrund Porselaensfabrik (Porsgrund Porcelain Factory), where she served as artistic director between 1928 and 1945. More than any other Nordic ceramist in this period, Gulbrandsen studied the avant-garde design language of the Russian Constructivists and the Bauhaus. A coffee set she designed between 1929 and 1931 featured shaded areas in different colors that recall the mass-produced German ceramics of the period, but she accented the pieces with strong red stripes and round red knobs on the vessel covers (Plate 34). Another coffee service, Model no. 1848, featured a pattern of alternating blue and cream diamonds with small brown patterns on the lighter surfaces. A related effort to introduce modern forms in glass was undertaken by Sverre Petterson (1994–1958), the first artistic director at the Hadeland Glasverk (Hadeland Glass Factory). Petterson, however, looked to the Art Deco style as his source rather than to the avant-gardes. The influence of Art Deco was also evident in the silver objects that Thorbjørn Lie-Jørgensen (1900–1961) designed for the firm David-Andersen and it could be seen in some of the metalware that Arne Korsmo (1900–1968) designed for Jacob Tostrup.
Modernism in Norway also took other forms. Industrial expansion was stimulated by efforts to harness the country’s immense waterpower as well as by shipping, mining, and fish exports. Because of Norway’s rich endowment of natural resources, there was less emphasis on the development of manufacturing, and in this regard, Norway lagged behind Sweden and Finland. As mentioned earlier, the Elektrisk Bureau in Oslo, a subsidiary of the Swedish firm Ericsson, produced a model for a telephone receiver that remained the basic typology of that object for many years.
One exportable industrial product of note was the Luxo lamp, which the engineer and lighting designer Jacob Jacobsen (1901–1996) adapted from George Carwardine’s Anglepoise lamp of 1934. That same year Jacobsen designed a variation on the Anglepoise lamp, which he called the Luxo L-1 (Fig. 26.11). Though it had a similar balancing system, Jacobsen’s lamp had a more finely shaped cover and base as well as an overall more attractive form. It went on the market in 1937. Jacobsen also eventually acquired the American production rights for Carwardine’s spring tension principle and during the 1940s he monopolized the sale of flexible-task lamps in Europe and the United States.
Finland was the last of the Nordic countries to achieve independence. Separating from Russia in 1917 as a consequence of the Russian Revolution, the new nation created its first constitution in 1919. Design debates during the National Romantic period at the beginning of the century had been strongly weighted towards craft activity, and this direction persisted after Finland’s separation from Russia. At the time, Finland was a predominantly agricultural country, a situation that supported the heavy craft orientation.
In 1871, the educator Carl Gustaf Estlander (1834–1910) was instrumental in founding a new school of arts and crafts to provide better training for the young people who worked in Finland’s handicraft industries. Four years later Estlander helped establish the Konstflitföreningen i Finland (Finnish Society of Crafts and Design), which took over the management of the school. Fifteen years later it became the National Central School of Industrial Arts. From 1902 to 1912, its director was Armas Lindgren (1874–1929), a partner in the firm of National Romantic architects Gesellius, Lindgren, and Saarinen (see Chapter 12). Lindgren brought to the school ideas from the British Arts and Crafts movement and the Deutscher Werkbund.
Given the predominance of agriculture and lack of industry in Finland at the time, it was the Arts and Crafts values of Ruskin and Morris that predominated. In 1911, a group of students who had received their training under Lindgren formed a designers’ association called Ornamo, which sought to raise the social position of those in the applied arts to that of the architect and fine artist. Ornamo also devised rules for competitions and gained from the government the commission to organize Finland’s Pavilion at the 1925 Exposition Inernationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
The strongest advocate for craft production in Finland and a collaborator with Ornamo was Arttu Brummer (1891–1951). Trained as a furniture designer at the Central School of Industrial Arts, Brummer began to teach there in 1919 and had a major impact on several generations of students. He was a strong advocate of handicrafts, which he believed were more humane than machine production, and he believed that handicrafts were always preferable when they could compete economically with mechanized industries.
As a designer, Brummer created furniture for several national projects such as the Finnish Pavilion at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs and the new Parliament House that the architect Johan Sigfrid Sirén (1889–1961) designed in the classical style and completed in 1931. Brummer also began to design glassware in the early 1930s, winning first prize in 1932 for an air bubble glass vase in a competition sponsored by the Karhula Glassworks.
With strong links to the Arts and Crafts movement and the National Romantic architects such as Lindgren, Brummer urged his students to look to nature as a source for their designs. In contrast to Gregor Paulsson in Sweden, he considered a hand-made object to be a “living individual being,” while he believed mechanical objects to be stiff and cold. Though he taught his students to cultivate their own creativity, he also framed such expression within a national agenda. He conflated the expression of Finnish identity with racial purity, and in an article of 1923 he cited the example of the “negro peoples” who had created something original, though not of a high spiritual level, by avoiding racial intermixing. Inherent in Brummer’s aesthetics was a claim to European cultural superiority, a view that is not dissimilar from the widely held views of colonial peoples that one finds elsewhere in Europe at the time. Brummer’s main goal as an educator and theorist, however, was to challenge his students to contribute to a worthwhile life by designing objects that could uplift people’s spirits. His belief in nature as a source of forms and his espousal of a national identity in design had a strong influence on designers—many his former students—who worked in the Finnish glass, ceramics, metal, textile, and furniture industries.
The three major glassworks in Finland were Iittala, the oldest of Finland’s glass factories, founded in 1881; the Karhula Glassworks, founded in 1889; and the newest factory, Riihimäki, which was established in 1910. Karhula acquired Iittala in 1917 and the new company marketed its glassware under the name Karhula-Ittala until 1959. Initially Karhula produced bottles and household glass, copying its designs from elsewhere. After acquiring Iittala, Karhula concentrated on bottles and pressed glass while Iittala, the smaller firm, specialized in blown glass. Riihimäki was the largest and perhaps the most diverse of the three companies, manufacturing lighting glass for the company Taito Oy from 1927 as well as glass for containers and household use.
Instead of hiring designers, all three companies began to organize competitions in the late 1920s in order to discover designs for production. In 1932, however, Karhula hired Göran Hongell (1902–1973) as its part-time artistic advisor. Hongell, who trained as a decorative artist at the Central School of Industrial Arts, had previously won several competitions for glassware. After joining Karhula, he continued to design for the company as well as Iittala for many years after that.
The same year that Hongell joined Karhula, the glassworks held another competition, which happened to mark the first impact of Functionalism on the Finnish glass industry. The competition had a category for pressed glass, the only type of glass that could be mass-produced at the time. One of the prizes in that category was garnered by the architect Aino Aalto (1894–1949), whose entry consisted of a drinking glass, pitcher, small bowl, sugar bowl, and creamer. Titled Bölgeblick (Wave View), the glassware featured stepped and ribbed rings (Fig. 26.12). It was simple and durable, displaying the characteristics of “good design for all” that had become associated with Nordic Functionalism.
The popularity of Aalto’s Bölgeblick series paved the way for other unadorned Functionalist glassware. In 1933, Aino and her husband, the architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), won a prize in a competition sponsored by Riihimäki. Known as Riihimäki Flower, the set they designed consisted of different-sized glasses with flared rims as well as bowls and plates, all of which could be stacked. The spare minimal forms were considered too extreme at the time and the set was not put into production until 1953. However, in 1938, Karhula-Iittala launched Göran Hongell’s pressed glass Silko series of glasses, pitcher, plates, and bowls, a project surely engendered by the success of Aino Aalto’s Bölgeblick glassware, which had gone to market four years earlier.
In 1936, Alvar Aalto won another Karhula-Iittala competition with a design for a vase, whose undulating contours were supposedly inspired by the Finnish shoreline. The asymmetric form was unusual and therefore complicated to produce. The vase was named Savoy because one was placed on each table in the expensive Helsinki restaurant by that name for which Alvar and Aino Aalto designed the furnishings and fixtures.
The production of Finnish ceramics underwent a transformation from craft to mass production that was similar to the glass industry. Finland’s largest ceramics factory was Arabia. Founded in 1873, it was originally a subsidiary of the Rörstrand Porcelain Factory in Sweden, which ran it to serve the Russian market. In 1916, Finnish investors bought Arabia from Rörstrand. Under the directorship of Carl Gustav Herlitz (1882–1961), who succeeded his father, Arabia embarked on an ambitious expansion program that involved bringing electricity to the factory, adding a laboratory, and installing the world’s longest tunnel kiln in 1929. Herlitz also introduced a more efficient method for producing sanitary ware such as washbasins and toilet bowls. Adapting the same technique to the production of tableware reduced costs by a third. Though best known for its high-profile tableware, Arabia produced a wide range of ceramic products and during the 1920s and 1930s was Europe’s largest porcelain factory. The company established an export department in 1929 and beginning with exports to neighboring Sweden and Estonia, eventually expanded to more than 30 countries including North America and South America, where Argentina became an especially strong trading partner.
Arabia began to hire artists in the 1890s, especially to design its ceramicware. In 1912, Eric O. W. Ehrstrom (1881–1934), who had created the metalwork for some of the buildings by the National Romantic architects Gesellius, Lindgren, and Saarinen, designed a set of ceramic tableware with stylized ornaments that Arabia produced for the American market. During the 1920s, Arabia hired a number of young applied artists such as Greta-Lisa Jäderholm-Snellman (1894–1973), Svea Granlund (1901–1986), Tyra Lundgren (1897–1979), Olga Osol (1905–1994), and Friedl Holzer-Kjellberg (1905–1993). Much of their work was to provide decoration for the tableware but several including Greta-Lisa Jäderholm-Snellman, designed their own services (Fig. 26.13). Both Jäderholm-Snellman and Lundgren helped to enhance Arabia’s reputation abroad by garnering prizes at the Milan Triennale in 1933.
By the 1930s, Arabia was producing as many as 30,000 different products, which fostered a need for greater efficiency. Management introduced time and motion studies, limited automation, and a department of production planning. In 1932, the company hired Kurt Ekholm (1907–1975) as its artistic director. Eckholm, a Finn, had studied at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, where he came into contact with Gregor Paulsson’s philosophy of “good design for all” as well as the Functionalist movement, both of which strongly influenced him. At Arabia he set up an art studio, which produced many memorable designs until he left in 1949. With the intention to build a strong international reputation for Arabia, Ekholm gave his artists wide latitude to develop new products. Among the ceramic artists who joined the studio during the 1930s was Toini Muona (1904–1987), who had studied at the Central School of Industrial Arts, as had most of the other ceramists, and then won gold medals at all the major world’s fairs in the 1930s. In 1935, Arabia began to market Eckholm’s simplified AH dinner service, his initial response to the Swedish emphasis on quality design for everyone. The service consisted of numerous pieces without decoration—plates of different sizes, trays, and bowls. It came in several colored metallic glazes including a warm orange.
The following year, Arabia produced another of Ekholm’s plain services, AR, which also went by the name Sinivalko (Blue White) after the thick blue band that ringed all the pieces. Like Wilhelm Kåge’s 1933 Workers’ Service for Gustavsberg in Sweden, an obvious model for Ekholm, the AR dishes stacked efficiently to save storage space. The service went beyond the range of dishes Ekholm designed for the AH set, adding a sauceboat, a salad bowl, and a jug. In addition, Olga Osol designed a tureen and lid. The AR range was manufactured until 1940 when it was replaced by another Functionalist design by Osol.
Metalwork also developed from a craft to a component of industrial production. The leading manufacturer of metal products was Taito Oy, a firm that a group of craftsmen, artists, and a factory owner founded in 1918. The chief designer and principal figure was the artist and metalsmith Paavo Tynell (1890–1973), who also taught metal arts at the Central School of Industrial Arts, where he recruited designers for Taito. The firm produced a wide range of metal objects from ecclesiastical silver vessels for St. Paul’s Cathedral in Helsinki to the huge bronze doors of Johan Sirén’s Parliament House. Beginning in the 1930s, Taito’s main emphasis was on lighting fixtures, and after World War II these became its exclusive products, with Tynell designing many of them. Others were designed by Gunnel Nyman (1909–1948), a former student at the Central School of Industrial Arts who worked for Taito in the early 1930s. She also designed furniture for the Boman company and produced glassware for Riihimäki and Karhula.
Because of its vast forests, furniture production was a major industry in Finland. Before its separation from Russia, historic styles were dominant, but Eliel Saarinen and others in the National Romantic movement had begun to explore folklore and Finnish traditional design as additional sources. During the interwar years, furniture designers came from two backgrounds. Some were architects and others were trained at the Central School of Industrial Arts in a succession of programs whose names changed from “furniture composition” to “furniture drafting,” and finally to “furniture art.” Besides Arttu Brummer, who designed furniture but did not teach in the furniture design program, an important figure at the Central School was Werner West (1890–1959), who was one of the first furniture designers in Finland to emphasize the importance of designing for industry and mass production. Besides teaching, he was associated for many years with Stockmann’s Department Store, Helsinki’s principal shopping emporium. In 1919, Stockmann bought the Kerava Furniture Factory and at the same time established its own design office. West became head of that office in 1924 and in 1929–1930 he supervised the interior design for Stockmann’s new building, which the architect Sigurd Frosterus (1876–1956) designed. All the furniture for the interior was produced at the Kerava Factory.
Stockmann’s design office was modeled after a similar one at the Nordisk Kompaniet, a department store in Stockholm. Besides producing furniture for sale in the store, the Stockmann office designed interiors for the Café Nissen in Helsinki, the National Museum of Finland, the Finnish Insurance Company, and Helsinki’s Hotel Torni. West’s own furniture was spare. He was an early modernist though not a strict Functionalist. His style is exemplified by a chair produced at the Kerava Factory that had a plain birch frame with a seat and back of tightly woven wicker. Several of West’s students from the Central School of Industrial Arts became successful designers for Stockmann’s. Lisa Johansson-Pape (1907–1989) created furniture for the company as early as 1930 before joining the office as a designer in 1937. She remained on the staff until 1949, dividing her time between furniture, textiles, interiors, and lighting. Subsequently she continued to work for Stockmann’s as an independent designer. Besides his employment with Stockmann’s, Runar Engblom (1908–1965) returned to the Central School of Industrial Arts after World War II and became an influential teacher of furniture design there.
Engblom also worked for Asko Furniture Ltd, as did another of West’s students, Maija Heikinheimo (1908–1963). While Engblom worked as a freelance designer, Heikinheimo became the first furniture designer to be permanently employed by the firm. She remained there from 1932 to 1935, when she joined Artek, the company that was founded to produce and sell furniture by Aino and Alvar Aalto.
Asko Furniture Ltd was the first factory in Finland to mass-produce furniture. Its products were traditional furniture suites, although Heikinheimo, and after her Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914–1999), another of Werner West’s former students, were instrumental in introducing a modern Functionalist line. After graduating from the Central School of Industrial Arts, Tapiovaara worked in the London office of Artek and then served an apprenticeship in the architectural office of Le Corbusier in Paris. With this background, he returned to Finland and worked as the art director for Asko from 1937 to 1940.
Though middle-class Finns preferred wooden furniture for their homes, tubular steel pieces were produced in a limited range during the 1930s, primarily for public places such as hotels and cafés. The most prominent designer of such furniture was the Functionalist architect Pauli Blomstedt (1900–1935). Working with the Merivaara company, a leading manufacturer of hospital furniture, Blomstedt created several pieces that could be used either in a hotel or a hospital, notably a tubular steel frame bed on wheels, a simple desk and chair, some small nesting tables, and a more plush cantilevered easy chair with back and seat cushions. That an architect designed this furniture signifies the differing receptivity to Functionalism between architects and applied artists. Finnish architects were far more open to the new Functionalist aesthetic and its implications for an international style than the applied arts community, which was more susceptible to Arttu Brummer’s call for a nationalist approach to form.
In an article of 1940 entitled “Temples or Doghouses,” Arttu Brummer referred to Alvar Aalto’s furniture designs as “aristocratic creations,” claiming they did not meet the needs of ordinary people. Brummer criticized Aalto’s form language because of its originality, inferring that it was too distinctive to be part of a nationalist rhetoric. It is true that Functionalism did not find particularly fertile ground in Finland during the 1920s and 1930s, but Brummer was inaccurate in claiming that Aalto’s designs were elitist just as he refused to acknowledge the degree to which Aalto’s architecture of the late 1930s had come to embody a robust Nordic identity.
Aalto was an active furniture designer from the end of the 1920s into the 1940s. His wife Aino also worked in the field but her accomplishments are frequently overlooked. Both Alvar and Aino Aalto studied architecture at the Institute of Technology in Helsinki. Aino went to work in Alvar’s office in 1924 and they married the same year. In 1927 the Aaltos moved from Jyväskylä to Turku, where both designed furniture for their home. Early on they experimented with bending flat sheets of wood. Aino designed small-scale modern pieces for the children’s nursery—a child’s bed, nesting tables, and childrens’ chairs of curved wood with tubular steel legs. Other pieces of hers included wall-fixed shelves, low bookcases, and a bed for an older child.
In his architectural commissions that preceded the Paimio Sanatorium, a hospital for tuberculosis patients (1929–1933), and the Viipuri Library (1930–1935), Alvar selected modern furniture from catalogs such as Thonet’s. He was particularly partial to Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair and tubular steel nesting tables, which he also ordered for his own home. He considered furniture to be an integral part of a building, a conviction he may have adopted from the National Romantic belief of Armas Lindgren, one of his teachers and a partner of Eliel Saarinen, who designed the furniture for Hvitträsk, the home and studio Lindgen shared with his two partners, Gesellius and Saarinen, and their families.
By the time Aalto began to create furniture for his public commissions, he decided on wood rather than tubular steel. As a practical matter, wood was plentiful in Finland, but Aalto also believed it had more humane qualities. For the Viipuri Library, he designed a three-legged stacking stool with curved birch L-shaped legs that supported interchangeable round tops (Fig. 26.14). He was assisted in his research on how to curve the legs by Otto Korhonen (1884–1935), co-founder and managing director of the Furniture and Construction Work Factory in Turku, which manufactured the stools and made all of Aalto’s other furniture.
The Viipuri stool was a prelude to the full range of furniture and fixtures that Alvar and Aino designed for the Paimio Sanatorium in 1931–1932. The building itself, with its clearly articulated composition of connected volumes, was perhaps the first in Finland to be built in the new international style. As a building type, Josef Hoffman’s Purkersdorf Sanatorium outside Vienna is a viable precedent and, like the Aaltos, Hoffman designed the interior furnishings and lighting. For Paimio, Alvar worked with Otto Korhonen to create several chairs of bent birch and molded plywood.
The technique they developed for bending birch or other wood pieces into curved forms was perhaps their most significant contribution to furniture design. Known as the “bent knee,” it enabled them to produce organic forms that had flexibility and resilience without being constrained by the conventional stiffness of wood. To make the wood flexible, a workman sawed grooves in a solid piece of birch at the end. He then glued thin wooden slats into the grooves and bent the wood to a preferred angle.
This technique was evident in Aalto’s Paimio chairs. The simplest of them, Armchair 51, consists of a seat and back made from a single sheet of curved plywood supported by a frame of bent laminated birch. The more widely known is Armchair 41, which is based on a similar idea but the seat and back are made of a more generously curved plywood sheet with the back dropped lower to allow more comfort for the sitter. Instead of four legs, the frame consists of closed curved beech supports whose organic forms complement the rounded plywood (Fig. 26.15). A third chair was Aalto’s and Korhonen’s first experiment with a cantilevered armchair where they substituted bent laminated birch for the resilience of tubular steel. The first experimental chairs with curved plywood seats and backs are less known today but the cantilever principle was adapted to a more elegant version that substitutes webbing made of black woven strips for the original plywood. The factory also produced a version of Aino Aalto’s child’s nursery chair, though it substituted curved wooden legs for the original tubular steel.
Aino’s Paimio furnishings are formally less notable than her husband’s, but are eminently practical, conforming closely to existing hospital typologies. Her hospital bed of painted tubular steel is cheap and durable as are her three-legged tubular steel stools with flat plywood seats. Similarly, her bedside locker of molded plywood is plain and easily moveable, while her bedside table with its tubular steel frame and plywood top would have easily served as a temporary support for a food tray.
The Paimio commission is also important because of the Aaltos’ collaboration with other major Finnish manufacturers, notably Arabia, which produced the porcelain washbasins based on Alvar’s designs, and Taito Oy, which manufactured several of Alvar’s lamps for the sanatorium—one the architect’s wall lamp with a rounded conical shade of lacquered sheet metal that covered the bulb completely to produce a soft glow; and the other a clip-on lamp with a more conventional metal shade. The Paimio commission may have been instrumental in Taito Oy’s shift to mass-produced lighting as it gave the company a chance to develop an industrialized production process for a guaranteed number of fixtures.
In 1933, the British critic P. Morton Shand, who coined the enduring term “Swedish grace” after visiting the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, mounted an exhibition of Alvar’s furniture at the London department store Fortnum and Mason. It was immensely successful, leading Shand and several partners to form Finmar, a company that imported and sold the furniture in Britain (see Chapter 23). Siegfried Giedion, the Swiss architecture critic and a founder of wohnbedarf, the chain of modern home furnishing stores in Zurich and Berne, invited Aalto to distribute his furniture in Switzerland, resulting in the design of several pieces that helped to spread the interest in it abroad.
To facilitate this process, the Aaltos joined together with Maire Gullichsen (1907–1990) of the Ahlström family that owned large timber interests as well as the Karhula-Iittala glassworks, and the art historian Nils-Gustav Hahl (1904–1941) to form Artek, a company whose purpose was to market the furniture, glass, and textiles of the Aaltos. Artek—a contraction of art and technology—also had a gallery that organized exhibitions of modern and applied art, including paintings by Picasso and Léger and sculpture by Calder, with the aim of developing a modern artistic culture in Finland. As well, the company undertook many commissions for public interiors ranging from a military hospital and a prominent hotel to the Savoy Restaurant, designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto, which was Artek’s crowning achievement. The various interiors were furnished largely with furniture and decorative arts by the Aaltos, though some other designers also created products for Artek. Nils-Gustav Hahl and Aino Aalto were the first managers, and Aino continued alone after Hahl died in World War II. Maija Heikinheimo, who left Asko Furniture Ltd to join Artek, remained with the firm for almost 30 years. She was active in the design of interiors including many for Alvar Aalto’s own buildings and she also made working drawings for furniture from Aalto’s sketches. Initially, his furniture was more popular abroad than in Finland, perhaps for the reason that Arttu Brummer cited. It was too novel to fit within the traditional Finnish home, hence its domestic reception had to wait until a broader public embraced modernism as a suitable aesthetic for domestic furnishings.
Though Artek tended to feature Alvar’s designs more than Aino’s, the two continued to collaborate on interiors and exhibition designs. The Finnish government commissioned Aalto to design its pavilions for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and then the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Alvar designed the New York pavilion, but he and Aino collaborated on the interior exhibition. Their approach was nationalistic rather than simply artistic. Where the Swedes emphasized decorative arts and home furnishings, the Aaltos represented the entire culture. Though the exhibit was extensive, the dominant image was the undulating wall of wooden slats in which were embedded gigantic photographic images of Finnish life (Fig. 26.16). If the Aaltos’ furniture of the early 1930s was too internationalist for domestic consumption, their 1939 World’s Fair exhibit traded on one of the most profound myths of Finnish nationalism, notably the forest as a source of inspiration, identity, and wealth. The latter was conveyed through clusters of wooden objects such as propellers, skis, and axe handles, while large statistical tables and enormous cheeses were also made of wood. The scale of the pavilion and the dense clusters of objects recalled El Lissitzky’s Soviet exhibitions of the late 1920s and early 1930s—particularly the Pressa in Cologne with its lengthy photographic mural—and his display for the International Fur Trade Exhibition in Leipzig. Though one might find similarities in the exhibitions of Lissitzky and the Aaltos in terms of style, the exhibition in New York nevertheless showed how far Finland had come as an independent nation since its separation from Russia little more than 20 years earlier.
The Scandinavian countries had strong craft traditions on which to build practices of design for mass production during the interwar years, but they were less developed in the printing and graphic arts. All had relatively high levels of literacy but they depended on imported printing equipment and type for the production of books, newspapers, and magazines. Poster design with a strong illustrative component began in the later 19th century, but the styles were imported primarily from France and Germany. The posters of Lucian Bernhard and other sachplakat artists were an influence as was the general approach to commercial art that was promoted in the pages of the German magazine Das Plakat.
Designers who became prominent in the book and advertising industries were for the most part trained as artists or illustrators, a background they also shared with some artists who worked in the ceramics, glass, and furniture industries. By 1930, the debate between tradis and funkis, tradition and Functionalism, also raged among printers and book designers. It had less effect on advertising artists, who designed very few posters or other forms of advertising according to the Functionalist tenets of the New Typography.
In Sweden, the “artistic” poster gained some recognition in the period between 1910 and 1920. One of the first artists to become a poster designer was Wilhelm Kåge, the ceramist who initially studied painting in Sweden and then poster design in Munich, where he would have seen the posters of Ludwig Hohlwein and others working in a related style. Kåge abandoned graphic design in 1917 when the Gustavsberg Pottery recruited him to become a ceramic artist.
In addition to the applied arts, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design was also trying to improve the quality of the graphic arts in accord with Gregor Paulsson’s philosophy. Just as the organization supported Orrefors glassworks’ hiring the artists Edvard Hald and Simon Gate to design glassware, so did they encourage the publisher P. A. Norstedt & Sons to bring in the artist Akke Kumlien (1884–1949) as a full-time “artistic advisor.” From the time Kumlien began there in 1916 and for many years following, he designed myriad books with covers and title pages in an elegant Neo-Classical style. He also created an important and widely used Swedish typeface, Kumlien, which the Stempel Foundry in Germany released in 1943. Kumlien’s approach to book design paralleled the strong Neo-Classical influence in Swedish architecture during the teens and 1920s. Though he was considered a traditionalist compared to the new Functional style that was introduced to Sweden with the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, his book covers nonetheless have a clean modern look. He drew the letters himself as he did the refined ornaments and rules. Kumlien’s successor after World War II was Karl-Erik Forsberg (1914–1995), who had worked previously as artistic director and a book designer for the publisher Almqvist & Wiksell. Earlier, Forsberg had trained as a compositor in Basel and like Kumlien also designed typefaces including Parad in 1938 and Lunda in 1941. Both were released by the Berling Type Foundry in Lund. An early tendency towards a more contemporary style of typography was evident in the journal flammen, edited by the painter Georg Pauli (1855–1935) who had been a proponent of Cézanne and Cubism in Sweden. Pauli’s sources for a new typography were the free typography in the poems of Mallarmé and Marinetti.
Just as the Stockholm Exhibition was influential in introducing Functionalism to the applied arts, so did it have an influence on advertising and typography. The official poster for the exhibition, whose principal image was the date of the exhibition in large silhouette numbers, was designed by the architect Sigurd Lewerentz (1885–1975), an important early modernist. Lewerentz was also responsible for the illuminated signboards on the tall advertising mast that served as a key icon of the exhibition site.
The exhibition had a particularly strong effect on Anders Billow (1890–1964), who adopted a Functionalist style in the books he designed for the printer Nordisk Rotogravyr (Nordic Rotogravure). Following Moholy-Nagy and others in Germany who claimed that the photograph was the new storytelling device of civilization, Billow came to specialize in books and periodicals that featured photographs in their design. He wrote frequently for the magazine of the Swedish Touring Club, proposing guidelines for amateur photographers, and he was also responsible for the editing and design of the organization’s frequent publications. In the battle between tradis and funkis, the widespread popularity of Billow’s publications for the Swedish Touring Club represented a victory for the Functionalists, although many book designers continued to work in a traditional style. San serif type never became as popular in the Nordic countries as it did elsewhere in Europe. Its simple lines conveyed to many Nordic designers the same cold quality that tubular steel did.
During the 1920s, Swedish advertising artists still featured painted or drawn illustrations, frequently influenced by French poster artists or the German sachplakat. By the end of the decade, some artists began to use photography and photomontage. This was prevalent in posters for Esselte Reklam, one of Sweden’s leading advertising agencies. It was also evident in the work of Anders Beckman (1907–1967), who became a leading exponent of a modern poster style during the 1930s. Beckman combined selected photographs with an airbrush technique, hand-painted images, and bold san serif lettering, which sometimes dominated his compositions. A major client was the Swedish airline AB Aerotransport, the predecessor of SAS, for whom Beckman designed a number of posters in a simplified style. A poster of 1934, “Fly with Aerotransport”, recalling the travel posters of Herbert Matter in Switzerland, incorporated the photograph of an airplane, whose speed Beckman indicated with airbrushed lines, and photographic images of passengers waiting to board, both subordinated to the large letters for “Fly,” which dominate the poster (Fig. 26.17).
Beckman, who ran a small studio in Stockholm, was instrumental in raising the status of the advertising artist in Sweden. In 1936, he joined with other artists to form the Swedish Poster Artists’ Association, whose members showed their work at an art gallery, the Galerie Moderne, in 1937. With Göta Trädgårdh (1904–1984), Sweden’s leading fashion illustrator and textile designer, he founded a school to provide practical training for future designers in Sweden’s creative industries. Unlike the more academic schools elsewhere in Scandinavia, Anders Beckman’s School, as it was known, forged a close relation between the students and the professional work of its teachers. Housed in an apartment, it remained small, though over the years it produced many of Sweden’s outstanding designers in the advertising and fashion industries.
The new Functionalist ideas in book design and commercial art were less influential in the other Nordic countries. Denmark had a strong tradition of commercial art that could be traced back to the logotype and beer label for the large Danish brewery Carlsberg that architect and artist Thorvald Bindesbøll (1846–1908), better known for his earthenware ceramics, designed in 1904 (Fig. 26.18). Knud V. Engelhardt (1882–1931) is sometimes considered to be Denmark’s first professional designer. With a background in architecture and the crafts, he interested himself in all forms of design. An early project for the Copenhagen Tramways in 1910, which he undertook with Ib Lunding (1895–1983), combined the production of destination signs and brochures with the “hard” design of the tramway cars and their interiors. The year before, Engelhardt had shown his interest in combining decoration and utility in a new design for the Copenhagen telephone directory, whose expressive gilded letters on the cover recall the highly stylized forms of the Vienna Secession artist Alfred Roller. However, inside the directory he created a clear hierarchy of information using a combination of simple and bold letters, scale, and formal spacing to create a rational organization of the information. Calling himself an “Architect and Printer,” Engelhardt designed many logotypes and emblems as well as catalogs, books, and alphabets. His practical lettering is evident in the street signs he created for the municipality of Gentofte, to the north of Copenhagen, in 1927.
Engelhardt’s generalist tendency was also evident in the work of Gunnar Biilman Petersen (1897–1968), who worked for a time in Engelhardt’s studio. Petersen designed books, logotypes, advertisements, and alphabets. Though his early alphabet designs featured san serif letters, he became increasingly interested in Latin lettering. Besides graphics, he also designed wine bottles and participated in the design of the world clock atop Copenhagen’s Town Hall. Beginning in 1925, Petersen taught graphic arts at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he influenced many students, particularly with his emphasis on typography. In 1949, he became the head of a newly established Department of Industrial Art at the Academy, although typography remained his primary interest.
Among book designers, Kai Friis Møller (1888–1960) exemplified the classical approach and preference for fine printing as opposed to mass-produced books. Architects, however, were more inclined to adopt the new funkis style of the 1930s. In 1932, the architect Steen Eiler Rasmussen (1898–1990) had arranged a seminal exhibition of British applied arts, “Britisk Brugskunst,” for which he designed a catalog that closely followed the tenets of Tschichold’s New Typography. It featured photographs and blocks of text that were placed asymmetrically on the pages with ample white space and large page numbers. That same year the architect and silversmith Kaj Fiskers adapted Functionalism to Neo-Classical rhetoric when he redesigned the professional journal Arkitekten in a clean symmetrical style with a clear hierarchy and plenty of white space. The following year the co-editors Steen Eiler Rasmussen and Willy Hansen redesigned the journal according to the tenets of the New Typography, with an asymmetrical flush-left layout that included a bold san serif title.
Danish poster artists showed little interest in the New Typography, preferring instead to continue a tradition of drawn images, frequently derived from techniques of caricature but also influenced by French and German poster artists. As in France during the 1890s, Danish posters frequently promoted cabarets, plays, and during the interwar years, films. Valdemar Andersen (1875–1978), who became active as a poster designer around 1900, is considered to be the first major poster designer in Denmark comparable to Jules Chéret in France. Initially he was strongly influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec and developed a related style of narrative, though less painterly and more illustrative. Besides posters, Andersen employed the same illustrative technique to the design of book covers. Others who followed him were Thor Bøglund (1890–1959), who took a special interest in lettering and whose style was more influenced by Lucian Bernhard and Ludwig Hohlwein, and Sven Brasch (1886–1970), perhaps the most prolific Danish poster designer and illustrator in the interwar years. Brasch had a keen ability to depict the activities of daily life, particularly those of the Danish middle class. His covers for popular magazines such as Tik Tak, Pressens, and Vore Damer (Our Women) showed elegant men and women in fancy dress or even bathing attire while some of these figures also appeared, along with other images, in the many drawings he did for book covers and magazines. Brasch was well known for his movie posters, which he mainly produced as lithographs or linocuts. He did about 500 in the years between World War I and the 1930s. They frequently featured images of the films’ stars created in various styles, such as his portrait of Greta Garbo whom he portrayed with a gestural line and lightly textured hair and ruffles (Fig. 26.19). The prolific Brasch also did many posters and advertisements to promote commercial products. An outstanding draftsman, he ranged from the derivative to the personally expressive. This flexible approach to commercial art may have mitigated against developing a distinct personal style that would have made his work better known internationally.
In Norway, Sverre Pettersen (1884–1959) was a decorative artist who was also an influential book designer. Though Norwegian designers produced ambitious luxury books, little progress was made in improving the design of more popular machine-printed editions. There were, however, some experiments in the early 1930s that made a positive impression when they were displayed in Sweden. The advertising and book artists tended to follow foreign examples, though the painter Per Lasson Krogh (1889–1965), who had a distinctive illustrative style, was known internationally as a poster designer during the 1920s. Among his clients were a brewery and the newspaper Dag Bladet. Olaf Krohn (1863–1933) and other artists associated with the Fabritius advertising agency also produced posters.
One of the early local design offices that created advertisements and advertising posters in Finland was De Tre (The Three), founded around 1913 by Toivo (Topi) Vikstedt (1891–1930), Bruno Tuukkanen (1891–1979), and Harry Röneholm (1892–1951). After two years, the principals went their separate ways. Vikstedt continued to work as an illustrator and book designer for various publishers. Subsequently he formed another office for illustration and commercial art with his wife Karin. As an independent artist, Vikstedt designed many book covers for Otava Publishers, a firm he joined in 1923 as the resident book designer (Fig. 26.20). Although he never gave up classicism completely, he did begin to draw more modern covers for Otava, particularly in a Cubist style. In 1926, Vikstedt was a founder of the graphic design department in the Central School of Arts and Crafts, thus contributing to the beginning of formal graphic design education in Finland.
During the 1930s, modern designs appeared selectively in Finnish advertising. The airbrush posters of Eric Gardberg (1905–1969) for Stockmann’s Department Store recalled French fashion illustration of the period. Other artists such as Einari Wehmas (1898–1955), Jorma Suhonen (1911–1987), and the team of Göran Hongell, primarily a designer of glassware, and Gunnar Forsström (1894–1958) designed posters in styles that ranged from the Cubist-inspired work of Wehmas to the posters of Suhonen and Hongell and Forsström that featured flat colors and san serif lettering. Suhonen’s poster, Visit Finland, was done in anticipation of the 1940 Olympics that Finland had hoped to host before that hope was dashed by the onset of World War II (Plate 35).
One of the early surveys of Scandinavian design that included this period is David McFadden, ed., Scandinavian Modern Design 1880–1980, the catalog of an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York. Charlotte and Peter Fiell’s Scandinavian Design is predominantly a visual record, while Kjetil Fallan’s Scandinavian Design: Alternative Histories exemplifies the most recent scholarship on the subject. Erik Dal, Scandinavian Bookmaking in the Twentieth Century is an indispensible guide to this little-known topic of book design. Essays on modern Scandinavian design include Jennifer Hawking Opie, “Lovely Neoclassical Byways: Art Deco in Scandinavia,” in Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Woods, eds., Art Deco 1910–1939; and the late Frederick Wildhagen, “The Scandinavian Countries: Design for the Welfare Society,” in History of Industrial Design 1919–1990: The Domain of Design.
Utopia & Reality: Modernity in Sweden, 1900–1960 is the catalog of an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in New York, which includes a number of important essays. Other useful essays are Gillian Naylor, “Swedish Grace … or the Acceptable Face of Modernism?” in Paul Greenhalgh, ed., Modernism in Design; and Gunilla Frick, “Radical Change or Stagnation? Swedish Post-war Decorative Art,” Scandinavian Journal of Design History 6 (1996) and “Furniture Art or a Machine to Sit On? Swedish Furniture Design and Radical Reforms,” Scandinavian Journal of Design History 1 (1991).
Modern Danish design is covered in the exhibition catalog Dansk Design 1910–1945: Art deco & funktionalisme, while Svend Erik Moller, ed., Danish Design is an older survey of the subject. More current scholarship is evident in a number of articles: Kevin Davies, “Twentieth Century Danish Furniture Design and the English Vernacular Tradition,” Scandinavian Journal of Design History 7 (1997); Steen Ejlers, “Architects in Danish Graphic Design,” Scandinavian Journal of Design History 7 (1997); Lise Osvald, “The Story of Kaj Dessau’s BO, 1928–1941,” Scandinavian Journal of Design History 3 (1993); Charlotte Paludan, “Marie Gudme Leth: A Pioneer in Danish Textile Design,” Scandinavian Journal of Design History 5 (1995); and Claire Selkurt, “New Classicism: Design of the 1920s in Denmark,” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 4 (Spring 1987).
Recent scholarship on Norwegian industrial design is exemplified by Kjetil Fallan’s 2007 doctoral dissertation, Modern Transformed: The Domestication of Industrial Design Culture in Norway, ca. 1940–1970. It complements an earlier, more extensive, survey, by the late Frederik Wildhagen, Norge i Form: Kunsthåndverk og Design under Industrikulturen. Studies of Finnish design history are more numerous. Most recently, Pekka Korvenmaa has published a brief survey, Finnish Design: A Concise History. Marianne Aav and Nina Stritzler-Levine, eds., Finnish Modern Design: Utopian Ideals and Everyday Realities, 1930–1997 is the catalog of an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center, while Ulf Hård af Segerstad, Modern Finnish Design is a much earlier survey. More specialized books, notably about Aino and Alvar Aalto and Artek are the exhibition catalog Artek 1935 – Artek 1985; and Thomas Kellein, Alvar & Aino Aalto. Design: Collection Bischofberger. Ilkka Huovio’s doctoral dissertation, Invitation from the Future: Treatise of the Roots of the School of Arts and Crafts and its Development into a University Level School 1871–1973, is a detailed account of how Finland’s most important design school developed. Päivi Hovi-Wasastjerna’s Mainoskuva Suomessa: Kehitys ja Vaikutteet 1890-Luvulta 1030 – Luvun Alkuun, a history of Finnish advertising art, is based on her doctoral dissertation, the first completed at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. Two articles that focus on the Aaltos and Artek are William C. Miller, “Furniture, Painting, and Applied Designs: Alvar Aalto’s Search for Architectural Form,” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 6 (Fall 1987); and Renja Souminen-Kokkonen, “Designing a Room of One’s Own: The Architect Aino Marsio-Aalto and Artek,” Scandinavian Journal of Design History 7 (1997).
Opie, Hawkins, “Lovely Neoclassical Byways: Art Deco in Scandinavia,” in Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, and Ghislaine Woods, eds. Art Deco 1910–1939 . Boston, New York, and London: Bullfinch Press, 2003.
Huovio, Ilkka. Invitation from the Future : Treatise of the Roots of the School of Arts and Crafts and its Development into a University Level School 1871–1973 . PhD Dissertation, University of Tampere, 1998.