Tapio Wirkkala, the man from the land of the midnight sun

Tapio Wirkkala, a legend of Finnish Design


“All materials have their own, unwritten laws……. One should never be violent with a material one is working on and the designer should aim at being in harmony with the material he chooses.”

Tapio Wirkkala is the symbolic figure of Finnish design.

Born in Hanko 1915-1985, a costal town in Southern Finland, Tapio Wirkkala is known as the versatile genius of design and no one has surpassed the influential, wide ranging portfolio of work he has left behind. His contribution to design includes everything from designing banknotes for the Finnish currency during the 1950s to glass products, furniture, graphic design, city planning, artwork and many everyday products amongst other still in production by Iittala, the glass manufacturer in Southern Finland.

Tapio was a recluse, understanding nature to its core and from nature he took many elements into his design solutions. His life was incredible productive. Representing his country in numerous exhibitions all over the world but his most loved place was hidden away, in the vast woodlands of middle Finland where he lived many months of the year so remote, a helicopter had to throw down the prototypes to his hut as no car could reach him. It was in nature he found the solitude so much loved and where he looked for forms the industry could produce or artwork created. 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 company and begun a lifelong relationship with the glassworks. This uniquely talented man created more than 400 glass objects through his lifetime making a major contribution to building Iittala’s reputation, helping to place Finnish design at the international forefront.

Iittala is celebrating the Ultima Thule range (the ultimate range) created in 1968. Ultima Thule glass series resembles melting ice during the first spring days. It took the company and the artist many hundred hours to figure out how to capture the design in a production process. The result was worth it as the series still today is popular all over the world. A set of shot glasses created by the master are to celebrate his 100th birthday the 2d of June!

The bottles by Tapio (1959-1968) have been reissued for 2015. A limited edition of 2015 bottles have been produced, each bottle numbered.

There are not many who can come close to the tenacity and virtuosity of Wirkkala. It was his astute observation of nature and a light hand that made him the master, quickly recognized. Tapio Wirkkala, the man from the land of the midnight sun.