Professor Oiva Toikka (born 1931) is renowned worldwide for his unique and massive contribution to Finnish art glass over the past half century. What is perhaps less well-known, however, is that he originally studied ceramics and that his first employer was the art department at Arabia, which he joined in 1957. In 2010, Oiva Toikka will have worked with the same company for 50 years, and to celebrate this milestone he has designed a special collection of pieces that is sure to further cement his reputation.
After Arabia, between 1960 and 1963, Oiva Toikka worked as a teacher in Sodankylä in Lapland, until he applied for a job as a designer at the Nuutajärvi glassworks. Recruited to the position by Kaj Franck, Toikka went on to create a body of work there that would impress the glass world far outside Finland – and he continues working there to this day.
In addition to glass and ceramics, Toikka’s career has covered many other areas as well. We will have the opportunity to form our own view of the output of this colourful and sometimes contradictory creative personality when the Design Museum in Helsinki opens an extensive retrospective exhibition of Toikka’s work on May 30, 2010. The exhibition will feature a broad-ranging overview of Toikka’s often groundbreaking work in different fields, including stage costumes, drawings, and textiles.
New insights and techniques
Glass in all its forms has always been close to Toikka’s heart. New techniques and new colours have always inspired him to create something new. The pieces he has designed for his anniversary collection reflect a set of very particular choices in terms of both technique and colour.
"The idea for many of my pieces has come from a particular technique or new way of working," says Toikka.
"I’ve always respected the role of chance in what I do a lot as well; what seems like a mistake can often result in new insights."
The Kastehelmi range of glassware that Toikka originally designed in 1964 was also the outcome of a technical challenge. To celebrate Toikka’s 50th, Iittala will reintroduce a selection of the most popular pieces in the range in year 2010. The idea of using droplets of glass as decoration came to Toikka when he was thinking of ways of covering the joint marks left on the surface of pressed glass pieces by the production process. His experiments with various droplet moulds resulted in a completely new surface structure that highlighted the play of light on the surface and how it reflected. The name of the range, which literally translates as ‘Dew Pearl’, was inspired by the drops of dew that can be seen glistening on blades of grass, likes rows of pearls, as the summer sun rises over the horizon.
Kastehelmi was one of Toikka’s most popular designs and remained in production until 1988, and 2010 will see the reintroduction of a bowl and three plates from the range, in clear and apple green glass.
An anniversary bird, egg, and cube: Rosebud
Rosebud has been created by blowing glass into a spiked mould. Skilfully swirling the molten glass in the mould blends the opal white and reddish-brown glass into a striped vortex that is then suddenly stopped in its tracks.
Green Ibis and Grass Eider
Toikka’s anniversary collection will also include a green version of his popular Ibis. The lustrous surface colour of the bird has been produced by using opal white alongside chrome green as the form is being blown. The same chrome green looks completely different in Grass Eider when it is combined with an elegant Seville orange. The traces on the surface left by the spiked mould resemble small feathers.
Knitter and Fiskariina
Both Knitter and Fiskariina are excellent examples of the craftsmanship of the glassblowers working at the Nuutajärvi glassworks. The surfaces of both creations feature a striped design that calls for a very steady hand, a sharp eye, and perfect timing to get just right.
Knitter has been inspired by the crow, while Fiskariina is a playful reference – very much in Toikka’s signature humorous style – to Iittala’s modern-day owner, Fiskars, and its iconic orange-handled scissors.
Toikka’s anniversary bird is the magnificent Ladybird, which features drops of gold lustre alongside more familiar black and clear glass. Dressed to the nines, the glittering bird looks as if she is just about to leave for a grand ball.
Celebrating a very original artist
The term ‘baroque’ was used as early as the 1960s to describe the groundbreaking, individualistic nature of Oiva Toikka’s art and the joy of creation that it exudes (U.A.H. Segerstadt, Svenska Dagbladet, 1967). Toikka’s exuberant style, inspired to a large extent by the pop art of the time, was seen as very different from the mainstream of Finnish modernism in the 1960s and 1970s. Toikka has always liked to tread his own path and has always been very interested in what is going on in the world around him, sometimes commenting on what he sees quite critically as well. Generally, however, the influences he has absorbed – whether from classical mythology, music, history, painting, or the people he has met – have been blended into a baroque-like melting pot that has given birth to a completely new vision, and one that is very much his own.
A good example of how different influences can come together in his imagination is his Queen leaves to France, a collection of pieces he created for the ‘Reflections of Finland’ exhibition held in New York in 1988. The name is itself a musical reference, echoing the title of one of Aulis Sallinen’s most well-known operas, The King Goes Forth to France, from 1983; and the various pieces in the ‘procession’ create what Toikka’s biographer, Jack Dawson, describes as a:
"… unique miniature spectacle, like a strange, distant world, ingenious and ironic, full of elegantly dressed characters playing out a bizarre play all their own."
A sense of the theatrical
A sense of the theatrical can often be found in Toikka’s work, and he has, in fact, worked in the theatre on a number of occasions. His collaboration with director Lisbet Landefort began in the 1980s, when he created the sets and costumes for Paavo Heinonen’s opera The Silk Drum. The two worked together again in 1999, on Haydn’s The Paladin Orlando, in which the costumes and sets designed by Toikka showed clear links to the blue-and-white porcelain pieces that he had created for his Cobolttissimo exhibition of 1987 – reflecting the potential for strong ideas to cross over from one medium to another. Toikka also ‘borrowed’ ideas from his other works in his creations for Strauss’ opera, Arabella, which proved an unprecedented visual firework display.
Born in Viipuri in Karelia, Toikka enjoys good company and loves language and plays on words, and he can often be depended on for an amusing and incisive comment or three. His interest in foreign cultures and people has taken him on numerous trips around the world, but one place has always remained particularly important for him: the Nuutajärvi glassworks. He can find everything he needs as an artist in glass there, and it is where is his best ideas have been born, even when inspiration has been slow in coming – in chalk on the floor next to the furnaces:
"I often feel like I haven’t got a thought in my head when I go into the shop there. Then we just toss around some ideas with the glassblowers and get down to work." "That’s when the ideas start flowing – and that’s when I start getting excited sometimes too!"
Each furnace holds a different colour of hot molten glass, and the glassblowers flit rapidly between them, but never rushing, carrying their pipes, punty rods, and other tools. Toikka sits on a chair, pointing out what he wants, giving a word or two of direction, outlining the shape he is after in the air, and nodding when things go right. The same movements are repeated over and over. Working together like this, the ensemble at Nuutajärvi creates little miracles.
So let’s all celebrate this artist and his take on the world around him. In the words of his latest book, Donkey’s bridge and so forth…:
a woman bold,
dares to be different
and to be seen
the donkey is not dumb it
has time for miracles
since it’s not
always like a shot.