It isn’t easy to pin down Scandinavian art glass. Like the people of the region itself, Scandinavia’s art glass is diverse and pioneering. Some artists have become famous for their blown and cased glass, others are noted for their carved and cut pieces, and a few organizations, like the Swedish company Orrefors, have done it all.
Scandinavia became a hub for glass production in the early 20th century, with Sweden at the center. Though some of the most collectible Scandinavian glass comes from the postwar period, most notably the 1950 and 1960 it was earlier innovations made by designers such as Simon Gate, Edvard Hald, Vicke Lindstrand, and Knut Bergqvist that put northern Europe on the art-glass map.
Orrefors, on the other hand, was founded in 1898 but made its mark on the glass industry in 1916 when Bergqvist invented the “Graal” technique, in which clear glass was used to encase an acid-etched design to create what appear to be decorations inside the piece. Hald would later use the Graal technique to make his paperweight fish vases, while Gate produced nude figures.
In the ’20s, Lindstrand, who was known for a variety of artistic endeavors including ceramics, textiles, and paintings, joined Orrefors. There, Lindstrand used rock-crystal engraving techniques to make his highly collectible Pearl Fisherman vases. Lindstrand’s designs while at Orrefors, and later when he joined Kosta, are some of the most popular Scandinavian art-glass items.
Edvin Ohrstrom was a member of the Orrefors design group in thh 1930. He helped engineer Ariel, a sandblasting technique that created corridors inside the glass. These air pockets could be colored, making the technique perfect for decorative purposes. In one vase from 1935, for example, a pair of mermaids appear to swim beneath a surface of faded aquamarine blue.
Despite the successes of Swedish art glass prior to World War II, the vintage postwar work is today considered the most collectible. In 1950, Lindstrand joined Kosta, where he became known for his Dark Magic, Trad I Dimma, and Trad I Autumn vase designs—the Trad I Autumn pieces featured tree- and leaf-like figures encased in glass. Meanwhile at Orrefors, Ernest Gordon was exploring the optical properties of clear glass via asymmetrical linear cuts.
Postwar Scandinavian art glass wasn’t confined to Sweden. In Denmark, a firm called Holmegaard created plastic-like glass that was often colorful and bright. In Finland, Riihimäki released a great deal of popular blown glass in the pop-art styles of the 1950s and ’60s. These cheerful pieces were affordable at the time but have become highly prized today for those trying to recreate the quintessential retro home.
Another popular Finnish company was Karhula-Iittala, led by internationally acclaimed artists Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva. Many of their pieces, which ranged from vases to candlestick holders, were ruggedly textured to reflect the flinty lifestyle of Scandinavia. In fact, the natural environment as represented by water, ice, plants, and wood is a pervasive theme in countless examples of Scandinavian art glass.