Finlandia sculptures (Iittala)
In 1963, Sarpaneva did some glassblowing tests with hot shop master Reino Löflund at the Iittala Glassworks. Various metal objects, such as band saw blades, cables and chains, were placed in the wooden mould. The purpose of these tests was to see whether this would produce some sort of surface pattern in the glass. When the test blows came out of the annealing oven, Reka sent one of the models to Sarpaneva in Helsinki. As soon as he had received the model, Sarpeneva called him, positively bursting with enthusiasm: “What have you gone and done now?” Reka, who thought that the piece of junk he had produced was a miss, replied that the end result did not turn out looking like much. “That’s not what I’m taking about – look at the other side!” There had been a knot in the wood mould to which the glass had fused, producing an exact reproduction of the wood’s surface. “Can we make these?” asked the artist. Reka replied, somewhat doubtfully, that they would see when Sarpaneva came back to the glassworks.
The first fixed-blown wooden mould glasses were produced in 1963. The birth of this new production method had a major impact on glass manufacture throughout the 1960s and 1970s, even where attitudes toward the material were concerned. In industrial mass production, fast-wearing wood is not the most suitable choice of materials for mould-making. Moulds began to be made of graphite and then iron. “The surface died”, said Sarpaneva, examining how the industrial process had eliminated the effect of his delicate, living technique. Eventually, the artist’s interest also waned and the technique disappeared for decades. In 2013, something amazing happened at the Iittala Glassworks: young glassblowers were given an opportunity to experiment and produce large Finlandia sculptures based on the old models! This resulted in a small but unique collection of pieces, of which many of the originals, such as the Suuri Gladiaattori (Great Gladiator), have since disappeared.
A friend in need is a friend indeed…
It was April 1965. The big day had arrived. At eight o’clock that evening, the big Finlandia sculpture exhibition at Milano’s Galleria dell´Arte would make its grand premiere! Sarpaneva had spent six months at the Iittala glassworks, working almost non-stop the entire time. During these closely scrutinised months, he produced nearly 50 wood mould-blown glass pieces, eight of which were very large, monumental sculptures made specifically for this exhibition. At 3:00 p.m. on the opening day, the exhibition collection was unpacked from its crates. The plates and goblets had all arrived intact, but the monumental pieces were shattered! The premiere guests would be arriving in just five hours. Sarpaneva stood silently among the glittering shards of glass. The perfect silence that had fallen over the room was quickly broken. Many of the people who were there said they were absolutely shocked by what they saw. Sarpaneva lifted his gaze and gave his command, although there really was no choice at this point. Pi Sarpaneva called Birger Kaipiainen in Finland, who organised an efficient–and, more importantly, fast–rescue operation: everyone who had received a large sculpture from Sarpaneva as a gift was asked to loan them to the exhibition. When she hung up the phone at 4:00 p.m., there were only four hours left until the exhibition. In Finland, taxis raced about, phones rang and Finnair made the necessary preparations for the emergency delivery. When the sculptures had arrived at the airport, the cargo doors of the plane had already been closed. As a result, six passengers, whose names have faded into the mists of time, boarded the plane carrying large packing cartons. Just before the premiere was to open, a few taxis pulled up in front of the Galleria dell´Arte, discharging the six men. Each of the men was carrying a gleaming glass sculpture. The premiere could now begin.