Oiva Toikka isn’t known as one of the ‘super designers’; most people in the design community probably have never heard of him. They should. Toikka came to Ann Arbor while I was in Grad School, visiting a small gift shop down on State Street. I inquired as to whether he was giving a lecture at the Art School. He was not. Disappointment. Such is life as one of the world’s great artist/designers, I suppose. I was even more disappointed to find I missed speaking with him due to being stuck in the lab (yet again). One of the design greats coming to the heartland of modern industrial design and art and no one noticed. Not even those in ivory towers.
Who is Oiva Toikka?
Oiva Toikka is one of iconic Scandinavian designers working during the MCM/post MCM period to the present (active 1960s-present). Think Sarpaneva, Wirkkala, Still, Franck & Cyren- yes, I am missing a few… Although the majority of the iconic Nordic designs from this period were strictly influenced by nature, Toikka had a quirky side that pushed the envelope of Scandinavian design into pop iconography- and pushed glass as a material into new realms.
Originally trained in ceramics, Toikka’s foray into glass came into play alongside a burgeoning studio art glass movement in the United States. While other Finnish glass designers tended to place emphasis on form derived from nature, Toikka investigated techniques on one hand while also using glass as a template for patterns on the other.
For example, on one hand there is Kastehelmi (Dewdrop) (1964) series that represented more of a stylized decorative approach to functional design than his contemporaries (still in production; available @Amusespot.com).
In contrast, here’s Kartio by Kaj Franck, produced just 6 years earlier (also available @Amusespot.com):
Meanwhile, on the other hand, Toikka played with pop flowers and hot glasswork.
Combining these two sensibilities into the Flora series for Nuutajarvi:
In 1972 Toikka began designing and producing a series of birds with Nuutajarvi glassworks (later merged with Iittala). Although certainly not the first art glass birds made (I’m assuming sandcast birds exist from thousands of years ago), they have proven popular with over 500 different birds produced over 40+ years- all designed with an emphasis on glass technique.
Recently Toikka began to design birds with specific cities in mind. The birds are a canvas for both city and inhabitant; influenced by collaborators who reside in the specific locale.
Up Next: Part Two