Historic Finnish glassworks company Iittala was founded by Swedish glassblower Petrus Magnus Abrahamsson in 1881 in a village of the same name. The company changed hands several times and struggled to survive through the turn of the 20th century and beyond. It wasn’t until the 1930s, after Iittala merged with the Karhula glass company, that Iittala began to build its international reputation for beautiful yet functionalist art glass.
In 1932, Finnish designer Göran Hongell joined Iittala. In the years leading up to World War II, Hongell brought in talented outside designers and glassblowers, initiated design competitions, modernized the facilities and collections, and, in 1937, separated Iittala from Karhula. Hereafter, Karhula took over automated glass production, and Iittala oncentrated only on fine, artisanal production.
Esteemed Finnish designers Alvar and Aino Aalto were among the first collaborators to create iconic glass designs for Iittala. Aino developed her utilitarian pressed glass Bölgeblick series—now called Aalto Glasses—in 1932, and Alvar created his undulating Savoy Vase, inspired by the lakes of Finland, in 1936.
In 1946, Iittala organized a competition calling for “contemporary” art glass designs, and Finnish design masters Tapio Wirkkala and Kaj Franck jointly won. They both, in time, contributed significant works to Iittala’s collections, such as Wirkkala’s highly sculptural Kantarelli Vases (1946).
In 1950, another Finnish design master joined Iittala: Timo Sarpaneva. Not only did Sarpaneva design the Iittala logo, he contributed a number of glassware and art glass designs that continue to be collected today. Standouts include his Lansetti Vases (1952), Orkidea Vases (1953), the i-Collection (1956), Triennale Glasses (1956/57), and Finlandia Vase (1964). Sarpaneva’s glass designs played a key role in popularizing Scandinavian design in the postwar era, winning the Grand Prix at both the 1954 and 1957 Triennale di Milano. In 1956, US-based shelter magazine House Beautiful judged Sarpaneva’s Orkidea Vase to be “The Most Beautiful Object of the Year.”
Through the second half of the 20th century, Iittala continued to set high standards of quality and innovation in glass production. In 1990, the company was acquired by the Hackman Group, and international designers such as Konstantin Grcic and Marc Newson were commissioned to create new collections. Since 1996, Finnish designer Harri Koskinen has worked in-house for Iittala. In 2007, Finnish scissors brand, Friskars Corporation, bought the Iittala Group; Fiskars Group also owns Arabia, Royal Copenhagen, Rörstrand, Waterford, and Wedgwood, among others.
* Special thanks to Iittala for images.