Award-Winning Glass Artist Oiva Toikka
by Joelle Steele
For those who live outside of the art world, it is not unusual to think of decorative works of glass as anything other than artistic. But the movers and shakers of the "high art" institutions of the world did not even begin to embrace art glass as desirable or even acceptable forms of “real” art until well into the second half of the 20th century. This comes as good news for glass artists everywhere, including one of Finland's best-known designers, Oiva Toikka, famous for his Iittala collection of blown glass birds. His works are now found not only in homes but in the collections of museums throughout the world.
Toikka was born in Finland in 1931. His career began in Helsinki where he trained as a ceramicist from 1953 to 1960. He worked as a designer of utility glassware and also as a professor at the Konstfackskolan in Sweden and the University of Sunderland in Great Britain. He is still known to many as “Professor” Toikka.
While those who are familiar with his work may think of him strictly in terms of his blown glass birds, Toikka is also a successful designer of costumes and stage sets for theater and opera. And while some may be eager to dismiss Toikka's blown glass birds as mere whimsy, this international artist has been recognized by his peers for his creative endeavors. As recently as 2001, he was awarded the Prins Eugen Medal by the King of Sweden for his life's work as an artist.
Among his many other awards are the Lunning Prize and the Kaj Franck Prize. At Iittala's "glass village" in Nuutajärvi, Toikka uses the famous colors from Kaj Franck's era to make his birds. A disciplined craftsman and an expert in glass and glass working, Toikka has actually invented many of the techniques used by him and his personally-trained team of glassblowers over the past 30 years at Nuutajärvi. During that time, hundreds of different birds have been crafted, and about 30 or so are still in production today, all part of the Birds by Toikka collection.
Birds have always been a source of inspiration to Toikka, and all of his birds are hand-made, mouthblown glass -- a significant talent in and of itself. But Toikka's birds also demand a series of highly detailed and often small, seemingly insignificant movements to create the fine features and details that characterize his birds.
Beginning his design from living examples, Toikka interprets his birds in the highly stylized aesthetic of Nordic/Scandinavian design, which emphasizes the fluid shape of birds, a characteristic that is so very well-adapted into glass. Each bird is completely unique in its features and coloration.
This article last updated: 09/23/2008.