Timo Sarpaneva


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A leading Finnish glass and textile designer in the second half of the twentieth century exemplifying the best of Scandinavian craft traditions, Sarpaneva also worked in the fields of sculpture, ceramic, product, and exhibition design. Originally trained in graphic design at the Institute of Industrial Art in Helsinki (where Tapio Wirkkala, a contemporary internationally renowned Finnish glass designer had also trained), he graduated in 1948. Sarpaneva worked on exhibition design, window display, and graphic design for the A. Ahlstrom company before he was employed in publicity and exhibition design for the Iittala glassworks in 1950, having won second prize in a competition sponsored by the company in 1949. Among his most enduring designs at this time was his famous logo for Iittala, a lower case ‘i’ contained in a red circle. His first major glass designs were the Hiidenkirnu (Devil's Head) series, commencing in 1950–51, the flowing organic, sculptural forms having qualities in common with the aesthetic of contemporary designers working in other fields, such as Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen in the United States and Gio Ponti in Italy. Working in close collaboration with the glass blowers at Iittala he went on to produce the highly sculptural series of Orchid vases, commencing in 1953. Given the accolade of ‘The Most Beautiful Design Object of the Year’ by the American magazine House Beautiful in 1954 it and other glass products designed by Sarpaneva attracted additional international recognition by gaining a Grand Prix at the X Milan Triennale of 1954. In the later 1950s he went on to produce the commercially successful I‐line series of watercolour paintings on everyday glassware, so bringing his designs for glasses, bottles, and plates into the financial reach of many more consumers than his highly expensive sculptural pieces. These utilitarian designs were also recognised at the XI Milan Triennale of 1957, resulting in the award of another Grand Prix. He also gained a Grand Prix for exhibition architecture at the same Triennale, where he had been responsible for the design of the Finnish section. In the 1960s he was inspired by the wooden moulds that glassblowers threw away after use, which gave rise to heavily textured one‐off glass sculptures and the development of innovative techniques seen in his Festivo series. Later sculptural glass designs for Iittala by Sarpaneva included the Claritas range in the 1980s and the Marcel range in the 1990s. During these years he was also working in other design media, including textiles, ceramics, and cast iron. Having exhibited an embroidered tea cosy at the 1951 Triennale, in 1955 Sarpaneva moved into textile design, working on woven fabrics for the Porin Puuvilla company for whom he acted as design consultant until 1966. He also designed textiles for the Kinnasand company in Sweden (1964–72) and rya rugs for the Villayhtyma company in Helsinki (1960–72). Just as he had done in other media, Sarpaneva looked to innovate in textiles, working with a new computerised printing process in 1968 when working on his Ambiente textiles for the Finlayson–Forssa company in 1968. He also explored the possibilities of cast‐iron cookware for W. Rosenlew & Co. in 1960, gaining a silver medal in the Milan Triennale of 1960. In addition to cookware for Rosenlew he also designed steel dishes and jugs for Opa. He also worked in ceramics and metal, designing the Suomi tableware range and stainless steel flatware for Rosenthal in 1974, designs for which he received the Italian President's Gold Medal at Faenza in the same year. In addition to his many awards at the Milan Triennali, Sarpaneva also won the Lunning Prize in 1956 and ID (International Design) Award of the American Institute of Industrial Designers three times, commencing in 1963. In 1995 the Finnish State purchased Sarpaneva's collection, depositing more than 400 items of glass, porcelain, metal, wood, and textiles in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Helsinki. He received many awards throughout his career including election as an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts, London in 1963 and honorary membership of the Finnish Association of Designers in 1981. He also received honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art, London (1967) and the University of Art and Design, Helsinki (1993), and received the Academico di Honor from the Academy of Design at the University of Mexico City (1985).


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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