Acknowledged internationally as one of Finland's leading designers Wirkkala was originally trained as a sculptor in Helsinki from 1933 to 1936. However, although the Second World War interrupted his early career as a sculptor and graphic designer in 1946 he won a glass competition run by the Iittala company, the same year in which he also won a competition to design banknotes for the Bank of Finland. He attracted particular attention at the IX Milan Triennale in 1951 where he gained three Grand Prix, a success that he followed up in the X Triennale of 1954, where he again won three Grand Prix, and the XII Triennale of 1960 where he was awarded a Grand Prix and a Gold Medal. His reputation was also established in Scandinavia where (with Hans Wagner) he had been awarded the first Lunning Prize for design in 1951. During the 1950s he became widely recognized for his organic, flowing designs in glass and ceramics, characteristics which had been signalled with his Kantarelli vase series of the 1940s and 1950s. In 1954 he went to the United States, where he worked with Raymond Loewy Associates in New York, studying American methods of mass production. The diversity of his design activity extended across many fields, including lighting and cutlery. From 1956 until his death he worked for the German ceramics company Rosenthal, also designing for the Venini glass company from the late 1950s onwards.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art — Decorative Arts, Furniture, and Industrial Design.