The road to Orrefors winds through deep forests of spruce that open suddenly on darkly glistening lakes, and meadows and farmhouses set behind stonewalls. Here are the elements that gave rise to glassblowing, and which are reflected today in the finished glass; the ripples across the water, the sunbeams that penetrate the tall, dense stands of spruce, and the crystal-clear air. It is hardly surprising that the glass created here is beloved all over the world. The Swedish glass industry was born about 250 years ago, not far from Orrefors – only about 20 kilometers as the crow flies. In the summer of 1742 the first glass works, warehouse, potash furnace and smithy were inaugurated in which is now the small village of Kosta.
History of our Art Glass Designers
Hand blown glass has thus been produced in this part of Sweden for more than two and a half centuries. The story of Orrefors begins with Iron and the forest. As early as 1726, Lars Johan Silversparre received permission to build a furnace and a smithy at “the beautiful river that flows into Lake Orrenas”. The iron works was given the name Orrefors, which means “the Orre waterfall”.
Production of iron became less and less profitable toward the end of the 19th Century. At the same time, forestry became increasingly important, and a glass works was built in 1898 to utilize spilled timber and labor resources. The basic idea was simple. The glass works would make sure of the most valuable natural resources in the area – the forest.
In the early years, output comprised both simple types of glassware, such as jars, table glass, lampshades and perfume vials, art glass and large pieces. Expertise in more complex technology was acquired by recruiting workers from other glass works, such as Kosta, and from the Continent. A group of skilled craftsmen rapidly collected around Orrefors, and in a short time the glass works acquired the expertise that paved the way for its future success.
Background of our Art Glass Designers
Production at Orrefors did not become significant until the 1910s, when Johan Ekman of Gothenburg, who had highly ambitious production plans and had realized the importance of design, acquired the glass works. A number of proficient glass artisans were recruited. Ekman wanted to place production on a more artistic basis, and in 1916 he, therefore, engaged the services of Simon Gate, the portrait and landscape painter. The artist Edward Hald arrived in the following year. This laid the foundation for a vital tradition of Orrefors, in the form of close cooperation between skilled glassblowers and gifted art glass designers.
In view of the artistic background of both Gate and Hald, it is not surprising that their individual styles flourished in art glass, not household glass. Gate’s more classical designs differed greatly from Hald’s modern, freer creations. Hald had also studied with Matisse, the famous French artist, and this is reflected in his glass.
At the end of the 1919s, Orrefors glass was displayed at various exhibitions. The products shown include functional, mass-produced household glass that appealed to a wider public, as well as art glass in the form of engraved and polished pieces. The engraved glass demanded a very high level of craftsmanship and was an outstanding example of the achievements of the small Swedish glass works. It also made the Orrefors name renowned outside Sweden. Click here for more information about the art of glass making.
Orrefors’ international breakthrough came at the Paris Exhibition of 1925. From the Hotel de Ville, the Town Hall of Paris, the Swedish pavilion borrowed a magnificent glass goblet designed by Simon Gate that had been presented as a gift to the City of Paris from the City of Stockholm in 1922. The goblet became a sensation, and the prestigious Grand Prix award was given to Orrefors and its designers. The glassblowers and engravers received gold medals. Many of the imposing glas objects from Orrefors were created for special occasions, or to special order. The motifs in the engraved glass of that period may seem somewhat grandiloquent today, but the technique was consummately realized through skilled craftsmanship and the light, clear quality of the glass. Some of these creations are now on display at the Orrefors Glass Museum. The news that artists were engaged in a glasshouse for the first time attracted gifted glassblowers to Orrefors. The union of glassblowers and artists led to joint development of techniques such as “Graal” and “Ariel”, and to further development of the traditional Bohemian cooper-wheel engraving. On the whole, Orrefors offered broad scope for experiment and innovation with new techniques being developed and older ones refined – and this is still the case today.
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