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The ICON | The Venini Bolle Bottle Vase by Tapio Wirkkala

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    Finding a Bolle bottle vase by Finnish designer Tapio Wirkkala in Australia would be like finding a ‘needle in a haystack’. While the price for this vase is steep, it still makes its presence felt in design books and magazines as one of the classics of mid-20th century design. 

    British-based author Lesley Jackson in her book The Sixties, dedicates several pages to this great Finnish designer who seemed to cover all the branches of design – from furniture and sculpture to jewellery and homewares. He was also adept in other areas, including graphic design and banknotes. And, of course, his distinctive glassware was designed for some of the most distinguished glass manufacturers such as Iittala and also Italian company Venini, which produced his memorable Bolle bottle vase in 1968, a future icon.

    Wirkkala, who studied sculpture at the Central School of Applied Arts, is often considered on equal footing with some other great Finnish designers working in the post-war period – including Alvar and Aino Aalto, whose Savoy Vase is an iconic design. “I would see Tapio Wirkkala in the same basket as the Aaltos. His Ovalis vases, for example, and his Paader’s Ice range (like melting snow on the surfaces) were often handed down from generation to generation,” furniture retailer Anibou director Alex Lance says. Over the years Alex has collected several pieces by Wirkkala, including his Ovalis vases, grouping them to form a glass installation. “It was a period when glass had that sense of the handmade, just with slight imperfections,” he adds.

    However, when it came to creating the Bolle bottle vase, a technique called ‘Incalmo’, the process of fusing separate handblown pieces together required the utmost precision. The edges of the adjoining elements had to be precisely aligned to the diameter of each connecting segment. The result is a range of different-shaped bottle bases using Murano glass – in soft, muted tones combining grey, blue and green through to amber, yellow and violet. While these beautifully created vases are elegant and refined, Wirkkala was keen to present himself to the world as a rough-and-ready, down-to-earth peasant artisan who lived close to nature and at one with the natural world. The exhibit he designed for the Finnish pavilion in Milan a decade earlier (in 1954) was already presenting him, along with his Finnish cohort, as being at one with nature. The installation, which featured glass and ceramics poised on elevated tables (supported by Perspex to create a sense of ‘floating’), was as ethereal as the backdrop of the Nordic fjords.

    While Wirkkala’s designs for Iittala often capture the severe Finnish winter with glasses, for example, supported by an icicle-like base, his Bolle bottle vases, produced by Venini, have a considerably smoother touch, resulting from working with a company where he could indulge in the type of fantasies which most likely would not have been available to him in Finland. While the Bolle bottle vase may be difficult to source Down Under, it’s certainly worth searching out this future icon should one be stopping off in Finland – but if you manage to find one, take it with you on board rather than pack it in your luggage!

     

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