By Regina Connell.
KostaBoda. Orrefors. Iittala. Holmegard. What do these names have in common? They’re all reknown glass makers with a gloriously modernist orientation. And they’re all based in Scandinavia. If you have any high-end glassware at all in your collection, you probably own some. And if you don’t, you have probably seen it on someone’s wedding registry. Orrefors and Kosta Boda are from Sweden, Holmegaard is from Denmark, and Iittala (which produced many of Alvar Aalto’s iconic pieces) is from Finland.
The irony is that Scandinavia didn’t exactly play a huge traditional role in glass making. (That happened far south of these countries in the sunnier climes of Venice and the Middle East, and a little closer to home in Britain and Germany.) But in the 20th century, Scandinavia has become an absolute powerhouse in the world of glass, with more notable designers than any of more traditional bastions of fine glass making. There’s even something that’s become known as “The Kingdom of Crystal,” a geographical area of 15 glassworks in the municipalities in southern Sweden.
The concentration of artisans, designers, and fine craft skills tends to create an eco-system that perpetuates itself through great schools, intensive apprenticeships, companies and jobs, and a market that has a sophisticated appreciation for the output of the best artisans.
While many of the best are homegrown, others get their start elsewhere, like Australia.
Armed with a degree in Applied Arts after majoring in Glass at university in Melbourne, Tillie Burden left Australia at the age of 22 to seek adventure and opportunity elsewhere. She lived and worked in London for a while, but ultimately found herself wanting to go to Scandinavia, to the home of the glass she so admired.
What drew me to now Copenhagen-based Tillie’s work is how refined and yet exuberant it is, and how it retains that Aussie sense of humor and gusto while embracing Scandinavian restraint. Throughout most of her work, she plays with movement and solidity, shape and scale.
In particular, I’m in love with the Being Bag series, a series of mouth blown, sandblasted, and wheel polished glass “sacks” that resemble cloth bags in various states of saggy-ness. They have life and pathos, and the depth of color and texture are extraordinary.
I’m also enchanted with her cleaning glove, a pink piece that’s been blown and hot formed, slumped, sprayed with glass paint, and finally, kiln fired. (Phew.) And then there’s her balloon sculpture series… And a Wood series, hot formed and cold-worked, an otherworldly beautiful forest, replete with tree stumps that show off their rings…
Tillie absolutely feels that she’s found home in Denmark. “I feel there is a greater appreciation for craft and design here in Denmark, and I think it is easier to ‘make it.’ Also, there is a stronger sense of community. Copenhagen is absolutely riddled with artists forming workshops together, to share facilities and make it easier to do their work, more so than in Australia.”
The Scandinavian system is rigorous and intensive, focused on building up deep skill. Tillie describes it thus: “A typical route for Scandinavian glass artists has been to study at one of the schools based in the Kingdom of Crystal. The focus is almost purely on total immersion in glassblowing skills. This makes for a real solid basis of skill. From here, students travel to the Royal Art Academy in Denmark or Kunstfack in Stockholm to expand into further glass techniques and delve into design, either creating functional wares or art objects. This is all set against a backdrop of an incredible legacy of craft and design.”
Her experience at school in Australia had been more theoretical and art-based, so the intense focus on craft skills was a major change. “When I ended up studying in Denmark, a lot of my classmates were these super skilled glassmakers, which really lifted my game; I was able to really learn from them. In turn, they learnt from me, having come from a different cultural and educational background. I ended up studying for a year in Sweden at Orrefors Glass School.” She credits her education in a combination of artistry and artisanship as creating the foundation for her work today.
Some of her signature pieces are an absolute testament to that Australia-Scandinavia mashup. The Being Bags are a case in point. Tillie says, “I focused on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ to bring about a meditative mood. Because they are vessels without function, that underscores the being over doing.” By sandblasting the surface, she’s able to express the fluidity of the material without—as she says—“screaming” at the audience.
The Wood series is her most current work. “I am a classic introvert,” she says. “Glassmaking, though, is a material dominated by teamwork. So I often subconsciously make works that I am able to create alone. The year rings are symptomatic of my introversion, both because it is a technique that I work on alone, slowly building up layers of color [and because] a good deal remains below the surface, unseen. The year rings are my internal world, the pieces are then taking on different external forms, whether it is a slingshot or tree stump to indicate a moving through life, encountering different situations.”
There’s a big change in the works for Tillie. She’s leaving Copenhagen and moving to Sweden. There, she’ll be living in Boda, a small town of 200 people, which has an old glassblowing factory that is now a living museum with a blowing studio and museum and exhibition spaces. She calls it “a lifestyle change for me that will bring more immersion into the glass, where I can make blowing glass more a part of my daily life, rather than traveling away for periods of time. And although it is a small, isolated town in the middle of the forest, there is quite a hub of artists who travel back and forth to use the facilities, participate in workshops, and exhibit.”
Sounds idyllic, and we can’t wait to see what she produces next.
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