It is February 1880. A man dressed in a fur, travels through forests and fields towards the Häme region. Suddenly, with the beard frosted from the frost, he commands a young man driving the sleigh to stop. Exploring the lake and forest landscape with a dazed look, he states in his mind: “This is the place where a new glass factory will rise!”
The man is Peter Magnus Abrahamson who has just arrived on the shores of the lake Äimäjärvi in Iittala, after not being nominated as manager at the glass factory in Nuutajärvi. Just over a year later, on November the 24th 1881, the first glasses are blown at the Iittala Glass Factory.
The story started by Abrahamson continues still today. This year, 2021, the glass factory celebrates the 140th anniversary and has become the biggest glass factory in the Nordic countries, and an internationally reknown design brand. The secret of success lies in combining craftsmanship, art and creativity, among other things.
The basis of expertise has always been the cooperation and mutual respect of designers and glassblowers. Our world-famous designers (eg Tapio Wirkkala, Timo Sarpaneva, Kaj Franck, Oiva Toikka, Harri Koskinen) have relied on the professionalism of glassblowers and appreciated their skills in all decades. A strong bond has developed between designers and glassblowers, and many designers have spent long periods in a glass cabin working intensively with the blowers. A new object is always created in collaboration between a designer and a glassblower.
Also the art piece Kartta (Map), one of the specialities of the anniversary year, is a result of this collaboration. For Santtu Mustonen, a designer of the new generation, working with glass is a new area and the collaboration with the skillful professionals a powerful experience.
The most visible part of the glass factory’s operations to the public is the work of the blowing department, which can be followed from the visitors’ balcony. In addition to mouthblown utility and art objects, automated production, such as the production of Aino Aalto glasses and Kastehelmi series, takes place inside the factory walls. Common to glassmakers is a passion for glassmaking, a desire to constantly learn new things and see the results of their work.
Glassmakers have every reason to be proud of their profession. Glass as a material is challenging and always offers professionals new things to learn. A glassblower is a craftsman with an artist inside. You always learn something new. This is also known by the glassblower master Tero Välimaa, who started at the factory already at the age of 15. Despite his young age, Tero is already an experienced professional who shapes the molten glass into Aalto vases as well as art pieces like Kantarelli (Chanterelle) and Claritas.
Before coming to work at the factory, Tero had attended an elective course in glassblowing at school and remembers the course with a smile. “I think that, at least once, the glassblowing pipe fell from the hands of the teacher, Mr. Harri Jokinen. We as pupils might have been a little too lively sometimes. And I guess that we made a few small fires too when we learned how to make glass tears”, says Tero.
Iittala has an established place in the landscape of internationally distinguished design. The 65-year-old red i-logo is known all over the world. Also Iittala’s colour expertise is known worldwide. Each year, a new colour is added to the wide colour palette. In 2021, the annual colour is lively amethyst. Among others, Aalto vase, Miranda bowl and Essence pitcher are available in this colour. All these items are available for visitors at the Iittala Outlet.
Even today, you can see the glow of the glass furnaces through the factory door. About 90 % of all Iittala brand glass products are manufactured in Iittala, by about 200 glass professionals. Today, the product collection consists of timeless objects designed to make every day extraordinary. The objects are not only distinctive but also combinable and versatile.
Today, the only glass factory still in operation in Finland is part of the Fiskars Group. The Finnish glass tradition lives and thrives in Iittala Village.