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 glassworks, warehouse, potash furnace and smithy were inaugurated in which is now the small village of Kosta.
Handblown 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 glassworks was built in 1898 to utilize spilled timber and labor resources. The basic idea was simple. The glassworks 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, and large pieces. Expertise in more complex technology was acquired by recruiting workers from other glassworks, such as Kosta, and from the Continent. A group of skilled craftsmen rapidly collected around Orrefors, and in a short time the glassworks acquired the expertise that paved the way for its future success.
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 glassworks. 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 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 glassworks. It also made the Orrefors name renowned outside Sweden. Click here for more information about the art of glassmaking.
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.
Success led to the arrival of new designers. The graphic artist Vicke Lindstrand came to Orrefors in 1928, and designed glass that was painted or engraved. Nils Landberg and Sven Palmqvist came at the end of the 1920's as engravers, apprentices, and after service as assistants to Simon Gate and Edward Hald became full-fledged glass artists during the 1930's. The sculptor Edvin Ohrstrom joined Orrefors in 1936.
Intensive experimentation and a continuous search for new means of expression generated results. Orrefors participated in the New York World Fair in 1939 and launched the concept of Swedish Modern. The exhibition was a major success for modern Orrefors glass -- colorful, vigorous and exotic. In 1947, Ingeborg Lundin became the first woman designer at Orrefors. She gave a new dynamic aspect to engraved glass. Nils Landberg's "Tylip Glass" and Ingeborg Lundin's "Apple" illustrate the graceful, daring glass of the 1950's which together with Palmqvist's centrifuged bowls created a worldwide stir. Gunnar Cyren, a silver and goldsmith, came to Orrefors in 1959 and responded to the trends of the 1960s with such works as Pop Glass.
Simon Gate and Edward Hald created the first modern art glass, and initiated an era that lives on to this day. This is particularly evident when today's designers apply the techniques introduced by Gates and Hald in the 1910's and 1920's. In addition, many of their productions are now living classics, partly because the truly beautiful always survives, but also because techniques based on skill and experience never become outdated. It is unlikely that anyone seeing Edward Hald's "Girls Playing Ball", inspired by Matisse, would be likely to draw the conclusion that it was created more than 70 years ago.
A tour through the Orrefors Glass Museum is a journey through the history of Swedish glass. It reveals Orrefors as a color-intensive glassworks as early as the 1920s, when a fresh new approach to color was evident alongside traditional designs featuring elegant, rounded shapes. In the adjacent exhibition hall the visitor can see how today's designs give glass its distinctive tones. Each of them is an individual stylist with his or her own colors. But the foundation is technique, along with access to the experience accumulated over the years at the glassworks.
Orrefors preserves its heritage from Edward Hald and Simon Gate with great reverence. But the glassworks is a living organism, so that this heritage is passed on and developed. For 70-80 years, art glass has been the virtual spearhead of all glass production here. It is art glass that has made and is still making the name of Orrefors a worldwide synonym for quality and beauty. But it is household glass that generates income. Everyone is aware of this situation and it is, therefore, taken for granted that the most skilled and experienced glassmasters and workers are engaged in the two workshops for art glass. And it is also taken for granted that Orrefors designers spend a good deal of their time developing new household glass.
Throughout the 20th Century, Swedish art glass has been admired and treasured by a broad public, both in Sweden and internationally. For more than 260 years, Orrefors has won thousands of design and glassmaking awards, and have been collected by individuals and museums and showcased in exhibits and public installations the world over. Click here to see a list of recognitions. But despite the achievements of Edward Hald, Simon Gate and other great designers, it was not until the 1980s that art glass became a self-sufficient product. That was when the Orrefors management decided that the glass of designers who had died or left the glass-works would no longer be produced. At the same time, a decision was made to create a new collection if art glass -- Orrefors Gallery. The idea is to present a new collection of a limited number of pieces in short series at regular intervals. All of the Orrefors designers participate in producing art glass. The Orrefors designers are: Lars Hellsten, Jan Johansson, Helen Krantz, Erika Lagerbielke, Anne Nilsson, Lena Bergstrom, Martti Rytkonen and Per Sundberg.
The ambition for all glass from Orrefors is the highest possible quality and exquisite design. This is the same objective that applied more than eighty years ago, when Johan Ekman traveled the long road through the forest, past the quiet farms behind their stonewalls...
And if you have once traveled this road, through dark spruce forests, across the open meadows, past the stone walls, past the shining lakes and the sparking brooks, you too will understand what makes it all possible. This where the world's most beautiful glass is created.