A fascination with a formidable Swedish glass designer has changed the course of one academic’s life.
“It was an obsession. I was living and breathing this guy I was never going to meet for years,” Dr Mark Ian Jones says of his PhD research on deceased glass designer Vicke Lindstrand.
Lindstrand was an uncompromising Swedish illustrator, ceramicist, painter, sculptor, glass and textile designer who came to prominence during the 1930s and 50s through his work at the famous glass manufacturers Orrefors and, later, Kosta Boda. A formidable character, Lindstrand divided the Swedish arts community who either loved or loathed him.
Over the past decade, Jones has researched Lindstrand’s work and life, making more than 20 trips to Sweden after discovering one of the designer’s vases at the Sydney Antiques Centre in 2003.
“The vase was expensive so I started searching for his glass on eBay. The first piece I bought was $125, which seemed like a huge amount at the time. That’s now grown into a much larger collection of Lindstrand pieces in a purpose-built display in my living room.”
The architect, who is also Program Director of the Bachelor of Design at UNSW Art & Design, says he has always been interested in the spatial qualities of glass.
“The reflection and refraction, and the contradictions of vases being hollow but solid and the craftsmanship behind glass-blowing fascinates me.”
Jones’ passion for glass spurred him on to find out more about Lindstrand, but the man who was considered one of Sweden’s most prolific glass designers was barely visible in writing from the period.
“That’s what piqued my interest, I wanted to find out why Vicke Lindstrand had been excluded from Sweden’s cultural history and why he divided people so much.”
In 2005, Jones made his first trip to Sweden where he interviewed Lindstrand’s employer, friends and former colleagues, many of whom have since become close acquaintances. He studied the artist’s personal art collection and spent time in damp library archives gathering information. Access to meticulous scrapbooks of press clippings kept by Lindstrand’s second wife showed the designer was far better represented in international media than Jones had previously thought.
However, he also discovered that Lindstrand bucked the trend of the carefully constructed Swedish ideal of functional, democratic design by creating exuberant pieces influenced by exotic, non-Swedish references.
“Lindstrand was an internationalist which was partly why he wasn’t accepted,” says Jones. “His glass design was influenced by numerous different cultures and artists, including Jackson Pollock, abstract expressionism and African and Asian culture. That didn’t sit well with accepted ideas of ‘Swedishness’ at the time.
Despite Lindstrand’s pieces becoming highly collectable items in the years after his death, they were downplayed in major exhibitions when he was alive, in fact, many were rejected by the 1950’s Design in Scandinavia exhibition selection committee and there have never been any major retrospectives of his work.
“He fell out of favour for not fitting the mould, basically. This was post-World War Two so the marketing of Swedish design was a soft-power exercise; Sweden had a very socialist political structure but it looked to the US to market this cultivated idea of demographic design.”
Jones’ research led to the beginning of his PhD thesis, a guest presentation on Lindstrand in Helsinki, and travel funding from the Estrid Ericsons Foundation to return to Sweden (the first time a grant has ever been awarded to a non-Swede). The trip, led in 2008, to a stint as guest researcher in the Department of Art History at Uppsala University on a scholarship from the Swedish Institute where he consolidated his PhD thesis. Since then Jones has presented on Lindstrand at Oslo’s National Museum, Smålands Museum, Linnéus University and the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
“Swedish design was integral to the make-up of Swedish national identity but sadly, much was excluded from that discourse, including Lindstrand.”
“The feedback I’ve had from the Swedish community is that my research has shown them Swedish design isn’t as one-dimensional as they previously thought,” said Dr Jones. “The political became personal with Lindstrand, I’m not sure that he was intentionally excluded from Sweden’s cultural history, but he definitely became collateral in the politics of the time.
“I’m still intrigued as to whether we would have gotten along, had there ever been the opportunity to meet, but Vicke and Sweden now form a big part of my life, all because I became inquisitive about the designer of a (beautiful) 1950s Kosta vase.”
Dr Jones’ book, Vicke Lindstrand On The Periphery, will be published by Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis on 4 November 2016. The book includes a foreword by Leo Lindstrand, Vicke’s grandson.
The book is funded by grants from UNSW Art & Design, Sydney; Kungl. Patriotiska Sällskapet Understödsfond, Stockholm, Sweden; Stiftelsen Konung Gustaf VI Adolfs fond för svensk kultur, Stockholm, Sweden; Stiftelsen Längmanska kulturfonden, Stockholm, Sweden; and Uppsala Universitet, Konstvetenskapliga institutionen.
By Fran Strachan, UNSW Newsroom.