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Alvar Aalto is known throughout the world as a designer as well as an architect. Perhaps the best-known of all the products he designed is the Aalto vase which first saw the light of day 75 years ago. The new exhibition at the Alvar Aalto Museum tells the story of how the Aalto vase, or rather ‘vases’ for there was a whole series of them including the famous Savoy vase, came into being.

The models are based on a series of glassware designed by Alvar Aalto as a result of an invited competition held by the Karhula-Iittala glassworks in 1936. The drawings Aalto submitted for the competition were in sketch form but artistically executed. These sketches provide only an idea, but an idea that was used as the basis for starting production through a process of search and experimentation. Eventually, ‘The Eskimo woman’s leather trousers’ gave rise to a series of more than a dozen different vases and dishes.

The Aalto glassware made its first public appearance in 1937 at the Paris World Exposition, in the Finnish Pavilion also designed by Alvar Aalto. The interior design details for the pavilion used asymmetric, freely undulating forms. No doubt the sketches for the pavilion and the glassware were both on Alto’s drawing board at the same time in late 1936.

In the same year, Aino and Alvar Aalto began work on the interior design of the Savoy Restaurant in the Artek drawing office. Thus, the Savoy Restaurant, known for its combination of ‘continental style and congeniality’, was given the new Aalto vase (originally no. 9759, now no. 3030) to adorn its tables. Subsequently, the vase became known as the ‘Savoy vase’.

Naturally, the Aalto vases were sold in Artek from 1937 onwards and very soon the staff began calling the vases and dishes ‘Paris glass’ after the city where they made their debut.

The Paris Glass exhibition at the Alvar Aalto Museum tells the story of ‘The Eskimo woman’s leather trousers’ and shows what the environment in which they were first displayed, the Finnish Pavilion at the Paris Exposition, looked like. There is also a sprinkling of drawings and photographs of the Savoy Restaurant interior and some of the glass sketches drawn up in the Artek drawing office. Attention is also paid to the soft, asymmetric shapes found in Alvar Aalto’s architecture both before the Paris glass and after it.

Paris glass. The Aalto vase – 75 years on
An exhibition in the Gallery at the Alvar Aalto Museum 12.5.2011 to 2.10.2011
Open Tue-Sun 11-18

Alvar Aalto Museum
tel. +358 (0)14 266 7113

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