True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, Part 2

October 29, 2016 | Bill V.

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I went to the opening of True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, the new show at the Gardiner Museum, a couple of weeks ago. 

I wrote a blog post about the show and some of the Canadian books available to support that show. In this blog post I wanted to write about some of the mid-century Scandinavian source material that is available at Toronto Reference Library.

At the opening of the True North show, the two curators, Rachel Gotlieb and Michael Prokopow, gave a very interesting talk. Dr. Gotlieb spoke about the importance of doing archival / library research. There was a reference in the talk and in the show of a seminal book for the 1950s touring show Design in Scandinavia: An Exhibition of Objects for the Home which covered Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

ROM paragraph 1954 1955 Design in Scandinavia quotation

The show visited a number of American cities as well as Toronto and Ottawa in the 1950s (two Royal Ontario Museum curators were on the North American organizing committee). The ROM presented this show as a conscious policy to support further shows on American and Canadian modern design of the era, as seen by the above excerpt from their 1954/55 annual report. 

Our collection is rich and deep across subjects, time and also languages and Toronto Reference Library has a copy of the seminal 1950s Design in Scandinavia exhibition catalogue.

 

Design in Scandanavia

 

This was not the first show or book that had been "exported" from Scandinavia. While Scandinavian design might highlight a variety of styles, methods and design features, the books all seemed to share a similar title. Don't miss:

I admire their entrepreneurial (and aesthetic) verve in bringing together and touring these shows and printing these books. Imagine the increased demand for their products, but also the influence their products and design would have worldwide (which would increase demand on their products later on).

But they began much earlier than the 1960s. In 1939, for the New York World's Fair, the Royal Swedish Commission had a show and exhibit catalogue called Swedish Arts and Crafts Swedish Modern - A Movement towards Sanity in Design.

It's a beautifully illustrated book covering all aspects of design including glass, silver, ceramics, furniture and even wallpaper -- they have actual color textured wallpaper samples at the back of the book.

Swedish Arts and Crafts 1939 New York World's Fair exhibit catalogue

 

Swedish Arts and Crafts 1939 wallpaper

 

The Swedes seemed especially prolific in exporting and promoting their cultural design aesthetic (and also their products).

Swedish Housing of the 'Forties Fyrtiotalets Svenska Bostad  exports their architecture, urban planning and some interior design (published in 1950).

Swedish Housing of the 40s Forties

 

And also the very interesting Modern Svensk Textikonst, published in 1963, on Swedish textile design which echos some pieces in the Gardiner show. The colourfull printed cloth cover, almost like a fabric sample itself with the words on the selvage, just like the cloth samples on display, compensates for the illustrations which are in black and white. 

Modern svensk textilkonst

Of course, no discussion on mid century or beyond Scandinavian fabric or design would be complete without a discussion of the iconic Marimekko from Finland.

Marimekko In Patterns

 

I will say though that the Finns also gave a kick at the arts and business promotion with Ornamo [1950-1954] Suomen taideteollisuutta = Finsk konstindustri = Finnish decorative art = Art décoratif finlandais, which is lavishly illustrated in black and white (and a few colour) photographs covering all aspects of design.  

 

Ornamo [1950-1954] Suomen taideteollisuutta = Finsk konstindustri = Finnish decorative art = Art décoratif finlandais

Like the Swedes above, the Finns also had their own 1939 New York World's Fair (trilingual) promotional book Applied art in Finland, which is heavily illustrated in black and white and covers all aspects of design.  

One should also look at the Taide ja työ = Finnish designers of today: Savi, lanka lasi suomalaisen taiteilijan kädessä (published in 1954) to round out one's view of the Finns. This is beautifully illustrated in black and white and colour and is an amazing book.

Taide ja työ = Finnish designers of today: Savi, lanka lasi suomalaisen taiteilijan kädessä

Even the Victoria and Albert Museum in London England felt that Finnish design was something worthwhile and special as seen in the show Finlandia: modern Finnish design 1962.

The Danes seem to be a bit thin on the ground for pure mid century design books, but I did find the 1975 Dansk Danish Design from the Danish collection at Toronto Reference Library. 

Dansk Danish Design Book 1975

 

And these two more current titles Danish Modern, published in 2008, and the 2016 title Danish Modern: Between Art and Design are useful current summaries.

Danish Modern
 
We are a bit thin on Norwegian material and the best I could find in our collection was the simple elegant 1969 Den norske Designpris, de syv første år = The Norwegian design award, its first seven years.

Den norske Designpris, de syv første år = The Norwegian design award, its first seven years

 

 

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