Finnish designer Timo Sarpaneva (1926-2006) created graphics, textiles, glass, ceramics and works in metal that revealed the high quality of his country's craft tradition as well as conveying a unique understanding of the ways natural forms could be mimicked in the man-made objects that surround us. Trained as a draftsman and graphic designer at the Institute for Industrial Arts in Helsinki, Sarpaneva went on to create dozens of products for almostas many companies and to design the exhibitions that would expose the best of Finnish modernism to the world.
Sarpaneva began working for the Iittala glassworks in 1950 as an independent designer and as the head of exhibitions. In the mid-1950s he created the company logo, a lowercase "i" in a red circle that they continued to use throughout the rest of the century. From 1955-56 he worked as the artistic director of the Pori Puuvilla cotton mill. In 1962 he established his own office and began designing for a wider variety of companies. For Rosenløw of Finland he created covered casseroles and pans, ready for use in the oven, on the table or in the refrigerator. Multi-colored stackable glass bottles, designed with an indentation in the base to fit the lip of the next bottle, received the AID award in 1962. He also designed glass for Corning Incorporated in the United States and for Venini in Italy.
During this period Sarpaneva encountered processes that he felt he could revamp and update with the tools then becoming available. He began in 1968, while creating his "Ambiente" fabric series, by introducing a computerized process for textile printing that imprinted the design on both sides of the fabric at the same time. During this period Sarpaneva also introduced, at Iittala, an innovative process for manipulating the surface of blown glass in which he would carve by hand into the charred wooden mold so that the glass would pick up the textures. One of the popular series he created by this method was the "Festivo," called the "Senator" in United States. These pieces conveyed Sarpaneva's belief that the tactile pleasure of touching an object should not be overlooked in the designprocess.
Sarpaneva took a completely comprehensive approach to design, learning the manufacturing processes and communicating with the people involved. He was a teacher of textile composition and printing, and was a mentor to the next generation of Finnish designers. The works he created, particularly the seemingly quotidian objects for the home, were sincere articulations of the ambitious modernist philosophy that good design sold at reasonable prices could improve the overall quality of life and national morale. Sarpaneva won prizes at the Milan Triennials in 1954, 1957 and 1960 and was an integral part of the exhibit "The Creative Finns" at the 1967 Expo in Montreal. He was also the designer of the Finnish section at the 1957 Milan Triennial.