Kaj Franck

Finland's Kaj Franck (1911-1989) made his imprint on the mid-century design movement with his work in glass and ceramics, and with his innovative changes enacted as Head of Design Planning for Arabia and the Nuutajärvi glassworks. Once referred to as "the conscience of Finnish design," Franck was a textile designer, exhibition planner, professor and outspoken theorist on the socio-aesthetics of functional objects. He also dabbled in illustration, completing a book of fairy tales.

In the late 1930s, after graduating from the Central School of Applied Arts, Franck went to work at a retail store that sold fabrics, curtains and carpets. While there he began designing a few of his own pieces of furniture, some of the only ones he ever made, which were shown in the Finnish design exhibit at the 1937 Paris World Fair. In 1938 he was put in charge of managing a small arm of the Yhdistyneet Villatehtaat Oy, a major textile company in Finland, which would experiment with making hand-printed fabrics. He was not there long, moving on in 1940 to work briefly at Artek where he designed two of their popular fabric patterns, "Putkinotko" and "Lemon."

Franck began working at Arabia in 1945, where he was put in a position to more directly impact the style of the Finnish home. He did so with his "smash the services" campaign in which he introduced mix and match tableware as an alternative to the outdated and often inefficient china sets that were the standard of the time. Mix and match sets could be bought in pieces to fit your needs, taking up less space, and they could be easily replaced. The set that carried out the revolution was called "Kilta" and was produced in a variety of colors. He also got rid of the wide, decorative rim on plates, enlarging the centers and angling the sides to make them easily stackable. Doing away with many of the traditional handles and other features, Franck also made the pieces more versatile. The set was functional, durable, and beautiful and became the everyday dishes for many Finnish households. Similar sets he designed were the "B" series and the later version of "Kilta," the "Teema." At Arabia he also impacted the working environment. He helped create and sustain a successful relationship between the elements of the industrial processes and the artistic considerations. Franck enabled a fertile space in which to work, giving the designers a great deal of freedom and flexibility. He would later design the Arabia showroom and museum, as well as the Nuutajärvi museum.

At Nuutajärvi, Franck produced a wide variety of functional glass sets as well as a number of decorative pieces like his award winning "Woodcock." A series of vases for Iittala in the 1940s were patterned with narrative scenes of people. Franck received a scholarship to study glass techniques at the Vetri di Napoli factory in Italy. He was interested in experimenting with color in glass, and believed that Finnish colors were "subtle and elegant... intimately related to nature." He won the Lunning prize in 1955, which he used to travel in the US and Japan. He also won the Grand Prix at the 1957 Milan Triennial and the Compasso d'Oro.

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