Nanny Still is one of the most important modern Finnish designers of the 20th Century. The body of work she created, mainly during the 1950s & 1960s, serves as a reflection of the period's style as well as being a harbinger of the coming innovations in structure, colour and functionality. She worked in wood, ceramic, lighting, flatware and jewellery, but is best known for her glassware. The trademarks of her work in both decorative and functional glass, were her experiments with extremes of colour and her practice of revisiting traditional processes to create arresting, enduring and elegant pieces.
Still graduated from the Department of Metal Art at Finland's Central School of Art & Design, in 1949, and initially intended to work in silversmithing. In the austerity of the post-war years, however, materials were scarce and the market for exclusive design in precious metals was not sufficient. Therefore, in the same year as her graduation, 1949, against a backdrop of shortages, Still submitted designs to a Scandinavia-wide competition organised by Riihimäki Glassworks.
Her knowledge of glass design at this point was from books rather than hands-on experience, however, Still’s entries in the Art Glass and Household Glass categories were successful in landing her a job. 1949 is the date Still became an employed professional glass designer and her collaborations with Riihimäki, Finland's largest glassworks, continued until 1976.
As soon as Still entered Riihimäki Glassworks she had the opportunity to become acquainted with art products alongside her work for industrial production -a phenomena often cited by Nordic design industry practitioners’ as integral to their success. Still’s earliest designs, such as the white cased filigree Tohveli (Slipper) vide poche (1953) and Meripihka (Amber) vessels (1953) -which, respectively, resemble a curled lily pad and lump of amber- exploited the plasticity of glass, explore varying techniques and show an awareness of organic modernism.
At the Milan Triennale in 1954 Still won the Diplôme d'honneur for a piece she designed in wood and from around this date her work became increasingly geometric. The Harlekiini (Harlequin) service (1958), perhaps her most renowned design, which included around 24 elements such as carafes, jugs, goblets and jars contained in their main bodies’ just spheres, cylinders and cones. These precise geometric shapes (less joyously found in laboratory glass also) were often on tall stems, lids & stoppers had ball shaped knops and the differing parts of each piece were in high colour contrast -main bodies being vivid turquoise whilst stems, knops, stoppers & handles are clear glass. The drama in the Harlekiini series, achieved through the juxtaposition of regular geometric forms, elongated or squat silhouettes and exploiting strong colour can be seen in Still’s other work of the late-1950s and early-1960s such as her Decorative Bottles (1959), Saturnus (Saturn) vessels (1960), and Ilmapallo (Balloon) vases (1961).
After marriage in 1959 still relocated to Brussels but continued to work for Riihimäki and achieved great success with a second domestic-ware series called, Flindari in 1963. Decanters, tumblers, vases etc... in this service were pattern molded after the application of a second layer of glass, so appeared dipped, textured, and colourful. In 1965 Flindari won the International Design Award of the American Institute of Interior Designers and from this date Still’s designs became increasingly textural.
Still’s exploration of textured glass is, without doubt, best witnessed in her Fantasia series (1967) which contained twelve fantastically named vessels such as Quadrifolia, Fontana, Fenomena and Candida. The uneven, bulging and hobnail-textured forms of these vases seem squoze from clay by feisty hands. But despite their contorted shapes they each stand self-assured thanks to the colour and quality of their glass and execution.
The 1970s started favourably for Still, designs such as the Pajazzo vases (1970) which incorporated uranium glass and saw a return to geometry but in a more psychedelic fashion sold well and in 1972 Still won the Pro Finlandia medal.
Despite the strength of the work of Still, Tamara Aladin and Helena Tynell in the early to mid-1970s Riihimaki Glassworks ceased the production of mouth-blown glass in 1976 as a result of the global oil crisis and the impact of the European Free Trade Agreement. However, as an individual that lived and breathed design, by 1978 Still had already transferred her efforts to Rosenthal, Germany.
Still was a prolific designer and has, in addition to the pieces mentioned & shown, a great number of objects in glass, wood and ceramics that were never necessarily known by name but were a substantial part of the prevailing domestic aesthetic of mid-twentieth century Finland.
With special thanks to Andy McConnell.