The most prolific of the three female designers that dominated Riihimäki’s vast output during the 1960’s and 70’s was Tamara Aladin. She remains something of a mystery figure, however, as remarkably little is known about her life and career beyond a few basic details. Whilst books have been published on the work of her contemporaries Nanny Still and Helena Tynell, no dedicated literature exists on Aladin, therefore the full extent of her design output is still unknown.
Like her aforementioned contemporaries, Aladin had no formal tuition in glass, having studied ceramics at Helsinki’s Central School of Art and Design from 1951. On graduating in 1954, Aladin took to the skies to become an air hostess for Finnair, Finland’s national airline. It is reputed that whilst in this role, she was introduced to the owner of Riihimäki glassworks, Vilho Kolehmainen, who was informed that she was a designer. She submitted her first designs to the company in 1959, which was the beginning of a long and successful career.
During her 17 years at Riihimäki, Tamara utilised her bold sense of form and colour to design decorative art glass, largely for the company's export collections. Knowing her work was predominantly for the international market, Aladin broke away from the minimal Finnish aesthetic of the 1950’s to draw influence from the bright, new, Pop-Art movement which was still developing during the first part of her career. The majority of her designs were bold, tall, mould-blown vases which were produced in the full range of Riihimäki’s colours. The company’s main export market was West Germany, where the experimental, undulating shapes proved to be very popular.
Aladin’s work for Riihimäki was a commercial success, and her activity as a designer was prolific. Over half of the vases made by the factory in the 1960's came from Aladin's drawing board, where she designed in excess of 150 pieces. The true figure of her output is much greater, however, as there are many anonymous pieces in Riihimäki sales catalogues that are widely attributed to her by experts and collectors alike. Her best-known pieces include the Kehrä (Disk) vase (1968), which unusually combines a protruding disk pattern with a naturalistic bark texture, and her series of large, elaborately hooped Tornado (1970) vases, which are some of the very few pieces to bear a signature with Aladin’s name. Aladin also designed a handful of striking drinks services such as X-Serie (1961) and Star (1963), although these were not widely exported.
Aladin’s many friends and acquaintances remember her as a sociable, hospitable, and articulate person. Her social prowess proved to be very beneficial for the glassworks, as she was an enthusiastic hostess during international design fairs, where she passionately conversed with guests about her work in the 5 languages that she spoke.
When the factory’s production of mouth-blown glass ended in 1976, Aladin's last job was to redesign her popular Carmen (1970) candlestick for automatic production.
Her portfolio of decorative glass was fundamental to the huge success that the glassworks experienced throughout the 1960’s, when Aladin’s mould-blown, hooped vases were, and still are, the archetypal piece of Riihimäki glass.
With special thanks to Andy McConnell.