Norwegian Wood, and Other Substances

Originally posted January 21, 2011 on

Scandinavian Design, as understood in the modern design marketplace and the secondary literature, is a major constituent of Western modernism in terms of style, influence, and popularity.  Even through the recession, demand for vintage, high end craft production from Denmark, Sweden, and Finland remained strong.  Left out of the mix, or at least neglected, has been design and decorative art from Norway.

I’m not sure why this is so–I think Norway’s population is smaller than her neighbors–but it is not from lack of a suitable attitude or effort in Norway.  Listen to this introduction, from the booklet “Norwegian Arts and Crafts [and] Industrial Design,” published around 1960, which gives us a window into this subject:  

“Although it would be wrong to say that applied arts and industrial design have been developed farther in Norway than in other countries…it would certainly be no exaggeration to say that the average Norwegian believes that his life can be enriched by beautiful and yet practical surroundings, and is therefore very conscious of the importance of design…Thanks to the inherited feeling for form and color and to the first-class training provided by its technical schools, Norway is able to retain its position among the leading countries in the sphere of applied art, both in industrial design and in arts and crafts.”

Granted, this is from a source intended to promote Norwegian design to English speaking countries.  It still points to ongoing traditions of craftsmanship and design consciousness that provided continuity and impetus to the modernisms in other Scandinavian countries.  “Norwegian Arts and Crafts” is filled with examples of contemporary work in furniture, lighting, dinnerware, pottery, glass, metal, textiles, jewelry, and wood. Much of it is appealing, if not iconic, and it presents a representative cross-section of design activity in Norway. Yet there is nary a household name mentioned.

Five images from the catalog are presented here:  the cover, in color, features a sling chair by Frederik Kayser; the wooden toy figures are by Arne Tjomsland; the glass vase and bowls are by Arne Jon Jutrem for Hadeland; the ceramic teapot and vase are by Nils Jorgensen; the hanging lamps are by Arnulf Bjorshol; the flatware by Arne Korsmo.  Also shown is a ceramic vase by Norway’s best-esteemed potter, Eric Ploen, taken from the Freeforms gallery website. You get the point:  nice work, by artisans and designers you’ve never heard about.

If you look for Norwegian design year to year in “The Studio Yearbook,” you will find it, alongside work from the other Scandinavian countries.  Perhaps not as much material as Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, but maybe in a ratio of 1:3 to 1:4.  If you look on 1stdibs now, you will find 1 page of Norwegian design—including a pair of the Frederik Kayser armchairs—compared to 21 pages of Danish design and 12 pages of Swedish design.

So the question is:  whither Norwegian design? Why is it so under-represented in the marketplace? Is it a matter of adjudged quality, or a lack of exposure to the material?