He’s been called an anarchic artist-designer, a renegade, a creator of neo-baroque with no respect for convention, but Toikka is, first and foremost, a master storyteller. Boldly impulsive and deeply emotional, he creates fairy-tale-like, sometimes naïve designs that are whimsical, funny, extravagant and playful at the same time. Or, as a critic pointed out after one of Toikka’s first exhibitions in 1958, work that seems to dance, run and fly.
Movement—running, dancing, flying—is one of the outstanding characteristics that runs throughout the artist’s most famous series, Birds by Toikka. Often inspired by real-life animals, but sometimes drawn from the imagination, the Birds collection includes specimens from a whole flock of avian species: there are glass pigeons, ducks, owls, pheasants, tits and finches, to name just a few. Each bird has a strong character and bears some human-like traces. Individually mouth-blown, with masterfully crafted feathering, each bird is unique, and so characterful that many collectors have developed personal relationships with these little glass creatures living in their homes. Such strong bonds are surely one reason why the Birds count among Iittala and Toikka’s best-known works. The collection first took flight in 1972, with his Flycatcher design. These first birds varied in colour from series to series, depending on what colour glass was available at the time. As the Birds gained in popularity, the glass-blowers’ skills and Toikka’s ambitions for the series grew. Today, after more than forty prolific years, the designer has created over four hundred of these decorative figurines. Collecting Toikka birds has become an international pursuit, with glass bird collectors tracking down rarities and discussing sightings with an enthusiasm to match that of their counterparts in the real ornithological world.
The Birds have now landed in the renowned Italian design house, Magis. Toikka had long enjoyed a good relationship with Magis when the house took on a project involving his Birds series, according to the company’s founder and president, Eugenio Perazza: “Our collaboration with Oiva has been an ongoing discussion.” In 2009, the partnership led to two designs for children—the Paradise Tree coat stand and Dodo, a rocking stool in the form of a bird. Eventually, Perazza began to wonder “Why not reinterpret some of Toikka’s glass masterpieces and create a small collection of birds that are also whimsical light objects?”
The idea originated from research Magis had been pursuing into new materials: “Looking into new materials for use in rotation moulding, we stumbled upon polycarbonate,” explains Enrico Perin, Magis’ head of development. “We quickly realised that hardly any manufacturers in Italy apply this combination.” This was surprising, given just how remarkable—and brilliantly coloured—polycarbonate materials are. In fact, polycarbonate is so versatile that a transparent sheet can be layered onto a second opaque sheet. Adding differently-coloured granulates endows this surface with new patterns and shades that are unique to each object. “With polycarbonate, you can create an effect that is very similar to the rich finishing so typical of blown glass,” says Perazza. He goes on to recount the moment three years ago when he first realised that this new method of handling a transparent plastic material could be the beginning of a new product: by replacing traditional glass with plastic, Magis could give new life to an existing collection of glass objects. Of course, he immediately thought of the famous Birds.
Oiva Toikka was excited about the idea, and Iittala, too, was soon convinced of the plan’s charm. Together, they agreed that it was a good idea to illuminate the familiar glass sculptures. Next, they selected five of the collection’s most iconic birds. Now, Sulo, Siiri, Kirassi and Palturi are the first members of a new collaborative project, Magis & Iittala & Oiva Toikka.