We visit the Iittala factory with one of Finland’s finest glass-blowers, Heikki Punkari—who grew up at the factory and has worked with the likes of Timo Sarpaneva —to discover the magic of molten glass and what it takes to become a master of this craft.
The factory door is open; snowflakes are falling on the concrete floor. Furnaces are tirelessly churning out molten glass that looks just like lava.
The temperature rises when we reach the factory’s glass-blowing platform, but when I mention it, Heikki Punkari, one of Finland’s finest glass-blowers, lets out a deep laugh. “Oh no, it’s not hot any more. You should’ve been here in the sixties!” We’re taking a stroll along the glass-blowing platform, avoiding the red-hot globes of molten glass. Glassmaking is a silent process, a well-thought-out choreography performed by men and women in sweatpants and t-shirts, their foreheads adorned with beads of sweat. They quietly reach deep inside the furnaces to extract a small amount of the glowing mass with the tips of their pipes. The blowers tame the blasting open fires into working with them, not against them. The sheer danger of this activity sets the tone for the show, and if you’re not attentive you’ll miss the delicate choreography hidden in it. Every movement seems completely organic and timed to the very second. As soon as one glass post swings past, another follows it. Seeing skilled glass-blowers craft molten glass is hypnotising. The malleability of the material makes it look like soft and supple plastic. In the moulds, it spills over wildly, before it’s blown and pressed into its final shape.