Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Vintage lighting

Acrylic pendant lamps by Yki Nummi (from right: 3 x Tuomas, 2 x Bubbles + two items I didn't find the name for).
First, I have to apologize for the poor quality of the photos on this post. I’m working on turning from a hopeless amateur into an enthusiast in photography but it will not happen overnight. Nevertheless, I would like to tell about an interesting exhibition I saw last weekend at the Art and Museum Centre Sinkka in Kerava showcasing products manufactured by the Orno lighting factory over the 80 years of its existence. (I heard about the show so late that Sunday was its last day I’m sorry to add.)

Orno was founded in Helsinki in the early 1920s as an art forge (Taidetakomo Orno Konstsmideri) that soon specialized in luminaires. In 1936, the company was acquired by Stockmann, best known for its department stores, and the factory moved some 30km north of Helsinki to Kerava where Stockmann already owned a furniture workshop.

Lamps by Lisa Johansson-Pape.
The following decades were the golden age of Orno bringing about a great amount of elegant design light fixtures, initially mostly of glass and metal and later also of acrylic. Several of the designs were awarded at international design fairs and are now acclaimed classics. The designers that worked for the company in those years included Gunilla Jung-Pircklén, Gunnel Nyman (better known for her design glassware), the iconic duo Lisa Johansson-Pape and Yki Nummi, as well as Heikki Turunen, whose career at Orno lasted the 38 years from his graduation to the closing of the factory.

Chandeliers by Lisa Johansson-Pape.
Orno also manufactured a wide range of lighting units for public spaces both in Finland and abroad. Soviet exports flourished, which was not that uncommon for Finnish companies at that time. In the best years, fully packed cargo trains of products were exported to the USSR. Many massive chandeliers, some of them so large it required a special team effort to get them safely on a train, were delivered to hotels, theatres and other grand public buildings for example in Leningrad, the present-day St. Petersburg.

Although Orno is best known for interior lighting, gradually its production focused more and more on technical lighting, including street lights and other outdoor lighting. By 1950, more than 75% of the turnover came from this part of the business. As a result, Stockmann sold the company to the Swedish Asea in the mid-1980s and the new owner closed the factory in 2001. A sad story too often repeated for small and medium-sized businesses. Fortunately, the most celebrated classics were here to stay and resulted in resumed production by two Finnish lighting companies Keraplast and Innojok, which also produces bright light lamps I wrote about on an earlier post.

Large ceiling lamp designed for a council hall.
In addition to a comprehensive selection of interior lighting, some industrial lights were on display at the show. I learned interesting details about the one and only street lamp of my youth. The lamp resembling a bowl of a spoon turned upside down that used to stand most everywhere where a public place or road was lit was, in fact, designed by Lisa Johansson-Pape and is called La Strada.

The exhibition showed dozens of beautiful small framed blueprints of lighting designs plus half a dozen of fascinating enlargements (pictured below). Before the age of computer-aided design every detail had to be hand sketched with care and each drawing was like a piece of art. They reminded me of the time I worked at the drawing office of a shipyard in the early 1980s: lots of drawing boards and hardly any computers. Even though the act of designing has changed wildly over the past few decades the manually designed vintage items, such as those in the first photo of this post, have remained startlingly modern.

In the background a chandelier made of seven Lokki pendant lamps (also known as Skyflyers) by Yki Nummi.

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