Ingegerd Råman is the doyenne of Swedish Ceramics and Glass. For almost five decades this legendary designer has worked with Swedish Glassworks such as Johansfors, Skruf and Orrefors, and heightened the aesthetic experience of everyday objects in Swedish homes. Her pared down, quietly elegant style with a focus on materiality and functionality, has won her many ardent followers and many awards. She has exhibited widely both at home and abroad and her designs are in the collections of major museums such as The National Museum in Stockholm, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Stedelijk in Amsterdam to name a few.
Always curious, and not afraid to try something new, Ingegerd Råman continues to take on new challenges, and at the age of 73, shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Some of the projects she has been involved in this year include a collection for Ikea with a focus on natural fibres where she collaborated with Vietnamese craftsmen, something she has never done before. She has also designed teapots with Koransha potters on the Arita 2016/ project, which is now on exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, has a current exhibition of over 200 pieces at the National Museum in Stockholm and is working on the extension of the Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm with architect Gert Wingårdh.
In Japan the term National Living Treasure is given to someone who has achieved high levels of mastery in their craft, and through that help with the preservation and the continuation of it. Ingegerd Råman is our Swedish National Living Treasure.
Starting at the very beginning, could you explain your desire in wanting to study ceramics? Why did this art form appeal to you?
I actually started with textiles, as it was a material closest to a girl I suppose. I was at a school with a focus on training for craft and skills like cooking as I was dyslexic, making it difficult for me to go through the normal academic studies. I was then given an opportunity to work on a project started by the Architect and Furniture Designer Carl Malmsten in Cappellagården, Öland, where he had bought houses with the intention of creating a school specialising in crafts. A team was selected to renovate the houses with the crafts that we specialised in, but I opted out of textiles and started to help in the kitchen! It was at Capellagården that I came across the new pottery studio that was set up and I thought it was exciting to try something new. I fell in love with pottery right then, as it was such a tactile material and I could work in a 3 dimensional way as opposed to textiles. I ended up being there for a year. I believe that life is all about coincidences, my shortcomings was in a way a blessing as it led me on to a new direction where I could pursue my life’s calling.
Why did you make the jump from ceramics to glass so early on?
While I was studying at the School of Arts, Crafts and Design, Konstfack in Stockholm, one of my teachers was the internationally celebrated glass artist Bertil Vallien. The study of ceramics has always been bound to glass, although more theoretical than practical. For the first time he gave 6 students the opportunity to work at a glass factory. I went to work at Johansfors, where two of their designers had just left and they later offered me a position at their glassworks. I started working there after I graduated. It was also while at Konstfack that I came across an exhibition organised by Svensk Form which was located in the same building, of Glass Designers Ingeborg Lundin and Gunnar Cyren. I was completely captured with the work and never thought I would ever be able to work with such a beautiful material as glass.
You were conferred the title “Professor” by the Swedish Government in 1995, what did that title mean to you at that moment?
It was truly a shock. When I started out, I never had a title or career in mind, I only knew I wanted to work with my hands. My aesthetic has always been to learn and to create what people need, and mainly out of my own need for objects, I would not make anything that I would not use myself. It was also a time where there was so much experimentation in glass and in pushing the limits, a lot of colour and fantastical and huge designs, and I was working with simple, useful utility items. It warmed me to know that being recognised for my work, validated it for young designers who wanted to work in the same style, that clear glass can be just as fantastic. The recognition was also a sign that I could keep working in the same way even if it was tough financially!
Having spent almost 50 years in the field of glass and ceramic design in Sweden, what is different today compared to the early days?
The difference is that we no longer have the factories. It is so important to the designers working with craft to have the production. When I started out there were about forty three Glass Factories in Sweden out of which there are only three or four left today. It is very hard for me to accept that Orrefors is gone, and together with it the relationship built over so many years with extremely skilled craftsmen, most of whom sadly do not even work with glass anymore. But I have hope that the young designers will have the power to bring this craft back to us again one day and revive the factories with the skilled craftsmen.
Your design philosophy has always been simplicity, harmony and functionality. How does a product design evolve, what do you start with, could you explain your creative process?
It normally starts with my own need, and what I have learnt is that we are all more alike than we are different. If I feel the design meets with my expectations, I will then share it. My time at Orrefors consisted of a combination of commissioned work and designs I had proposed to them. They worked with Spring and Fall collections, which is not the way I work. I would just present my work to them and they could choose whatever season they wished to launch them. Wine glasses, for example, were commissioned as they needed to be in a continuing series. I feel that if you create functional objects, you always find out if it’s good enough when you actually start to use it. I believe that an object which is not being used is only living half a life. You need to see and experience it while it performs its function, whether it is wine or water in a glass, how the balance is felt in the hand as you take it to the mouth, it could almost be addictive! It’s very simple, I do the best I can and for every day that I work I have a chance to be better, to train myself and I listen to people.
You have mentioned that you were hesitant when Ikea first approached you for a collaboration, what made you change your mind?
I told them that I was not able to accept until I have met the people involved in the project, which led to Ikea’s Head of Design Marcus Engman and the project leader Jutta Viheriä’s visit to Stockholm. There was also a book to be published and translated into 14 languages, so this was a big challenge for me. We went on a trip to Vietnam, from the North to the South meeting various craftsmen. I was given the opportunity to work with material that was completely new to me, bamboo and natural fibres, and to work closely with Vietnamese craftsmen, an experience I enjoyed very much. I realised that language is not a barrier when dealing with crafts people, we manage to communicate very well through our craft. Apart from this I was told I could do some glass and ceramics as well if I wished to! I am very happy with this collection.
You were one of the 16 designers collaborating with Arita’s 2016/ pottery project in Japan. How did this come about?
It was a collaboration between Saga Prefecture and the Netherlands, the project was led by the Dutch design duo Scholten and Baijings and Japanese designer Teruhiro Yanagihara. Commemorating 400 years of the porcelain making history of Arita and to renew an interest in an area that is somewhat struggling today. 16 international artists were paired to 10 factories, and I was working with Koransha. I had been given the commission to work with tea utensils, and made a set of teapots with lids and handles, something I had never done before! I had so much to learn from the experienced potters and craftsmen at Koransha, and I worked a lot with proportions and glazes. This was a fantastic experience that I enjoyed very much.
There are 200 of your pieces currently being exhibited at the National Museum in Stockholm. What is the focus of this exhibition?
It is to showcase projects and commissions I have done from the last 50 years. Many of these I haven’t seen in a long time. When I saw them all displayed on the tables, it brought back the stories, the thoughts and the inspiration. The question for myself was could I learn something and gain more knowledge from this?
What do you think is the reason that Sweden has been so world renowned for its Glass Design?
I believe it has a lot to do with our cold climate and the nature that surrounds us. We live in a land surrounded by frozen water, snow and snow crystals, and I think that shapes our inspiration. The Italians were very inspired by Scandinavian Glass as well, but they added a lot of colour as they live in a completely different climate.
Looking back at your extremely illustrious journey as a designer, is there one thing
that you are particularly proud of?
Everything that I have done is so close to me, I can’t really pick one, it is like being asked to choose a favourite child. What will come close could be the glass centrifuged stackable dishes I did at Orrefors called Pond, that is something I am very proud of, as it is something I had dreamt of doing even before I started working there. They look beautiful even when not being used and they are functional.
If you were to give one piece of advice to a young artist or designer today, what would it be?
I would advice them to take their time, not to rush. Take the time to find themselves.
What are you working on now?
I am very excited about two new projects in the Fall, one Japanese and one Czech, unfortunately I am not able to give you anymore information, but hopefully it will be my best projects to date! I am also working on the new extension of Liljevalchs Art Museum together with the architect Gert Wingårdh.
Ingegerd Råman on the significance of water, film by National Museum Stockholm for current exhibition.