In Finland, job anniversaries, life accomplishments, and other milestones are often marked by the ritual giving of an Iittala Toikka Bird. When light passes through these lively glass creations, they are imbued with a glow of celebration.
Oiva Toikka, born in 1931, was a glass artist who set out to break free from the functionalism of traditional ceramic wares, such as dinner plates, bowls, and vases. Oiva, with his bold and imaginative creative process, desired to challenge his formal education in ceramics and began experimenting with glass. His deep interest in sculptural qualities, color, and form led him to design everyday tableware that departed from tradition. His first collections of homewares in the 1960’s became a huge commercial success.
Both the artist and the designer within Toikka did not war, but instead informed one another in the inventive, inquisitive journey to create the glass masterpieces we revere today. Yet, Oiva, if he were here, might hesitate to answer to the title of designer. He called himself “an artist who also designs.”
In 1972, Oiva set his first bird, “Flycatcher,” to flight from Nuutajärvi glass village in Finland. The collection of glass birds that has made Oiva Toikka a legend quickly migrated into the hearts and admiration of collectors, art enthusiasts, interior designers, and ornithologists around the globe.
Just as they were when Oiva Toikka first designed them, every bird is expertly hand blown by talented glass blowers today. To become a glass blower good enough to work on Iittala Oiva Toikka birds, it takes about four years of learning and practice. The masters, who are in charge of the most detailed parts of the birds, often exceed ten to fifteen years of glass blowing experience. The process entails heating the elements of glass into a molten state at 2,640 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, meticulously but quickly and almost chaotically to the untrained eye, the glass is manipulated into shape by blowing through long pipes and using a variety of metal tools. The birds are then placed in a cooling kiln where they are carefully brought to room temperature.
One of the most cherished elements of Toikka’s glass birds is that, because each bird is handmade, each one acquires a personality of its own through subtle differences in shape and form. We find these slight anomalies comforting. They seem to hold the energy and spirit of both Oiva Toikka and the artists that brought his designs to life.