There are few patterns in Scandinavian design history as iconic as the famous stem of green leaves by the Swedish designer Stig Lindberg (1916-1982). As one of the most influential post-war designers in Sweden he worked with ceramic, glass, tableware, textile prints and more during his long and successful career with Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory. Berså was produced from 1960-1974 and shortly became one of Lindbergs most beloved patterns ever. His whimsical and colourful patterns were represented in every other home of Sweden in the 50’s and lately the design from this era have had a huge revival, which have led to a booming interest in Scandinavian design of this time period. Many designers of today claim to be inspired by this particular style, a more than obvious example is Orla Kiely.
In 1936, only 20 years old, Lindberg applied for work at Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory but was told that due to bad economy they couldn’t even take on trainees. The young man answered: “If you hire me I will see to that the factory will have enough work!” He got two months to convince the artistic director Wilhelm Kåge (another pioneer of Swedish design), a trainee position soon to be transformed into a lifelong career. In 1949, he superseded Kåge as the artistic director of Gustavsberg and would remain until 1980, with an intermission 1957-72 when he was the principal teacher of Ceramics at the Faculty of the Arts in Stockholm.
Although mostly known as a ceramic designer and creator of many renowned tableware lines as Berså, Prunus, Adam, Eva, Salix, Aster, Spisa Ribb and more, he also started to design patterns for fabrics in 1947. They were characterized by a bold colour palette and playful motifs, which would be found again in his legendary children illustrations from the late 40’s and 50’s. He said by doing this he wanted to erase the line between arts and crafts.
I grew up with these books (not to mention the tableware) and maybe that’s why, when starting out pattern design, I turned to Stig Lindberg’s work to get inspiration – as so many others! There is something honest and rustique about his design although it nevertheless feels both modern and refined. His sense of balance and symmetry is amazing, notably visible in his ceramics. When looking back on his life he called the 50’s “the harvest time” which put Sweden as the leading nation of modern design at that point. He wanted to create objects that were functional while bringing joy with their beauty. During the 1950s and 1960s Stig Lindberg was one of the leading designers of household items that were accessible to almost everyone in the Swedish welfare state. This was not at all something new but had its roots in the powerful socialistic movement that over the former fifty years had strived to build a safe and equal society where beauty should not only be available to the upper classes but equally to the workers. “Beauty for all” was a prominent publication by the famous Swedish writer, reformer and feminist Ellen Key, published already in 1899. But this is a different (interesting!) story where another of my favourite pioneers played a part, namely William Morris… Stig Lindberg died in San Felice Circeo in Italy, where he spent his last three years, at the age of 66. He was working for Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory until his death.