Interview: Hopea

I’m spending the holidays in Canada, so while I was in the neighbourhood, I stopped by my friend Cosima’s studio, where she runs her new project Hopea, an online shop which works as a sort of archive for Nordic and Canadian modernist jewelry from 1960-1975 specifically. I took a few shots of the pieces and we talked about her inspirations for Hopea (which is Finnish for silver), as well as the history behind some of the forgotten designers.

How would you describe the jewelry you’ve collected here?

Many people call it modernist, but some of it is also antimodernist as well. There were many aesthetics which were interwoven and competing at the time. Everything was happening in new directions.

How did you get into collecting these pieces?

My partner had a collection of jewelry by Guy Vidal, who was a Montreal-based artist in the 70s. His stuff is really Brutalist, but very creative and sculptural at the same time. I wasn’t so taken by it at first, but it grew on me and I started to look into the context, and who else was doing this kind of work. As I looked I discovered there was a whole movement.

What was the backdrop for this movement then?

Lots of the groundwork was being laid in the 50s. Things were becoming more streamlined in terms of design, and there was a real focus on Scandinavian design, especially Danish. So these artists began working against the streamlined minimalism and design mores of the time. In Norway, for instance, there was a return to Viking brutalism. They were reacting against that streamlined aesthetic, but reaching back in their own heritage to do so. David-Andersen is an example of that. The firm was really old, but in the 60s they became more forward-thinking and modernist. Their idea was to make replicas of Viking jewelry from 300 AD. So instead of going with a certain direction as everyone else, they reacted oppositely. There were a lot of takes of what was going on, but there was a dialog between all these artists.

Why was this just focused in the Nordic countries and Canada?

There just seemed to be a spark of creativity in the Nordic countries. Individuals like Björn Weckström and Elis Kauppi, who were really driving the movement. Everyone was exploring new forms, but they all had their own take on it. In Finland, it was much more whimsical in a way, and not so stark as Danish, which was very just minimalist. Swedish almost had a feminine quality to it. The movement didn’t carry over too widely into Canada. There were just a couple of Canadian artists working within this movement, Robert Larin and Guy Vidal, who were singular in their work, but you could see the inspiration they took from the Nordic designers.

Detail: Guy Vidal "Holly" Necklace, Canada, 1960s, Vidal's Pewter Alloy
Detail: Guy Vidal “Holly” Necklace, Canada, 1960s, Vidal’s Pewter Alloy

Was the movement like a collective, or did it just happen spontaneously?

They were informed by each other, and there was some crossover. Björn Weckström employed Pentti Sarpaneva in Finland, for example. It was like an artist community, their worked with each other, but they all went on to form their own houses eventually. There were also big jewelery prizes, like the Milan Triennale. So certain shows launched Finland onto the jewelry design scene.

Why did you decide to end at 1975? How did things change after this?

It’s a pretty specific era. The 80s were not as strong, which becomes pretty evident when you look at a designer’s work from the 60s to 80s. Towards the 80s, it seems as if they begin to follow a trend, rather than something which is personal to them.

How did you source your information about the designers?

A lot of them have fallen through the cracks in design history. A lot of the work is very sculptural, and they had the same intention as any of the acknowledged greats in design history. But because their work is associated with industrial design, and because it’s considered craft, it’s not help to the same higher standard. So part of the project was uncovering any information I could. That was months of research alone. On the website I’ve built individual biographies, which appeals to my art history background.

Did you get a chance to talk to any of the designers?

I met Guy Vidal actually, which was great. He studied ceramics, and eventually began sculpting these strange pewter forms. It’s incredible how labour intensive his pieces are, and how prolific he was. He had a workshop of 20 people at one time, and was making more than a million dollars in worldwide sales. Then he had a fire in his studio in 1977 and he just packed up and stopped. You could see the influence of some of the forms from Scandinavia, but some are also coming straight from his imagination.

I also got in touch with Pentti Sarpaneva’s son, who’s now a watchmaker in Finland. It was a lot of following crumbs. Some of the artists you can’t find any information on. A lot of it is just critical object studies, so you just have to write what you see.