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Orrefors - Artists - Lillian Nassau LLC

Orrefors factory, circa 1917
Collection of Tekniska Museet (Museum of Science and Technology)

Orrefors Glassworks was originally established in 1898 as an annex to an existing ironwork foundry on the site; the owner hoped that the glass furnaces could be powered by the surplus wood fuel that was not being utilized by the foundry. 

While the company initially produced unremarkable utilitarian glassware, a change in ownership and the subsequent hiring of artists Simon Gate in 1915 and Edward Hald in 1917 changed the trajectory of Orrefors and the history Swedish art glass. The company pioneered a partnership between artist and craftsman, and by the 1920s a stylistic shift and new techniques firmly established Orrefors as one of the finest producers of artistic glassware in the world. 

In the early years under the direction of Hald and Gate, glass produced by Orrefors was praised for the fine quality of figural engraving on clear glass in the Art Deco style, but it was the technical innovations in glass blowing that led to lasting fame for the company.

Around 1916-17, inspired by the cameo glass of French designers like Emile Gallé, master glassblower Knut Bergqvist pioneered an entirely new method of decoration, known as Graal, in which a blank of colored glass with or without an engraved design or pattern would be encased in a layer of clear glass before it was blown into its final form. 

This led to further experimentation by Bergkvist with artists Vicke Lindstrand and Edvin Öhrström who together went on to develop the Ariel technique in the 1930s. In Ariel glass, a blank was deeply engraved or sand-blasted with a design or pattern over which a thick layer of glass would be applied, causing bubbles of air to be trapped within the motif (the name Ariel was taken from the spirit of wind in Shakespeare's The Tempest). Both methods of production came to be known as Swedish Overlay. 

The quality of the artistry and stunning new visual effects achieved in these entirely novel techniques earned Orrefors numerous medals at World's Fairs, in particular at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, when Gate, Hald and Orrefors itself all won Grand Prix, as well the Gothenburg Exhibition in 1923 and the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition. 

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