Shortly after Terhi Mölsä, CEO of the Fulbright Finland Foundation, asked me if I would consider making something for Fulbright Finland's 70th-year celebration, I found a used book on Tapio Wirkkala at a kirpputori - in the book, there is an image of Wirkkala's hands holding a kuksa cup. Like the kuksa cup they held, his hands were worn and well used. They were the hands of a craftsman. At the time I knew that Tapio Wirkkala was a famous Finnish designer and worked extensively in glass. What I learned later, however, was that unlike many of his cohorts, Wirkkala was also well known for "getting his hands dirty" by making his own prototypes and molds. In leu of this, could not stop thinking about this image, and it became a point of inspiration for designing these gifts.
I was first introduced to the kuksa cup during a February family trip to Lapland. I became fascinated with this courageously modest vessel, and as I learned more of its humble origins I realized, on an existential level, that the kuksa is a metaphor for my Fulbright Finland experience.
Traditionally made from the knot of a birch tree, each kuksa cup is uniquely personal, and meant to fit comfortably in one's (the maker's) hands. The kuksa by design is a thoughtfully humble and practical vessel. It is multifunctional, simultaneously acting as a bowl, a cup, a spoon, or a ladle. It stands for warmth, nourishment, and salvation - all of which are essential to survival but also in building and maintaining a community. Like the Fulbright exchange, the kuksa can be passed from one person to the next. An exchange, if you will, of its nourishing contents, which strengthens relationships and the bonds and human connection.
After the Fulbright Finland Arrival Orientation in August, I went to the Design Museum where they were exhibiting an enormous Timo Sarpaneva retrospective. There was a section of the exhibition (an entire room in fact) devoted to his 1954 Orkidea glass series and in particular his use of the "steam stick" - a centuries-old glass technique that introduces an air bubble without the use of a blowpipe. I loved this part of the exhibition and lingered there for quite some time. One day, a friend and glass artist from Nuutajärvi saw me making prototypes for this project and fortuitously suggested that I try using the steam stick technique. The idea fit perfectly. From the steam stick, each air bubble expands differently into the glass. Like the wood grain in a birch tree knot, the various twisting blues of the filigree glass pattern influences the expanding steam creating a unique cavity of air that ultimately distinguishes the final form of each individual glass Kuksa.
This year the Fulbright Finland Foundation launched its new logo. From the beginning (even before I knew what the form would be), I wanted to include an element in its design that celebrated and recognized Fulbright Finland's new look. To me, the new logo looks like an overlapping, looping, mirrored pattern line that consists of various shades of blue. I wanted to utilize the potential of "line work" in fluid hot glass as a nod to the interconnected nature of the new logo, and there is no better way to do this than with filigrana or filigree glass (commonly referred to as "cane-work").
My glass Kuksa represents a marriage of both design and craftsmanship - an object that embodies the exchange of culture and ideas.