Erika Lagerbielke

First the world is blue. Then it becomes red and green. She can give the world any color she wants. Erika is four years old and gazes out through the windows on the glass veranda. It is the glasspanes in various colors that entice her to stand there. As soon as she moves just a little, the whole world changes. Almost fifty years later, Erika Lagerbielke is just as interested in how slight variations in the glass can make such a big difference.

If you had asked Erika as a child what she wanted to be when she grew up, she probably would not have understood the question. Mom was a textile artist and dad was a graphic designer. Becoming an artist was obvious to her.

  • What else would you do? I hardly knew that there were any other professions.

So she got an education at Konstfack (a Swedish college of arts, crafts and design) where she majored in industrial design. Interned at Orrefors and did so well that she was invited to continue.

She had always liked the clean and classic design that was characteristic of Orrefors and admired the elegance of earlier artists such as Simon Gate and Edward Hald, and more modern artists such as Nils Landberg and Gunnar Cyren.

It is evident in both her functional and art glass designs. Her vases and grail bowls and overlay technique employ the same timeless elegance.

Shorten the reins

Glass artists often say that glass has a life of its own. That it cannot be tamed. If the molten glass was a herd of horses, some artists let them loose and release them out in full gallop. Others keep a close eye on the herd, however accept that there is an occasional stray. Glass artist and designer Erika Lagerbielke keeps the horses on a short rein and get them to perform a dressage.

  • Glass artisans probably think that I am the pickiest artist they have ever worked with, she says. However, when you work with simplicity everything has to be right.

  • I can fall in love with someone who understands exactly how I want it!

The serving tray Divine, which she designed for Victoria (Sweden's crown princess) and Daniel's (her husband) wedding was to have stems that were 6,5 milimeters thin. Precisely. Neither more, nor less. Erika Lagerbielke is often called "the queen of table glassware" due to her ability to design glasses that capture a large audience and maintain its popularity for decades.

Beauty and functionality. A good example is the Intermezzo series, the glass with the magical cobalt blue drop of air in the stem.

Production began thirty years ago and it is still a big seller. However, if the master blower had been not been so stubborn and disobedient, the glass would never have come to fruition.

Erika was inspired by antique 1700s glass, where the cup often ended with a trapped air bubble in the stem. She wanted to try and with the craftsmanship of the glass workers they were able to obtain a glass with a bubble. However, when she proudly unveiled the glass to a friend, the friend could hardly notice the bubble.

It obviously wasn't as clear to others as it was to Erika. If you could color the bubble, she thought, then it would be apparent. One of the craftsmen became enthusiastic about the idea and wanted to try right away. It proved to be very tricky, but he did not give up. When a supervisor noticed his attemps he was ordered to cease.

  • It's not possible. Nothing will come of it, he said. Too much technical development.

Secret project

The story of the Intermezzo could have ended there if the glass blower had not been more stubborn than obedient. On evenings and weekends he snuck up to the glassworks.

  • He also had a burning desire for development in the glassworks and for new ideas, says Erika.

The project continued in secret for several months as soon as the glassworks was empty. Eventually, one late night with the help of a newly manufactured tool, suddenly there stood a wine glass. With a gracious blue air bubble in the stem. Carefully, he packed the glass in an old grocery bag and went home. He had succeeded!

The day after he presented the forbidden glass to the CEO who became enthusiastic. On the spot he decided that the glass would go into production. Intermezzo became a success and today the drop can also be found in black or white.

Erika has often said that "everything I know about glass lives in that drop".

  • It has taught me that it is possible to do things that no one else thought was possible. To push the boundaries. For Erika it is also an example what can be achieved when everyone is committed and exceed their expectations.

Dry land swimming in beer

  • I now know that “it can’t be done", really means “it has never been done before".

Erika Lagerbielke is stimulated by the analysis of the users’ needs, but thinks that industrial design is so much more than only expediency.

  • There is something beyond mere usefulness, she says. I want the glass to satisfy all the senses.

With the help of skilled beer and wine connoisseurs, Erika explored how different glasses should look as to best enhance the drink’s aroma and taste. A beer glass is not just a beer glass. The more she studied, the more nuances she found. For many years she has tasted and smelled, and tasted again.

  • I can dry land swim in beer at this point.

The interest for beer has grown tremendously in recent years and beer drinkers wishes have become more refined. This imposes new challenges and Erika sees it as her duty to understand those needs and design different types of glasses for different types of beers.

An Indian Pale Ale, for example, should not be served in the same glass as a pilsner or lager. The Beer Taster glass is specially designed for an Indian Pale Ale. It has a tester glass shape that is not very big, as the beer is often very tasteful and strong in alcohol content. A round shape that enhances the fullness. A straight opening so that all eventual yeast aromas dissipate, as ale is top fermented.

A lager, however, is best served in the Beer Lager glass. It is a large cone shaped glass that goes inwards at the mouth to preserved the flowerly hops.

The glasses should also speak to our tactile needs, feel interesting and pleasant to hold. Have balance.

Even though Erika Lagerbielke has a strong passion for industrial design and is driven to meet the consumer’s needs, glass art fullfills an important purpose for her.

  • It is then that I can do as I want to and express myself. Use the other half of the brain, she says. There, I do not need to analyse as much.

She works more intuitively and tries to follow the glass’s own movements.

  • I like to have it the way I want it, but the road there can take different paths and have different processes.

Today, Erika Lagerbielke can call herself a professor of glass design, and amongst other things, teaches design line at Linné University in Växjö, Sweden.

By Eva-Pia Worland (translated by Kosta Boda Art Gallery)