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It is with striking warmth that he speaks of the cold.
About northern Karelen in Finland, directly on the border with Russia.
From there he sees water in all directions and glittering ice during the winter. Here, Martii Rytkönen is enchanted by the clarity and purity, of shiny surfaces and translucency.
Orrefors Kosta Boda 2014.
One of his sculptures is a massive crystal cube that balances elegantly on a corner’s edge. Some exact cuts in the glass create endless variations and reflections depending from what angle you see it from. This is why it is called “Angle". Simple and clean. It could have been made of ice.
Martti Rytkönen is the clear master of glass. When he uses color it is transparent.
The glass workers gather around him in the glassworks. Martti sketches enthusiastically.
The artisans will give his sketches a body, not just with three dimensions, rather a body with four. Because when the completed crystal surface gets a shine or etched detail a forth dimension appears.
It is a long way from Karelen, Finland to Kosta in Småland. However, Martti’s own journey is significantly longer.
The year is 1967, he is in the village school in Llomantsi. He is 7 years old and restless. He just wants out. Out to fish! He wants to sit there in silence, alone with his fishing pole. Not sit in the classroom and fill his notebook with numbers.
-A one was the toughest number to write, recalls Martti. I could not make it straight. Why does it have to be straight? I thought. Couldn’t it bend a little in different directions?
The great solitude
It is drawing and music that he is the best at. Language as well.
His family lives in a small house with a view of the water in all directions.
It is like living on an island. With so much water all around, he often sees rainbows arching over the lakes and marvels at their colors.
Out there is the real world for Martti. He talks about the “great solitude". The one he willingly seeks and becomes humbled by nature’s grandeur.
-I must go to the great solitude quite often, he says.
Martti now stands in the heat with his colleagues in the workshop. They are making color samples for “Oval", a vase that Martti is working on. Clear glass, and translucent purple and green. However, he is not satisfied with the tone. They start over.
Good communication on the floor of the glassworks is crucial. If it does not work, it does not matter how good the sketches are. It was tough in the beginning. When he came to Orrefors twenty years ago he spoke Swedish fluently, but the language in Småland was from a different planet.
-They hollered something in Småland’s dialect at me and I said: what? Someone else hollered something else and I said: what?
In the glassworks, they didn’t think that he understood Swedish very well, so they began speaking louder and slower with him in a simplified language. However, he learned the Småland dialect also.
Back to Karelen, 1967.
Martti is the second youngest of seven children. His father is a lumberjack and raftsman, his mother takes care of the home and children. They have a cow, a dog, a cat and grow their own potatos and some vegetables. They pick mushrooms and berries in the woods and they fish. Mom’s fish soup is a favorite.
-And Karelian pies filled with potatos! Sautéed vendace! Have you tasted it? Ah, it’s so good. Martti disappears into a food memory. Rufous milkcap mushrooms fried with onions! Why don’t you eat Rufous milkcaps in Sweden? He brushes off the fact that it is seen as poisonous. It’s just a matter of parboiling.
Death during skiing
Ilomastsi means “the happy village". The winters, however, can be very long in Karelen and can be bitterly cold. He knows how the snow looks when it’s a blistering 30 below and every breath hurts.
Martti, who always perceives things inwardly, sees that the sparkles glisten in different colors.
In order to maintain the heat in the cabin they shoveled the snowdrifts up against the side of the outer walls.
There are ice crystals growing up the inside of the windows in magical patterns.
How do they produce such beautiful patterns?
When the full moon shines, they sometimes put on their skis and glide across the lake in the middle of the night. For Martti, these nights are magical. However, also frightening enough to where the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Death lies in the frozen waters beneath their skis. The Russian soldiers who were stopped right here in Ilomantsi during the Second World War. Their spirits walk again. There are also those who claim to have seen a man with a horse and carriage in the woods at night.
Legends, anecdotes, rainbows and ice. Howling wolves and ice crystals. Patterns on the windowpane, sparkles from the snow, and everything else that he studies will curiously set the foundation in his glass. However, he doesn’t know this. He is simply taking in the world.
Martii packs everything with him when he leaves Karelen for Sweden to work in health care. Eventually he will bring the stories back to life again. He will get the ice to burn, capture the crystals and get rainbows to dance at Orrefors glassworks.
However, not in his wildest dreams could he, a simple rafter’s son from Karelen, become a successful glass artist and designer.
In the evenings he attends a pottery class at an adult education facility and discovers the joys of shapes and dimensions.
One day an old piece of paper falls out of his jacket pocket. It is an ad for artistic program at Kykerud’s folk high school in Värmland (located on the west coast of Sweden, near Oslo, Norway). Of course. Why not try. He applies and gets in.
Will not fit in my own skin
For two years he develops his painting and works mostly with ceramics. Afterwards, he applies for the ceramics and glass program at Konstfack, but has strong doubts in his ability.
-I wasn’t even going to pick up the registered letter with the answer, he says. It felt completely meaningless. However, a friend forced me to.
He had gotten in.
The education included a shorter period of internship at Orrefors glassworks. It was there and then that Martii fell in love.
-The glass seduced me right away, he says. It is the light. How it breaks and reflects. It lives its own life. You can never fully control it. Think of glass with air bubbles in it! They stay there for thousands of years. Same air! Maybe there are voices incapsulated in the bubbles which can be freed one day?
At Orrefors Martii gets to make use of his storytelling. His thesis is a large dish in clear glass, “En dag i Hagaparken" (a day in Haga park), in which he engraves images from his diary entries. He wins a competition with the dish and is awarded a scholarship. When he has his graduation exibition he is offered to continue working at Orrefors.
-What a tremendous joy! I could not understand it! All my stress was released. The pressure that you have to go out and make a name for yourself.
He is suddenly standing in the glassworks and is now colleagues with well known glass artists to whom he has looked up to. His first production is a small greeting to Karelen. The Volfie series with etched wolves.
After some time he goes on a signing tour in the USA. Martii is proud. Calls home and says that he is now in Beverly Hills.
Mom’s first question: - Have you eaten?
The color samples now seem to be on the right track. The glass needs to be cooled, then it can be seen.
Martii is uplifted/overjoyed/fulfilled after hours in the glassworks. Takes a few dance steps on the paved yard.
-Oh, it’s so much fun! I cannot fit in my own skin!
He is always carrying his sketchpad with him. Nature is abundant with images that can be converted to glass.
There are dreams that he wants to realize. One is to place a large glass sculpture in a secret place deep in the woods. Maybe a gigantic Angle? In an opening where the light suddenly pierces through the branches and it is just there. Powerful and brilliant in the purest of glass. There is moss and a little moisture. Fog. Those who are lucky enough to see it should feel chosen and awed, full of clarity and light. In the great solitude.
By Eva-Pia Worland (translated by Kosta Boda Art Gallery)