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"It works after all"

Päivitetty: 26. marrask. 2023

Photo: Majakaphotography

Markku Salo restored a 100-year-old hand press

– At least a hundred years old, says artist Markku Salo of a hand-press he found lying in a load to be taken to a landfill.

Those were the turbulent years of the Nuutajärvi glass village, when industrial factory production ceased and was replaced by self-employed glass professionals. The bewilderment was palpable as old machinery, equipment and moulds from the factory were destroyed. There was a partial justification for the landfill load, as Iittala, where the Nuutajärvi glass factory operations were transferred, had its own production facilities. Nuutajärvi's equipment that was designed for more handcrafted art glass might have been just left lying around. Some of it was also unusable at today's production rates. This was, perhaps, also the case with the hand press, as, nowadays, pressed glass is made much more efficiently with compressed air and automation.

Photo: Majakaphotography

However, Salo saw potential in the hand press, which is cast from strong cast iron. It was covered in rust but stood upright on its feet, having been dug out from among other scrap iron. He began tuning, cleaning, changing the positions of the blowtorches and renovating the mould guards.

What was so exciting about this 300 kg device?

– The application of the pressing technique to art glass was of immediate interest. My own experiences from the Nuutajärvi-Iittala days are well remembered, as I designed several pressed objects for the factory for mass production, but this technique is used very little on art glass, Salo says.

Photo: Marja-Leena Salo

The hand press was moved to Salo's study, where he had the peace and quiet to look at it. After many rusty and oily rags, the device started to look like itself. There was literally a palpable connection to somewhere far away, perhaps 19th century Nuutajärvi, as Salo cleaned exactly the same surfaces as the hand pressers would have done more than 100 years ago. Nuutajärvi was the first place in Finland to start manufacturing pressed glass, in 1851, and it is possible that the device in question dates from around that time.

– The museum has a similar one, Salo says, referring to the Prykäri Museum in Nuutajärvi

Photo: Majakaphotography

The first experiments in the hot shop were exciting, as none of the current operators had any experience with such an old device. More adjustments, mould modifications and, especially, experiments with temperatures followed.

– As with glass in general, temperature control is key to this technique. I tried a three-block mould, where all parts from the bottom plate to the plunger have to be at about the same temperature. It was a steep learning curve.

– The shapes of the product must also be suitable for this technology, Salo points out.

– The inner and outer shape of an object can be different. This is of particular interest, as it is not possible with the blowing technique.

Kuva: Majakaphotography

A three-person team turned out to be the right size: one collects the glass from the furnace and brings it to the press, another cuts the right amount of glass and presses it, and the third carries the product to the annealer. Finding a common rhythm is essential to make the work flow smoothly. We are on the verge of serial production, which is also quite rare among today's glassmakers. When they had gotten this far, the hand press was carted to Lasikomppania’s hot shop to wait for the shop days.

– Others will be able to use it as well, Salo promises.

Photo: Marja-Leena Salo

Then the first product was born, the Oma box. The shapes of the small, clear glass show the potential of pressed glass: the outer shape is architecturally straight-lined and the inner shape is round. The three-person team produced these boxes for the first time in September 2023 – the same year that Nuutajärvi turned 230 years old and Markku Salo has been working at Glass Village for 40 years.

In many ways, the Glass Village is experiencing a new heyday, with the largest community of glass professionals in Finland. The village also employs experts in other materials. Markku Salo's work as a designer at the Nuutajärvi glass factory developed over the years into a career as an independent artist. The Nuutajärvi Glass Village has provided the best possible setting for his work. This year, the village's 19th century buildings were joined by a new building when he designed and built his own studio. During his career, Salo has received international and national awards, and his works are included in several collections. More information:


Blog post written by: Marja-Leena Salo

The Arts Promotion Center Finland (Taike) supports Lasikomppania with its communication activities. Stay tuned for future blog posts from Lasikomppania, where we will be able to get to know all the individual artists, their news and their working methods. Subscribe to the newsletter (in Finnish) at the bottom of the page to receive new blog posts and other news from Lasikomppania!

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