Exhibition explores Nordic influence on Canadian artisans and designers

The Gardiner Museum presents the landmark exhibition True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, exploring more than seven decades of Nordic influence on Canadian artisans and designers.

True Nordic reveals how Canadian makers sought to create objects that would transmit ideas about place and the character of Canadian society,” says exhibition co-curator Michael Prokopow, Associate Professor and Dean of Graduate Studies at OCAD University.

The first exhibition of its kind, True Nordic features over 100 works by more than 60 designers including Kjeld and Erica Deichmann, Carl Poul Petersen, Karen Bulow, The Brothers Dressler, and Heidi Earnshaw. The works reflect a simple yet vital Scandinavian aesthetic tied to natural forms, materials, and imagery, and a desire to create attractive, functional objects.

Glenny. Photo courtesy of Gardiner Museum.
Glenny. Photo courtesy of Gardiner Museum.

“What is so remarkable is that visitors will be able to see Scandinavian-inspired ceramics, furniture, glass, textiles, pewter, and silver together in a single exhibition. It’s a rare treat,” says exhibition co-curator Rachel Gotlieb, Adjunct Curator of Contemporary Ceramics at the Gardiner Museum.

The exhibition was designed by Andrew Jones, the Canadian designer behind the whimsical pink umbrellas on Toronto’s Sugar Beach. For True Nordic, Jones drew inspiration from the boreal forest—a dominant feature of both the Canadian and Scandinavian landscapes—using the image of the enveloping forest as a backdrop.

The show is organized around a large, U-shaped plinth, which directs visitors in a chronological path around the outside of the gallery. Atop the plinth sit three long sections of kraft-paper “softwall” created by the Canadian design company molo. The three sculptural walls form undulating alcoves for the display of furniture, referencing Alvar Aalto’s internationally influential Finnish pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

As visitors move through the show, they will encounter three sections, each made up of a range of artifacts, from pottery, to furniture, to large-scale textiles. The journey leads to a large inner alcove, which houses the final, contemporary design section. Spaces between the serpentine walls allow vintage and contemporary works to be glimpsed together, reinforcing the exhibition’s stylistic themes and their connections across time.

Mcleod. Photo courtesy of Gardiner Museum.
Mcleod. Photo courtesy of Gardiner Museum.

Notable works include Mariette RousseauVermette’s large wall tapestry Hiver canadien from the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, a rare Harold Stacey silver service from the National Gallery of Canada, and a stunning samovar by Carl Poul Petersen from the McCord Museum, commissioned by Edgar and Saidye Bronfman.

The exhibition also features historical photographs and videos of artisans at work from the 1950s, as well as the NFB short film The Story of Peter and the Potter, starring Kjeld and Erica Deichmann, Canada’s first full-time studio potters.

True Nordic will be on display at the Gardiner until January 8, 2017, before travelling to the New Brunswick Museum from March 3 to September 5, 2017, and the Vancouver Art Gallery from October 21 2017 to January 21, 2018. Visit www.gardinermuseum.com for more information.