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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Changing Seasons and 140 Years of Design History

       Kesä” & “Talvi” porcelain plates,  Heljä Liukko-Sundström (Arabia), 1980-1990, Gift of Dorothy E. A. Ramsland (1991.068.056a-b)

Green trees on a calm blue lake contrasted by rolling, snow-covered hills - the porcelain plates above, titled Talvi (left) and Kesä (right), or Winter and Summer, capture the changing seasons through the simple yet beautiful means. They were designed by Finnish ceramic artist Heljä Liukko-Sundström. She is one of the many designers that make up the Arabia Art Department Society, part of the Arabia Ceramics Company.

Arabia prides itself on being “a pioneer of Finnish design,” producing ceramic tableware that “express[es] timeless beauty, quality and practicality” (, 2015). The company was established on the outskirts of Helsinki, Finland in the 1870s – initially as part of a Swedish company. The company grew, employing 300 workers by 1895 (half of whom were women) and up to 2,000 during the first half of the 20th century. Arabiawas sold to Finnish owners during World War I, who worked to modernize the company. Innovations included not only new facilities and means of production, but also the establishment of the Arabia Art Department in the 1930s.

  The oldest Arabia piece in the GMD collection - Earthenware vase, Arabia, 1905-1910, Gift of Dr. Marion John Nelson (1982.007.004)

In the decades that followed, Arabia continued to bridge the divide between art and design – balancing beauty and function in their tableware. It has also served as a center for promoting Finnish design. The company opened a museum and gallery in 1984. Five years later, it created the Arabia Cultural Foundation to support the Art Department and the museum. The company once again showed its commitment to design in 2003, forming the Arabia Art Department Society, which “maintains and nurtures the cultural heritage of the Art Department” and promotes “the status of ceramic art in the current field of culture” (, 2015). Currently, the Art Department provides a workplace for over 20 designers from a variety of backgrounds.

Want to learn more about Arabia and its designs over the past 140 years? Go to