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Carl-Harry Stålhane Swedish Midcentury Ceramist

January 17, 2022

Carl-Harry Stålhane (1920-1990) was born in the town of Mariestad, in the west of Sweden. As a child, he dreamed of being a successful painter. He started working for Rorstrand in neighboring Lidkoping at the age of 18. Initially, he decorated ceramic wares as assistant for the leading artist Gunnar Nylund. Carl-Harry decorated Rorstrand’s exclusive Flambé range as well as producing idyllic floral designs.

The managing director of Rorstrand soon became aware of the abilities of his young decorator. When the prominent Swedish artist Isaac Grünewald came to Rorstrand to prepare some work for an exhibition in 1943, Carl-Harry was made Grünewald’s assistant. Grünewald’s art and his strong personality were to act as a source of inspiration for the rest of Carl-Harry’s life.

In the mid 1940s, Carl-Harry Stålhane began to develop his own stoneware. He had his first solo exhibition in 1948, impressing the public with an ability to work in most contemporary styles of stoneware. But after studying in Paris in the late 1940s, Carl-Harry found a style that was truly his own. Inspired by the hunger for new products to meet the post-war economic boom, he developed from being a gifted decorator to a first-rate ceramic artist.

He was praised for his “column-like, slender-necked stoneware vases with their peach surfaces”, as one magazine put it. Spurred on by a deep love of the ceramic wares of the Far East, Carl-Harry liberated himself from the European tradition of ceramics, finding inspiration in foreign cultures, in Picasso and in constructivist art.

The 1950s brought major successes: a diploma and a gold medal at Milan Triennials as well as solo exhibitions in Sweden, the UK and the USA. Carl-Harry commenced his career as an industrial designer in 1954. His Blanca tableware — in elegant white porcelain — was much in demand and gained him international prizes. He designed almost everything from numerous table sets decorations to rustic ashtrays.

Carl-Harry Stålhane’s production of unique ceramic works of art increased notably in the late 1950s. In 1960 he reached something of a peak with an exhibition at Galerie Blanche in Stockholm. The exhibition showed robustly dark wares that were hailed as the new ceramics of the sixties, a “rebellion against perfectionism”. These massive stoneware pieces, using local clays, were to characterize Carl-Harry’s work in the sixties.

This is a detail from “Dynamik” (1963), a large stoneware wall sculpture at the SAAB Headquarters in Trollhättan, Sweden.

The 1960s also brought commissions for public works of art. He found ways of expressing his art on walls and in space with a magnificent hybrid of stoneware and architecture.

Carl-Harry and his assistants produced major commissions for companies ranging from automobile manufacturers to sports arenas. His largest wall decoration, covering some 54×54 meters, portrays a rocky landscape. It was created for the Commerce Tower in Kansas City in 1964.

Carl-Harry Stålhane left Rorstrand in 1973 since he felt that the company no longer valued the artists. With a couple of colleagues he started Designhuset which was a ceramics studio sited in a former waterworks outside Lidkoping.

The new company rapidly produced a series of unique art ceramics as well as simpler wares for the home. Carl-Harry reached new heights as a ceramic artist with his spontaneous, calligraphic decor on porcelain and stoneware. During the early Designhuset years, Carl-Harry was still as vigorously professional as he had been at his debut almost forty years earlier “It is essential to be curious and adventurous in ones work”.

The last years of Carl-Harry’s life was marked by ill health and his youthful enthusiasm was less in evidence. He died in 1990 during his lunch break on a normal working day. Designhuset still lives on as a school where ceramists and model-makers are trained. Carl-Harry left a legend of high ceramic quality, magnificent creative design and brilliant craftsmanship.

Many thanks to Mother Sweden for the info on Carl-Harry, you can find a great selection of his work available to buy here on their site.

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