Upsala-Ekeby vase

Sven Erik Skawonius was a remarkable Swedish artist, painter, set designer, craftsman and ceramic designer. His work is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He and Anna-Lisa Thomson were the first artists hired by the Swedish firm

in the 1930s to modernize and bring artistry to their ceramic design. Their work was to transform Scandinavian design and craft. During the 1940s, Upsala added two more greats: Ingrid Atterberg and Mari Simmulson. In 1953, Skawonius was promoted to the artistic director. He created this beautiful shape and design in 1954. The 50s were the greatest decade for Upsala-Ekeby, brilliance and innovation appearing everywhere in their output.

This vase is a deep, satin brown, wonderfully rich and elegant. The angular shape and zig-zag sgraffito pattern is very 50s, the era when science and new technology were surprising everyone. The inner glaze is a satin off-white, beautifully understated.

The vase is 8″ (20.3 cm) high, only 1.75″ (4.5 cm) in diameter at the mouth, 4″ (10 cm) at its widest point, slimming down quickly to 2″ (5 cm) at the base. It is marked “UE / Sweden / 817 / ses (Sven Erik Skawonius)” on the base.

Upsala-Ekeby AB was founded in 1886, in a factory located at No. 2 Bondkyrko, in Ekeby, Sweden, part of the city of Uppsala (the founders used the older spelling, Upsala). Three families joined in the enterprise: von Barr, Ekstrand and Holm. They began making brick and tile for the beautiful traditional Swedish stoves. But in the 20s and 30s, tile stoves began to go out of fashion, to be replaced by central heating. Upsala-Ekeby began to imitate the domestic ceramics being created elsewhere in Europe. But in the 1930s, consumers in Sweden were looking something stylish and new for their homes; the decision was made to hire innovative artists to raise the artistic quality of the company’s ceramic production.

The new designs were very successful and the company began buying local competitors as it grew. In the 30s, the company won design awards around the world for their inexpensive and popular ceramics. More artists were added to the mix in the 40s and a period of great creativity began, culminating in the 50s under the direction of Skawonius. He felt strongly that every domestic item should have a classic design. In 1951 he wrote, “Even if you do not eat in the kitchen, the pot or saucer are often moved directly from the stove to the table, increasing the importance of their shape and appearance.” He saw industrial design as part of “a love triangle between the producer, the artist and the buyer.”

In the 60s, Upsala-Ekeby bought large competitors Rorstrand, Reijmyre, and Kosta Boda. Cheaper, mass-produced products took a toll on UE. As less art pottery was produced, the artists who were so instrumental in creating the company began to leave. The 1970s were not kind to UE; companies so recently purchased were sold, art pottery production ceased in 1973 and the ceramics factory closed in 1978. The ownership group struggled on until the 1980s when the various companies were sold.