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Howard Smith: “Flowers bring a peaceful element to the fabric”

  • Art
  • interior architecture
  • Textile design

The 1960s brought a new wave to Finnish textile design. American artist Howard Smith started designing patterns for Vallila Interiors – and the big flowers are in fashion again. Smith tells Weekly why he named the tulips after Miriam Makeba.

“Howard, how about making a few patterns for us?”

In 1967 the artist Howard Smith came to the Vallila Silk Factory for a meeting with Rudi Berner. Berner, the son of the founder Otto Berner, was in the process of taking the lead of the factory, and a fresh creative wave was taking place in the company.

Rudi Berner wanted to renew the interiors of the factory office and met with Smith to discuss it. The suggestion to design prints was a total surprise to Smith. He had never designed printed patterns, though textiles as material were familiar to him. That same year his first appliqué exhibition was held at the Artek shop in Helsinki.

Smith started working for the Vallila Silk Factory, and in 1968 he designed 25 patterns for the factory’s collection, half of which went to production. He chose timely big abstract patterns and intensively colourful flower motifs. The collection was a success.

“I have always been fond of nature, flowers gave me an excuse to pass my passion to the public. Flowers were beautiful and brought the feeling and smell of the land and the sound of birds. Flowers have not played a role in human aggression, so they brought a peaceful aspect to the design,” Smith shared with Weekly.

One of the patterns got named after the singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba. The tulip drawn with bold black lines is still in production.

Makeba curtain. Photo Kreetta Järvenpää.“I was very fond of Makeba, I like her music and she made an excellent choice in her movement. I thought of giving her name to some of the things I did. And Rudi liked the idea.”

The fabrics were sold by the meter, but since the print pattern repeat was always 2.5 meters, which was the standard ceiling height in Finland in the architecture of that time, fabrics were often bought as panels of this length.

During the 70s the Vallila Silk Factory created a new vision. Smith even designed the logo written in uppercase, VALLILA.

Rudi Berner later said: “Working with Howard opened my eyes, and I learned to judge what is good design, and what isn’t.”

Howard Smith, 92, lives in Fiskars and follows the blossoming of the spring flowers.

Watch here Howard Smith – Short Film by director Nina Pulkkis for Fotoni Film & Communications.

This post was done in collaboration with Vallila Interiors, but all of the ideas and editorial content are our own. Like everything at Helsinki Design Weekly, our partner content is carefully curated to make sure it is relevant to our readers.

Source: Jussi Suomala: Howard Smith (Like, 2008)

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