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Esteri Tomula

Esteri Tomula

(October 31 1920 - April 18, 1998)

  • Worked at Arabia from 1947 to 1984. She started as a painter in the porcelain department and became a decoration designer in 1963. She also made decorations for Wärtsilä’s Finel Enamel dishes.
  • Was a skilled and prolific decorator, and made around 150 unique decorations, mainly for dishware.
  • Designed hand-painted, screen-printed, and mixed technique designs (e.g. copper printing and hand painting). She also designed some dish models, such as the Botanica vases and Marja salt shakers.
  • Best known for decorations inspired by Finnish plants. Her most beloved and collected decorations include Pomona, Kehäkukka and Valmu.
  • Taught porcelain painting at the Toimela Free College, Helsinki for over 30 years.
Valmu, Esteri Tomula, 1965-1970
Valmu, Esteri Tomula, 1965-1970

An abnormally short stature limited Esteri Tomula's life choices. She specialised in porcelain painting and decorative art at the University of Art and Design, as the handling of heavy clay would not have been possible for her. It almost looked as if the fingers of her very short hands were missing joints. Problems that her hindered movement however, did not stop her drawing, designing, and painting. She was never discouraged by her disability.

Harlequin miniature vases, 1953
Harlequin miniature vases, 1953

Esteri Tomula, or ‘Essu’ among friends, was a wholly committed and skillful decorative designer. As an artist Tomula was not deterred even by the puritanical trends of 50’s design, when design ideals were guided by minimalism and functionality. “Inappropriate” decorations, according to her, were their own area of delight, which were not to be ignored.

Myrtilla (Blueberry), 1959-1962
Myrtilla (Blueberry), 1959-1962

Tomula drew continuously and her composition skills, lines, and eye for colour were unmatched. Early miniature designs of harlequins and other funny figures and hand-painted ornaments are often mentioned, but only a small fraction of these made it to production. After the rejection of a design, she always moved on to the next, trusting in her vision and her brush.

Satuprinsessa (Fairytale Princess) childrens' set, 1953-1957
Satuprinsessa (Fairytale Princess) childrens' set, 1953-1957

The charm of Tomula’s decorations lies in the art of hand drawing. The artists of her era did not have access to computers, decorations were not copied, cut or pasted. Tomula’s style is incredibly elegant thanks to the skillful hand-drawn line, delicate as a strand of hair. The lines she drew are lively, imaginative, reminiscent of the magic of botanical or children’s storybook illustrations.

Hand-painted miniature plates, 1950's
Hand-painted miniature plates, 1950's

A good example of this is the practical and popular Maustekuvat spice jar series, which included texts and drawings of spice plants (1968).

The goal of the decoration was to complement the shape of the dish. For example she designed the Flora decoration with delicate spring flowers for a solid stoneware series. The first flowers of the spring offered lightness and fragility as a counterbalance to the strong and heavy stoneware.

Varpu big cup & saucer, 1970-1973, used as a vase
Varpu big cup & saucer, 1970-1973, used as a vase

When viewed up close, you suddenly notice how the illustrations are made up of really adorable little lines, dots, balls, twists, and shadows. They are like little poems. They are bursting with personality and insight. Esteri Tomula saw the big in the small, and this made her a truly brilliant artist.

Veera, 1969-1973
Veera, 1969-1973

Music, especially ballet, opera and literature were close to Tomula’s heart, as was discovering new places. The temperamental and lively Tomula was given the nickname ‘Grand Duchess’ by her friends on a trip to St. Petersburg, where her friends had to carry her up the stairs of the Hermitage Art Museum. The world of music was also a source of inspiration for decorations, and many decorations have names related to music or dance, such as Pizzicato or Katrilli. Indeed, Tomula was skilled at creating patterns that had a rhythmic and playful feel, like the bouncy polka dots of the Kartano series.

Kesä (Summer), 1957-1961
Kesä (Summer), 1957-1961

The admiration achieved by Tomula’s decorations and the desire to collect them is easily understood, when you examine her decorations more closely. Esteri spent her summers at the family's summer home in Urjala, southwestern Finland. The summer landscape, plants in the garden and the expanse of wheat fields inspired and fuelled her imagination. The beauty of her designs lies precisely in the soft colors inspired by the natural world and the abundance of small details. They are like portals to the miniature world of plants. The great thing about Tomula's decorations is that even a familiar coffee cup always reveals new wonderful details about itself.

Vegeta (Vegetables), 1961-1969
Vegeta (Vegetables), 1961-1969

The late 60s and 70s brought with it a trend for large and colorful patterns, and was in many ways the golden age of decorative design. But have you ever looked more closely at some of Tomula’s screen-printed decorations, such as Gardenia, Aurinko or Vegeta? There is always somewhere hidden in them, almost like a signature, that delicate thin line characteristic of Tomula’s work.

Arabia 100 years, 1974 (with the saucers) and Esteri, 2017- (on the package)
Arabia 100 years, 1974 (with the saucers) and Esteri, 2017- (on the package)

Arabia Esteri and several other of her retro designs have been brought back in production, but are nowadays made in Thailand.

Esteri Tomula created a catalog of Arabia dishes based on Finnish plants, which evoke feelings and memories in many people. They tell us something about who we Finns are and what kind of nature and flora surrounds us. Tomula’s popular collectible decorations are the Botanica and Rosa series, which include a total of 36 wildflowers, 12 forest berries and 7 roses. These decorative motifs were made on small wall plates or vases.

Tiina’s Insight

Astialiisa’s store in Helsinki has twice held exhibitions of Esteri Tomula's work. A book, Keräilijän Aarteet - Rakastetut Arabian astiat koristelijana Esteri Tomula (Collector's Treasures - Beloved Arabia dishes decorated by Esteri Tomula) was also created from our exhibition, which featured the collection of Reijo Qvintus and other private collectors. Of course, much of the collection has already been sold, but my heart beats faster, when I see Esteri’s decorations and remember meeting Esteri’s friends and family.

I want to share my love for these designs with our online customers also. We regularly add popular Tomula designs to our webshop, however due to Tomula’s huge popularity availability is very limited, so if you want Esteri Tomula in your home, seize the opportunity!

Daisy, 1964-1974, Did you know that Esteri Tomulas best friend's name was Daisy?
Daisy, 1964-1974, Did you know that Esteri Tomulas best friend's name was Daisy?

“Esteri Tomula saw the big in the small, and this made her a truly brilliant artist.“

Top series from designer Esteri Tomula you must get to know:

  • Flora - wild flower spring in a cup
  • Krokus – start your morning like a beautiful spring
  • Asta and Hillevi - incredible feats of hand-painting
  • Botanica wall plates - make your home a garden (coming soon!)
  • Timotei - a refined style inspired by a most common plant (seeing something big in something small)

Sources :

Designmuseum.fi

Armi Heinonen, Antti Nuotio, Hannele Nyman, Esteri Tomula Arabia 1947-1984, 2004, Design Museum Foundation & Esteri Tomula Foundation

Helena Leppänen, Keräilijän Aarteet - Rakastetut Arabian astiat koristelijana Esteri Tomula (Collector's Treasures - Beloved Arabia dishes decorated by Esteri Tomula), 2013, Helsinki: Wsoy.

Heljä Liukko-Sundström, Marjatta Pauloff, & Olli Vasa, Keramiikkataiteilija Esteri Tomula (obituary), Helsingin Sanomat newspaper. 17/5/1998.

Pirkko Vekkeli, Esteri Tomulan rehevät kasvikuviot ovat aina muodissa, Meillä Kotona magazine online, 04/03/2019.

Kehäkukka (a marigold flower) 1965-1970, at the Astialiisa's shop in Helsinki
Kehäkukka (a marigold flower) 1965-1970, at the Astialiisa's shop in Helsinki

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