Tapio Wirkkala was born on 2 June 1915 in the southern Finnish port city of Hanko. He went to school in Helsinki. His father was an artist and Tapio studied sculpture at the Central School of Applied Arts, specialising in woodwork. During those years, Finland was breathing the fresh air of independence.
Tapio began work as a graphic designer but was called up for the army. Whilst on leave he met the young ceramicist Rut Bryk and the couple were married at the end of the war. An impoverished Finland embarked on a project to change the country’s design style, in a democratic and indigenous key: “More beautiful everyday products”. Between 1946 and 1985 Tapio designed glassware in the old Iittala glassworks factory.His revolutionary methods involved him in following each phase in person, often creating the glassblowing moulds himself.
During that period he was primarily inspired by Finnish mythology and the forest.
In 1947 he designed the country's banknotes and in 1951 he curated and designed the Finnish section at the 9th Triennale di Milano, achieving great success and winning three Grand Prix. This was a breakthrough for Finnish design, turning Iittala for its glasswork, Arabia for its ceramics, and Artek for its furniture into international household names.