Pages 184 to 189.
he joiner who played violin
One of the best 20th century Swedish designers, Bruno Mathsson never ceased to live in his hometown of just 20.000 inhabitants. Part of his furniture can be found in São Paulo.
The Swedish Bruno Mathsson (1907-1988) was born joiner. He learned woodworking with his father, Karl, who was master on the craft in the small town of Värnamo. As a child, when he was far away from the hammer and nails, he used to play the violin, fond of compositions by Tchaikovsky, and lay in fluffy snow just to feel like the body struggled there. Working with his father made Mathsson developed a profound knowledge of wood structure. Maybe that's why he has become the man who more radically incorporated the ideal of modern functionality in Sweden.
Part of the great furniture created by Mathsson is present into the gallery Passado Composto, a mix of shop and design gallery located in the neighborhood of Jardins, in São Paulo. Graça Bueno, owner of the space, says: "I chose the pieces for their lightness, strength, comfort and beauty, qualities which justify his title as best Swedish designer of the 20th century". But Mathsson inheritance is not just a Swedish history. It's a history for all of us. ‘’
A competent disciple of Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), he created armchairs, chairs and stools of meandering arms and legs, which respected the curvature of the body. Some people claim that he was the first designer to think the ergonomics of furniture. He gave feminine names to many of his pieces, as the chair Eva (1941), the armchair Miranda (1942), the stools Ana (1945) and the chaise longue Pernilla (1945).
Built only with plugins (without fastening elements, like nails), the pieces remember in some ways the Lego toy system, created in Denmark in the 1950´s. Heloisa Dallari, architect and Professor of Art History, says that the comparison is possible, but highlights: "he searched the ideal curve of wood, creating traces of an organic furniture in a very particular style". Meticulous and thorough, the joiner-designer laminated wood with water (at that time it was common to use steam instead, which was a faster process), which assured the production of absurdly strong furniture and lightness in design. At the time, Mathsson´s creations were not easily accepted. One of his first chairs earned the nickname Grasshopper (1931). Designed to attend and order from the Hospital of Värnamo, who wanted something modern and genuinely Swedish to decorate their waiting room, it didn´t make success at first. They seemed comfortable but without springs neither upholstered.They were too innovative for that time and, in the end were put in the attic of the institution.
The failure not blocked Mathsson´s creativity. His projection from the small Värnamo (in the South of the country, today with some 20,000 inhabitants) to the world occurred in 1937, the year Mathsson exhibited at the Paris World Fair, strongly impacting the public. Two years later he was represented in MoMa, New York. The Swedish modern furniture surpassed the borders and many other exhibitions took place in the sequence. Despite the fame beyond-Värnamo, Mathsson never left the town where he was born.
His life choice didn´t make him an isolated man. On the contrary, he maintained contact with designers from all over the world, which resulted in works that went down in history as the table Ellipse (1968), created in partnership with the Danish mathematician Piet Hein. Although his furniture did not follow fashion, as happened in the American industry, he was aware of the American production. In the 1940´s, Mathsson went to US to examine closely the projetcts created by people that were already important in architecture and design in the “new world”. These were projects by Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Walter Gropius (founder of the German Bauhaus) and Hans Knoll (from the mark Knoll).
This experience was so remarkable that, after it, Mathsson designed his own house in Värnamo, which until now holds his violins and the Tchaikovsky classic disks. Before this project, the designer and his wife, Karen, used to live in pensions to artists. Placed on the edge of a Lake, the House construction is a mix of wood, concrete and large glazing. Casings are thin, giving an aspect of a house for giant picks or an assemble game – a project of a subtle essence, similar in nature to the proposal of Mathsson´s furniture. "The house brings nature into it. In a country extremely cold, the combination of wood and nature represents a psychological comfort ", says Heloísa Dallari. This House was the first of more than 40 projects he did for houses, schools and hospitals in Sweden, Denmark, Portugal and Japan.
Obstinate, stubborn and intelligent, the craftsman who turned designer and a prestigious architect had a simple aesthetic concept, but demanding. "Throughout the work of Mathsson, whether in furniture, whether in architecture, the combination of beauty and shape as a function", says Heloisa Dallari. Mathsson was tireless. He wrote series of books and, even in advanced age, accompanied with enthusiasm the beginning of the digital era. "He was around 80 years old when he designed a line of office furniture which had the qualities of the furniture of the future", she says. The inheritance left by him doesn't seem to be just a Swedish matter, but a history to all of us.