by Ann Westin
This book presents itself as an interview with Torun Bulow-Hube in both Danish with an English translation after each section, followed by many images from Torun's life as well as her works throughout her career, with many captions. Despite the wealth of information in these pictures, this article summarizes the main interview, conducted before its publication in 1993.
Torun was born in Malmo, the southern Swedish capital on Dec. 4th 1927, to an artistic lineage on her mother's side: her grandmother, a German singer, her grandfather, a famous Dusseldorf painter, and her mother a sculptor. Torun's mother had grown up in an environment nurturing creativity and a harmony with nature, hunting and sowing fields, fishing and generally living off the land, but filled with singing and painting, poetry and plays. It was here that Torun often spent her childhood summers. Her father, however was the Director of Town Planning in her home town, and her father's father build sailing ships in Gothenburg, from which she gained a technical perspective which would temper her mother's creative inventiveness. She was the youngest of four, each artistic in their own right. Her one sister, a poet, another and her brother architects.
Before Torun became the world's first internationally recognized female silversmiths, she spent her childhood mostly as a tomboy, playing football, ice skating, and the likes. Her sister Gunlog worked often in the Natural History Department of the Malmo Museum, and during her teen years had encouraged her to visit the silversmith Wiven Nilsson, where she first glimpsed at this wondrous medium. Clay offered little "resistance" to being worked with, yet silver still offered the ability to form the fluidity of curves reminiscent of her ice skating days, and 16 years old, whilst staying with her other sister, Sigrun, she visited one of her sister's friends, the silversmith, Sigurd Persson, she finally had decided that working with silver was what she wanted to do. She borrowed her mother's studio, and set up with a small blowlamp, and a tiny bit of silver, she started about her work, selling her pieces and buying more silver.
In 1945, whilst expecting her first child, a daughter, Pia. She had started at Konstfack, the School for Arts, Crafts, and Design in Stockholm, where she boarded with her brother, Staffan, whom was studying Architecture at the Royal Technical College at the time. She immediately formed a friendship with Lena Larsson, a well known interior designer, and took to her habits. The need to be there for her child kept her from finishing the course, however, and in 1948, when Torun's mother looked after Pia for the summer, Torun took to visiting Paris, where she met and became friends with a number of artists, including Pablo Picasso, the sculptor Brancusi, and others, forming the group, La boite a Ordures, and met the stage director, Gunilla Plamstierna-Weis, (now notable for working with Ingmar Bergen's plays). Afterwards she continued to learn her trade at Konstfack, under Erik Fleming, whom headed the silver department. It was durning this time that she experimented with cane and wire, and started creating unique necklaces, inspired by more African styled collars. Once she left Konstfack, she immediately start working with silver however. A high luxury tax made silver unaffordable, so she continued with what she started with the African necklaces, fashioning jewelry from brass wire, wood, cane, and what else she could find at hand. She set up her workshop in a small laundry room she had rented out, fitted with a lathe she purchased with money borrowed from a friend. At the time, money was tight, and she was now remarried, this time to a French architect, and had a second child, Claude.In 1952, she had been already displaying her jewelry in Paris, and 1954 to 1968 had a permanent display upon the Boulevard St. Germain. Later on she divorced her husband, and lost Claude due to a section in the Napoleonic Code. In 1956 she had settled down in Paris with her new husband, the Jazz musician, Walter Coleman.
During this period of her life she became actively social in many of the circles frequented by black intellectuals from America, and later moved from Paris to Biot. She was very productive during this period of her life, creating her pebble necklaces from collected stones she gathered along the Mediterranean, and designing sets of jewelry for her many famous friends. Her jewelry often went against the high culture of the times, rather than being extravagant pieces of gold and highly valued gems, displaying a husbands wealth, her jewelry often was designed for young women, whom after work could easily change out of their day wear and keep the same jewelry for more evening occasions. Rather than having the attention on the jewelry, Torun's jewelry would accentuate the woman herself, and often with more inexpensive or found materials, like quartz or freshwater pearls, rather than the jewelry of the time that often was so precious as to prohibit its day to day wear. Her jewelry also took on often times a sculptural aspect, necklaces that would twirl like a mobile when suspended by their highest point, fluid designs that seemed to "pour" and flow around the curves of a woman's body. It was perhaps primarily for this mobile necklace that in 1961 she had won the prestigious "Nobel Prize" of arts and crafts, The Lunning Prize, after taking a Gold Medal at the Triennial in Milan.
Later on she designed her ever so famous bangle watches for an exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs at the Louvre, where the theme was an "object you hate". Her abhorrence of time, and its relentless march forward had driven her to create a simple watch with no numbers, and in fact only a second hand: an object of timely function rendered into a mere ornament about the wrist! It's mirrored face was meant to simply reflect back the wearer's face, reminding them of the preciousness of this very second. It wasn't until Georg Jensen produced the watch in 1967, the first watch it ever put into production that the hour and minute hands were added, becoming one of her most notable designs. Later, due to the limitations of the bangle design, another version was created with a detachable leather strap.
Many of her designs would not see production however. Often her designs would be too strong or too severe for contemporary tastes. Also, often her pieces would be stolen from exhibitions or even from the customs offices in countries she visited! Because of the low monetary values placed upon the pieces themselves, they were taken by such officers as they thought them of little "value". A shoplifter once even stole one of her first watches from the exhibition itself! (He was eventually caught when he tried to sell the piece and it was recognized for what it was.)
Her jewelry sometimes displayed with Pablo Picasso's art, and often having visitors stay with her and her family, now including two more children, Ira and his younger sister Marcia. It was during this time she would often foster and take on apprentices amongst the Swedish silversmiths that would flock to the area.
By 1965, her marriage had fallen apart and in 1966, she had found her spirituality with the Subud movement. During these years her life was starting to fall apart around her, and it was fortunate for her to have Georg Jensen handle the production of her designs for her in 1967 and onwards. In 1968 she moved to Wolfsburg, Germany, and then in 1975 to Wendhausen to live closer to Subud. From then she started an artist group with Argentinian sculptor Rainer Anz, and focused on her art without the economic pressure she had currently experienced.
It was during this "German Period" she was most productive. Her designs had proliferated. In addition to the jewelry produced be Georg Jensen, she had her handbag designs produced in Florence, chinaware by Hutschenruether in Germany, and a flatware pattern for Dansk. In 1976 she designed her unisex pocketwatch, and her stunningly simple magnifier in 1978, the years she moved to Indonesia. Whilst there she continued her silver work, setting up a workshop and helped the local people create objects of beauty, and jewelry which in turn supported the local economy as a sort of social project. Living amongst such a culture also gave awareness of the materials in their natural forms, and in 1989, she had designed a gold necklace for Georg Jensen, made from locally panned gold, drawn and cut into individual rings, filed, soldered, and linked into a yard long chain, an intensely time consuming process utilized by more ancient civilizations but not done in the more modern world.
In 1992, she returned to Sweden for a retrospective of her life's work, and on November 2nd of the same year, she was awarded the Prince Eugen medal for outstanding artistic achievement during the same year. Later in the 90's she continued to design around the concept of spirals and fluidity of form. In 1997, she designed the "anatomically correct" flatware pattern, Vivianna, for Georg Jensen, with a fork designed much similar to a spoon, and the knife the first to rest on its cutting edge.