This past week Cooper-Hewitt kicked off Design by Hand, a special program running from fall 2013 through spring 2017, sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels. This exciting new series focuses on the craftsmanship, innovations, and merits of contemporary global designers. Workshops and talks connect university students, high school students, adults, and families with design.

Each week spotlights an innovative design firm, beginning with iconic Finnish brand Marimekko. The team from Finland arrived at Cooper-Hewitt Design Center with brightly colored swatches of fabric to cover the worktables and benches, transforming the room into a pattern paradise.

Aino-Maija Metsola (illustrator and graphic designer), Mika Piirainen (fashion designer), and Sami Ruotsalainen (ceramics and product designer) led hands-on workshops for teenagers, college students, and adults, focusing on the processes and inspiration behind some of Marimekko’s bold and colorful designs.

Each workshop began with some words from Jeremiah Tesolin, Brand Development Manager for Marimekko, who set the scene by explaining the history and ethos of the firm. Mika, Sami, and Aino-Maija then showed slides of their designs, and talked about the inspiration behind their work. Sami showed pictures of summer picnics and delicious dinners, reflecting his love of cooking, and spoke about how particular colors or ideas found their way into sketches of shapes and colorways for his designs. Mika talked about using prints on different scales in his fashion designs, and told stories about (sometimes disastrous) photo shoots. Aino-Maija showed slides of pictures from her sketchbooks, as well as gorgeous images of her home island, where much of her inspiration comes from.

This personal approach to design fed into a series of hands-on workshops: teenagers made mood boards using collage materials and Marimekko fabrics, mimicking the process the designers use themselves in their studios. The college students experimented with wrapping 2-D and 3-D forms with pattern, using Marimekko fabrics in their unique designs. The workshop for adults focused on how designers find inspiration, how they use their surroundings, travels, and popular culture to influence their work.

I enjoyed hearing from the designers about how they each got into his and her particular field, and how their different individual styles and ways of working all feed into the general aesthetic of Marimekko. It was fascinating to see that designs as striking and visually diverse as Marimekko’s all start with the hand: a kernel of an idea turns into a sketch, which develops into a pattern, which then gets printed on a grand scale. The idea of that journey from the hand of the designer to the final product–whether it’s a dress, teapot, pillow, or a piece of jewelry–is so significant in our world of rapid technological advancement. Something that is designed and made by hand has intrinsic value, not just because of the object itself, but because of the intention, the process, and the human experience that went into its creation.

Before the week began I was already a great fan of the bright and lively patterns of Marimekko, and having the incredible opportunity to work with their team and learn more about how these designs come to exist only increases my appreciation for the care and thought that goes into their creation. I am looking forward to the next Design by Hand collaboration in spring 2014 with Heath Ceramics, and encourage everyone to come and participate!


Photos: Angela Jimenez, © Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

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