“I still touch clay every single day.”
“Welcome! Sorry, it’s a bit of a mess.”
Lisa Larson greeted us at the front door of her sophisticated home, tucked in the corner of suburban Stockholm. Since Lisa moved here in 1975, during her time at Gustavsberg porcelain, this house has been home to her private studio, where she still produces all her work. A short while back, Lisa let her granddaughter and her young family move in, which she says, “makes it hard to keep things tidy here.” The walls are lined with examples of her handiwork, ceramic figurines in her signature style, each of which has the power to grab your attention. “I still touch clay, every single day.” Although turning eighty-eight this year, Lisa said this as if it were a matter of course. Her smile was the picture of happiness.
“I’ve liked working with my hands since I was little. My sister and I would draw or cut things out of paper, sometimes sew. My father ran a sawmill. He used to bring home scraps for me, so I could play around and carve things. My mother died around the time that I was two, but I understand that she was an exceptional seamstress. My father was my biggest fan. He bought me paint and other art supplies. At art school, I was having a hard time choosing what to study, when I wound up getting put in a ceramics class. I think they had the space because it wasn’t very popular. Once we got moving, though, I started loving it. In ceramics, you can never be sure how a piece is going to come out until you fire it in the kiln. I was always so curious to see how the clay and glaze would transform in the process. If things go poorly, you simply try again...that really resonated with my personality.”
After graduating university, Lisa was offered a position at Gustavsberg porcelain, where she worked under the artistic director Stig Lindberg, an internationally renowned designer, and produced ceramic designs for a quarter of a century. Alongside Rörstrand, another Swedish company, and the Finnish company Arabia, Gustavsberg was part of a small group of mid-century manufacturers responsible for the golden age of Nordic ceramics. For her part, Lisa created such classic series as “Afrika,” which included her beloved lions; “Mia Katt,” one of her many cat characters; and “Stora zoo,” an assortment of animals.
“Everything I know about making ceramics I learned at Gustavsberg. It was like a second university education. Because Stig Lindberg was an artist in his own right, he let us designers make whatever we wanted to create. I also visited all kinds of museums, to educate myself about ceramics from all over the world. China, Japan, Africa...so many stunning examples of designs and methods that had never occurred to me. I always went home with new ideas. Not like I was copying what I saw, so much as digesting it, as best I could, and making something altogether new.”
Since going freelance in 1980, Lisa has enjoyed an even greater level of creative freedom. “At my studio,” she says, “I can lose myself in my work.” Everybody in her family has a hand in the arts. Her husband Gunnar, who she married at twenty-one, is a painter, while her oldest daughter Johanna works in graphic design, while doubling as her manager. Thanks to their support, Lisa continues to center her life around her work. Her creative impulse hasn’t faltered since she started making drawings with her sister as a child.
“I’m always brimming with ideas. If I lay down in bed and look up at the light fixture, I’ll start seeing different shapes. That’s why I always keep a notepad handy, to sketch things out, so later I can make a model. Sometimes I even pull the clay out in the middle of the night. Lisa opened a notebook full of different illustrations. “My son gave me a calligraphy set. I’ve been having fun practicing my calligraphy.” Never a dull moment in the life of Lisa Larson. Her collaboration with UNIQLO, which started in 2013, was the product of this playful lifestyle.
“First I talked things over with Johanna, then played around with a few different designs. I’ve been over to Japan twice now, and I love it. Plus, at this point, my whole family wears UNIQLO. The clothing is all simple and functional. Kind of reminds me of some of the styles we had back in the 1960s and 1970s. Talking with my family helps me get my projects off the ground. I couldn’t be more grateful, or more proud.”
- Lisa Larson
- Ceramicist. Born in 1931 in Härlunda in the province of Småland in the south of Sweden. In 1949, she entered Slöjdföreningens skola in Gothenburg (today, the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg). In 1954, she began working for Gustavsberg porcelain. Later, as the company’s star designer, she became a mainstay of the golden age of Swedish ceramics. In 1980, Larson left the company to work as a freelance designer. In 1992, she co-founded Keramikstudion Gustavsberg. Full of life, Lisa continues to make new designs for production, and unique (one-off) ceramic pieces.
Photography by Naoko Akechi, Editing by Kosuke Ide,
Special Thanks to Kumi Sato and Johanna Larson