For more than 35 years, Gunnel Sahlin has been among the major names of contemporary Swedish glass art. She was hired by Kosta Boda in 1986, where she contributed to renewing our glass tradition with her modern, minimalist style, influenced by her background in the textile world. Sahlin is among the Swedish designers in various disciplines who led to the international rise of the notion of the Swedish design marvel in the 90s.
Gunnel Sahlin was born and raised in Umeå. She moved to Stockholm in 1975 and studied in the textile program at the University of Arts, Crafts & Design, after preparatory studies at Nyckelviksskolan on Lidingö. After graduating, Gunnel moved to New York, where she worked for legendary fashion designer Katja of Sweden. There, she developed her sense of color and pattern.
Gunnel Sahlin was associated with Kosta Boda as a designer for nearly 20 years, until 2005, and her significant style placed her mark on the brand in both art glass and utility glass. Her signature style incorporated color and a bold, striking convergence of color and form, as well as clear and opaque glass.
“It was all about color from the beginning,” says Gunnel. “At first, it was more single-tracked, before I developed a deeper relationship to the material. I came from the textile world and I was interested in guiding the process, for it to become what I wanted it to be. It took time for me to start taking more of an interest in what’s so exciting about the complicated processes of glass, which I can’t completely control.”
After leaving Kosta Boda in 2005, Gunnel Sahlin stayed away from glass for years, working instead with commissions for IKEA and the auto industry. “For many years, I said to anyone who asked that I was done with glass. I had become so symbiotic with the glassworks that I felt like I needed to get away from it. So glass had to take a break for a while.”
Sahlin made a “cautious” comeback with a collection of utility glass objects for IKEA’s PS collection in the early 2010s. In 2013, she received an inquiry about returning to Galleri Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm, which led to a collaboration with master glassblower Micke Johansson in Örsjö.
“For some reason, I felt like I didn’t want to return to my old style. Instead, I started experimenting with really thick clear glass and cut-on glass, chunky, melted, things I had never made before. Fortunately, a good friend came to the studio one day and asked honestly where I had gone. She got me to wake up and return to my own style. Looking back, I’m glad I took this break in order to return and find renewed joy.”
Gunnel Sahlin explains that “with age,” she has accepted herself – she feels secure and at peace with continuing to develop her own style, which is still based largely on color and color convergences.
“Sure, I’m a part of my era, and I’m interested in following with the times, but I no longer feel this pressure to make something new. I allow restfulness by settling in thoroughly, and focus on refinement and moving deeper. Color is my medium. I could explore it until the day I die. What happens to color when you work with overlay, underlay and cut-on glass, when the colors meet in different ways? The limitation is a challenge. I enjoy the small details.”
Gunnel Sahlin’s glass sculptures often include “remnants” of utility glass – like the vessel shape and neck of a vase or bottle, even if it is too narrow to pour in liquid or hold a flower.
“I return to vessel and bottle shapes, even if the function is gone – they are enough on their own. Partly, it’s because I want to bring air into the form, in order to be able to work with color – and also light, which is so important in glass. I like working with incredibly simple, archetypal forms. For me, it’s more about a surface for the color, kind of like a canvas for a painter.”
During her long career, Gunnel Sahlin has shown her glass art in many exhibitions in Sweden and internationally, in recent years at venues including Vessel Gallery in London, Västerbotten Museum and Galleri Glas in Stockholm. In 2022, she is exhibiting at Galleri Riis in Oslo and at Galleri Glas again.
Gunnel Sahlin’s work is represented at Nationalmuseum, Röhsska Museum, Tel Aviv Museum of Art and in private collections worldwide. She lives and works outside of Flen in Sörmland, Sweden.