Hertha Hillfon is one of the most prestigious ceramic sculptors of the 20th century in Sweden. She was innovative and moved easily between abstract experiments and everyday objects, symbolic sculptures and portraits. She was early on described as a rebel of clay, but above all she became a hardworking, curious artist, constantly moving forward.
"The present is part of eternity"
Hertha Hillfon was born in 1921 outside Härnösand and the family moved to Stockholm in 1933. She started at Edvin Oller Painting School in 1939 and met her husband-to-be, Gösta, later a designer and exhibition architect. They married in 1942, had a son named Curt, moved to the Göstas parents' house in Mälarhöjden in 1944 where the daughter Maria was born. During the years with small children Hertha devoted herself primarily to the family but also participated in the exhibition“Young draughtsmen”at the National Museum, in the late 40's. On educational trips to Italy in the early 50's, she discovered Etruscan art that she felt strongly connected to. She applied to Konstfack ((the University of Arts, Crafts and Design) in 1953 and when she graduated in 1957 she received both a scholarship and a medal from the Swedish Society of Industrial Design.
A small cabin on the site of their home became the first workshop that was later expanded. In 1968, Gösta designed an ideal studio with large ovens, traverses, an imaginative garden and space for a pigeon battle. Together the couple created an inspiring environment where work, everyday life and domesticity could be combined. Here Hertha worked until her death in 2013.
"Exhibiting is to show one’s limitations"
Hertha Hillfon debuted in 1958 at the Swedish Society of Industrial Design. Her breakthrough came in 1959 with her first solo show, at Artek in Stockholm. She was a pioneer with her free, abstract and sculptural ceramics, in contrast with the tradition of her time. She also participated in well-noticed collective exhibitions abroad. A wide range of exhibitions in Sweden followed - as late as at the age of 80 at the Sculpture House in Stockholm and seven years later at Waldemarsudde. After her death several appreciated exhibitions have been curated. Hertha Hillfon is represented at many museums in Sweden, as well as abroad, for example at V & A in London and MoMAK in Kyoto. From the 60's and several decades ahead, several public pieces were commissioned, throughout Sweden. Hertha Hillfon received the Lunning Prize (known as ”The Nobel Prize for designers and applied artists”) in 1962, was elected at the Royal Academy of the Free Arts in 1971 and the Swedish government gave her the honorary title of professor in 1993.
"... to feel that indescribable challenge, the dream visions”
To Hertha Hillfon working with clay was to breathe. Turning a bowl was meditation. She would always have a model for her picturing sculptured works. The content of meeting each other was important, not the exact depiction. She managed the hard clay to be perceived as the soft structure of a pantyhose or a skirt. She experimented, examined and stretched the possibilities of the clay, explored glazes. During the 70s, her work increased in scale and scope and she became one of the first to sculpt monumental figures, big masks and faces in clay. The stretched slabs usually formed the basis, a laborious job as big chunks were formed into sculptures or clay tablets where she drew a face or built up sensitive portraits in relief.
She liked to write down her vigorous and poetic reflections, which say a lot about her and her values. She enjoyed surrounding herself with her work and at home and at the studio surreal ceramics were thronged with portraits, big masks with ornamental urns, red mouths with roosters and suns radiating with gold. Charcoal sketches was also a part of her creative work.
Hertha Hillfon created an incomprehensible amount of work.