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Berndt Friberg was a Swedish ceramicist, renowned for his stoneware vases and vessels for Gustavsberg. His pure, composed designs with satiny, compelling glazes continue to fascinate and have given him a dedicated following of collectors all over the world. He was the designer, master thrower as well as glaze maker, a rare combination.
Friberg came from a long family line of potters. He started as a handyman at Höganäs at the age of 13, leaving the factory five years later as a certified thrower. At Höganäs, he had worked with the serial production of the company’s trademark jugs, throwing a hundred or more of them every day during the years that he worked there. The craftsmanship, standard of quality and work ethic that he learned at Höganäs was the base for his development into one of the world’s foremost throwers. In his youth, he also went to technical school and studied drawing and modeling, however he did not partake in any art studies. Neither did he move in artistic circles, but seeing an exhibition of Gunnar Nylund’s stoneware in Helsingborg in the early 1930s made a deep impact.
Before his employment at Gustavsberg in 1934, Friberg worked for other ceramics’ companies in Sweden and Denmark that broadened his experience. However getting the job as Wilhelm Kåge’s thrower at Gustavsberg was a major turning point in his career. Working with Kåge and subsequently Stig Lindberg brought new dimensions to Friberg’s work and life, moving away from the creation of utilitarian items to the aesthetic. He was revered by Kåge for his craftsmanship. During his first years at Gustavsberg he also developed his work with glazes. In 1941 he had is first exhibition in Stockholm, an event that marked his transition into an artist.
Through Wilhelm Kåge, Berndt Friberg got in touch with a circle of ceramicists, connoisseurs, collectors and museum workers that influenced his artistic development. Chinese ceramics from the Sung period and the contemporary Nordic stoneware were held in particularly high regard. Friberg’s work came to be seen as the embodiment of the pure, balanced core of Nordic design.
During his life long career, Friberg became deeply appreciated both by the broad public as well as connoisseurs and critics. The Swedish king Gustav VI Adolf was a major collector of his work and many of Friberg’s best pieces are part of the royal collection. He was awarded a gold medal at the Milano Triennale in 1947, 1951 and 1954 and won first prize at the Faenza International Ceramic Exhibition in 1965. He had 19 separate exhibitions and is represented at, among others, Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Det Danske Kunstindustrimuseum in Copenhagen, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, MoMa in New York and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney.
Literature: Berndt Friberg, Stengods Gustavsberg. Arthur Hald & Marianne Landqvist. Keramiskt Centrum, AB Gustavsberg, 1979