The Finnish company Artek (a blending of “art and technology”) was established after several meetings during October 1935 at the popular König Restaurant, located off the fashionable Esplanade in Helsinki, with Alvar Aalto, Aino Marsio-Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils Gustav Hahl. The Aaltos have just achieved a noticeable success after completing the Paimio Sanatorium and their bent plywood furniture started to be sold internationally. As for Maire Gullichsen, she was the rich heir of the Ahlström paper corporation, an art collector and the future owner of the Mairea House; while Nils Gustav Hahl was an art historian and critic.
So the newly born company would be dedicated to the manufacture and sales of the furniture designed by the Aaltos, but also to organize exhibitions on modern art. Gullichsen became the main investor and organized the art gallery installed in the Artek store in Helsinki and Hahl became the managing director.
Aino-Marsio became the company’s art director, also in charge of the firm’s graphic identity and design line, and lead the interior design department, responsible for the interiors of many Aalto’s major works, starting with the Viipuri Library and including other works like the Mairea House and the MIT Baker House Dormitory in Massachussets. After’s Hahl early death in 1941, she added his managing job to her creative duties.
In terms of product design, it is difficult to discern which pieces are the work of Alvar, which ones of Aino and which are the result of the shared work of both, since in any case they were identified with a seal “Artek Aalto Design. Made in Finland “. Among others, she designed the stackable stools and the steel tube bed for Paimio, the dining room lamp and the lounger for the Mairea House and came up with the Tank Armchair’s flamboyant zebra fabric. As for the glass, while Alvar is the author of the Savoy vase, Aino signs the more functional series “Bölgeblick” and “Maija”.
After her death in 1949 due to breast cancer, she was succeeded by Maire Gullichsen as the company director, and by Maija Heikinheimo, a remarkable designer from the studio, as art director.