Celebrating Swedish Ceramist Hertha Hillfon (1921-2013)

Was Hertha Hillfon an artist who made pots or a potter who made art? Among the many messages to be derived from her work is that making distinctions between art and craft is beside the point. In fact, she always referred to herself as a “ceramist,” a more particular designation. During a career that lasted more than half a century, Hillfon embraced and pursued a range of creative possibilities, moving seemingly effortlessly and without hesitation back and forth between sculpture and pots and plates and drawing, between the functional and the formal, the figurative and the abstract, the flamboyant and the somber, the humble and the bold, the sentimental and the monumental. Although she wasn’t the monster of originality that Picasso was, Hillfon brought to her prolific output something like his voracious curiosity about forms, media, and technique. In her case, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” was a drive toward experimentation and creation that sustained a long blossoming of Hillfon’s talent and an outpouring of work.An early photo of the artist and sculptor Hertha Hillfon working in her studio at her home in Stockholm. Photo by Lars Lennart Forsberg.

Hillfon came of age creatively in the late 1950s, as what has been called “the housewife era” was drawing to a close in Sweden. Women had been part of the Swedish workforce well before World War II, but in the 1960s, their numbers surged, for reasons that included a national labor shortage, an economic boom, and the rise of the Swedish welfare state. Hillfon had been married for sixteen years to Gösta Hillfon and was the mother of two school-age children when she made her debut as a ceramist in 1958. She and her architect husband had met in art school; from 1953 to 1957, she became a student again, at Konstfack, the University College of Arts, Craft, and Design, in Stockholm.

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