Berndt Friberg was born in 1899 in Hoganas, Sweden and died in Gustavsberg, Sweden in 1981. He started his career at the Hoganas factory in 1913, where he stayed until 1934. During these years, he made two breaks to work for the Danish Moller & Bogley factory and the Raus factory in Helsingborg, Sweden respectively. In 1934 he got employed by the Gustavsberg factory, where he started as an assistant for Wilhelm Kage and later for Stig Lindberg. After some years, his career as a stoneware artist took off and which eventually gave him his reputation as the master of Chinese inspired modern ceramics. He worked at the Gustavsberg factory until his death in 1981.
He started off in the ceramics industry only 13 years old in the Hoganas factory, a place where you learn throwing the same was as you learn to bicycle. He inherited his grandfather’s turntable and had one of his uncles as a teacher. He was talented and he developed his mastership during his 18 years at Hoganas. In 1934 he read an advertisement in a newspaper saying that the Gustavsberg factory was looking for a skillful turner, which changed his life. He was hired and he and his wife Agnes moved to Gustavsberg outside of Stockholm.
He was immediately confronted with Wilhelm Kage’s authority and a few years later with Stig Lindberg’s quirkiness; and this started his slow switch from being a turner to becoming an artist. Friberg started throwing for Kage in 1934, making Kages work slicker and more elegant. In 1937 Berndt Friberg made his first glaze for Kage, a start of his black book (Berndt Friberg’s secret book of glaze recipes). Working for Wilhelm Kage was a great school for Friberg, getting liberty, feedback and encouragement. In 1941 Friberg had his first exhibition with Stig Lindberg and Calle Blomkvist. Friberg was said to have conventional shapes, resembling the Triller couple in Tobo and Gunnar Nylund, but at the same time having personal and interesting glazes.
At the age of 52 he had his first solo exhibition at Artium Exposé in Gotheburg, Sweden. This was a great success and he became both peoples and critics acclaimed. The Swedish King Gustav VI Adolf was a big collector and owned more than 100 Friberg pieces. The demand for Friberg was much bigger than the supply, everything was sold. Therefore, the Gustavsberg factory wanted to start industrial production of Friberg’s design, even though Friberg did not. However this became true for a while with the Selecta series, but this is just a parenthesis in his production.
The Swedish stoneware became heavier, more rustic and personal in the sixties, but this did not have much influence on Friberg’s work. He gently renews his work with discrete incisions, darker glazes including flaming oxblood glaze. In 1965 he had a big exhibition with 650 pieces at the NK salon, the most important showroom for mid-century Swedish ceramics. The colourful and glossy glazes were new and the Nobel Prize winning author Harry Martinsson named a bowl “the Aniara bowl”, due to its cosmic vertigo in the glaze. This glaze eventually became the Aniara glaze, one of Friberg’s most famous glazes.
Berndt Friberg continued his work during the seventies in the same manner, and exhibited his work at NK, the National Museum and in Gustavsberg. He worked until his death in 1981, even though most of the pieces made the last few years lacked the genius of his previous work.
Bernd Friberg’s unique pieces are signed “Friberg”, the Gustavsberg studio hand and the production year. The production year is indicated with a letter until the mid seventies when he started to incise the actual year on his pieces.
The following year letters can be found on Friberg’s unique pieces; R=48, S=49, T=50, U=51, V=52, X=53, Y=54, Z=55, Å (A with a circle above)=56, Ä (A with two dots above)=57, Ö (O with two dots above)=58, a=59, b=60, c=61, d=62, e=63, F=64, G= 65, H=66, I=67, J=68, K=69, L=70, M=71, N=72, O=73, P=74 and Q=75.In 1944 – 1947 he used a BF and Gustavsberg studio mark with a relief stamp. The last few years when he went out of year letters he wrote the actual production year on his pieces. The Selecta line has no signature, only a “Design Berndt Friberg” sticker.
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