Wilhelm Kage (originally Nilsson) was born in 1889 and died in 1960 in Stockholm. He was a Swedish artist, painter and ceramist. He was the artistic director of Gustavsberg from 1917 until he was succeeded by Stig Lindberg in 1948. Even though he was a pioneer in poster design in his early years, he was hired by the Gustavberg factory in 1917 to reinvent their dinnerware. His first artistic success was the Argenta series that included everything from ashtrays to 60 kg urns. The most well known Argenta decor is green glaze with silver decorations. Undeniably, he did his best work with the very exclusive and unique Farsta stoneware. Farsta stoneware was produced from 1930 until Kage’s death in 1960, and was consciously refined and improved during these 30 years.
Wilhelm Kage learned decorative painting at the Technical School (later College of Arts) in Stockholm, but he dropped out. He entered the Art School Valand in Gothenburg, where he studied for Johan Rohde and Carl Wilhelmsson, two famous Scandinavian painters. Meanwhile, he became known for his colorful posters for theater and exhibitions and he was one of the first in Sweden to use posters as a communication medium.
After an acclaimed exhibition of his works in 1917 at Liljevalchs in Stockholm, he was contacted by the Gustavsberg factory. His mission was to bring an artistic touch to be the company appliances, quite in the style of the Swedish Design slogan "more beautiful everyday products". Kage experimented and develop new glazes and decorations and designed about 30 different tableware series including Pyro, an oven-safe porcelain manufactured between 1929 and 1955.
Argenta was designed by the Gustavberg’s artistic director Wilhelm Kage and was first shown at the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930. Argenta was the ceramics equivalent of the engraved Orrefors glass, and it soon became a major sales success. Argenta is a series of ceramic art and decorative objects from Gustavsberg made from 1930 to the 1970's. The series with silver decorations on a green glaze is counted as the epitome of Swedish Grace. The first objects were painted by Kage himself, but soon Gustavsberg built an Argenta department which at the end of the 1930’s had 30 employees. The green Argenta was the major product, but rare red, brown and blue versions were produced. The series' heyday was in the 1940s. As the interest in Argenta decreased, new variants were developed, like the white Grazia, designed by Stig Lindberg in 1946.
The Farsta ceramics was a ceramic shot child and an advanced experiment protected from the industry rush. It was created in a workshop protected from financial requirements; WCs, washbasins and bathtubs paid for creating this very exclusive symbol of the Gustavsberg factory. The wingspan of the Farsta production is huge, from miniatures to giants. There are vases and urns, sculptures, ashtrays or two feet high magnificent pieces, all with a special presence and quality feel, "the Farsta feeling”. You will feel it in your hands, a precise mechanical beauty even though every item is handmade. Six stamped or carved letters gather the family under one name, Farsta.
Farsta stoneware is based on a unique ceramic method. The fired pieces are dipped in a bath of metal oxides that were infused into the clay. The pieces were glazed and burned again, and the heat moved the oxides into the glaze layers and induced color effects. With these exceptional glazes, Kage could live out his dreams of painting. He had a lifelong desire to make it as a painter, but it was with Farsta the true Kage art was created.
The premiere of the Farsta stoneware took place at the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, along with the green, silver painted Argenta which became a smash hit. Farsta however, mostly charmed stoneware collectors. It would take almost 20 years before it really got attention. Slowly and persistently Kage developed and strengthened the expression of the Farsta stoneware. In 1945 Farsta Rust were introduced, with objects that seemed to have been roasted with flame throwers.
In 1949, Wilhelm Kage abdicated as Gustavsberg’s artistic director at the age of 60. Throughout the fifties, he continued to work undisturbed with the factory's best artisans. Work proceeded methodically and calmly. Kage carved and cut, often squares, geometric patterns and deep cuts resembling valve grilles and air intakes, as if Farsta pieces were all parts of an incomprehensible machine. Kage had a brother who was a dentist and all his worn-out tools were lined up in the studio, just like in a reception. Farsta was undoubtedly the most expensive and excusive art goods ever made at Gustavsberg and it could only be found at handpicked dealers. When exhibited in New York in 1958 an enthusiastic writer rated him as "one of the world's top three potters ' alongside Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach.
In the late fifties, Kage wanted to secure the future of the Gustavsberg studio. He put away his title, both literally and creatively, and began collaboration on a range of appliances based on the same material used for making WCs and washbasins. The blue or brown KAPA-goods from Kage’s new workshop was an attempt make series of usable art goods, vases, dishes, various bowls, creamer and sugar bowl and a really classic teapot. The items were fired among the WCs and were mainly intended for export to the United States. But the series was not a success and production was closed down at Kage’s death in 1960.
The signature letters KAPA stand for four persons involved in the production including. The series is coarse and massive, you know Kage’s presence in the heavy bowls, in the grand vases and machine parts design. But the design was made as much by the other three in the KAPA-team. K in KAPA stands for Kage. A stands for Birger Arvidsson. He had been Kage’s right hand since 1950, when he was handpicked for painting Argenta. Birger Arvidsson could translate Kage’s sketches into craft, he could read his "language" and performed complicated decorations. P stands for Axel Pettersson, who was a turner from southern Sweden. It is said that he was an even better turner than Friberg, but he never had any ambitions to create his own art. The last A stands for Alskog, Bjorn Alskog, a 21 -year-old that came under Wilhelm Kage’s wings in 1955 after being a turner for Stig Lindberg. Alskog was ambitious and led the work in Kage’s workshop with the "old man's " blessings.
Wilhelm Kage got cancer and died late autumn 1960 and all flags were lowered to half mast at the Gustavsberg factory. His ashes were laid in a Farsta urn. In 1989 the National Museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wilhelm Kage with a large exhibition and Farsta instantly became even more prestigious, with heated bidding at auction houses.
The Argenta stoneware either has a painted signature or a stamp signature including “the Gustavsberg Studio mark” and Kage. You will most often find the number of the model and the name of the series, i.e. Argenta. You will sometimes find the production year on a piece, through a year letter.
The unique Farsta stoneware is signed with a hand incised or a relief stamp with “the G-studio Gustavsberg mark”. It should also have KAGE and FARSTA incised or relief stamped at the bottom. You can often date a Farsta piece through a year letter indicating the production year.
KAPA pieces are relief stamped signed with “Kage Verkstad” within a square with the KAPA initials surrounding it. They also have a Gustavsberg Sweden stamp.
The year letters are as follows; A=1931, B=32, C=33, D=34, E=35 F= 36, G=37, H=38, I=39, J=40, K=41, L=42, M=43, N=44 O=45, P=46, Q=47, 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, I9=59 and finally K9 = 1960.