Bertil and Ulrica, came, as perfect strangers, to the small hamlet of Åfors in 1963. The only lifeblood (of the little community) was provided by a glass-factory, whose Director had been overtaken by the times. There was no longer a demand for the production of fine crystal. Åfors looked to Bertil to save them.

A visitor to the glass factory, around the hour of 7, say, is sure to catch sight of Bertil Vallien, either in the studio or on his way to the workshop ('hotshop'): He likes to make an early start, in readiness for new challenges in his role of artist/designer.
We who work there have come to depend on him as a problem solver ('trouble shooter'). Our faith in his ability to reap new successes and thereby to defend employment and the survival of the glass-factory, remains unshaken.

One tends to forget that Bertil is free to do as he likes. But that is not the way he operates. During his forty years at the Åfors factory he has always taken responsibility for its survival. This is why both he and Ulrica command the love and respect of us all. For without them the Åfors factory would have been forced to close. We are many who have had the privilege of working with them, and the opportunity of following, at close hand, the unfolding of their artistic careers. They have put Åfors on the map and we are proud of having two of the world's finest glass-artists with us.

The present factory is a new, totally renovated workplace for some hundred people. Apart from the Valliens, two other artists, Gunnel Sahlin and Olle Brozen, also work at the factory. But the history of Åfors contains both successes and crises.

The Åfors glassworks came into being at a time when factories were springing up in every forest clearing on the eastern side of the Småland province. Glass-making was a profitable business at that time. Sweden was late in making the transition from an agricultural society to an industrial one. High-class luxury goods gave way to everyday utility glassware. One man who saw the opportunities was C-A Fagerlund, a glass master from the district of Kosta. He used his savings, and went into partnership with his two brothers and a brother-in-law, to found a glass-factory in 1876. Not long after that he bought out his partners, and acquired the nickname Big-Claus.

Big Claus was a bizarre figure who did very much as he pleased. His thrift, (read miserliness) gave the factory a bad name. Nobody wanted to work for the low wages he paid. While he himself lived like a prince (outside of the parish, that is). Many a tale is told of his outlandish behaviour. How he had once hired a train for his own private use, and how, upon arrival at the local station, the station master had rolled out the red carpet, supposing it to be a royal visit!

He grew old and mellower, and in 1916, he sold the factory to Ernst Johansson for 150,000 Swedish kronor. Johansson put his son, Erik, in charge of the factory. Erik changed his surname to Afors, after an attempt on the part of his namesake (another Erik Johansson) to cheat him out of the affair.

This was the start of a brilliant entrepreneurial career. Erik Åfors took over his competitors, Kosta, Boda, Johansfors and the Emmaboda plate-glass factory, and became known as the Glass King. With him, an era of stability for Åfors began. Life returned to the community; skilled craftsmen were brought in, and received good wages. (Although) The factory production consisted of cut glass and moulded glass, artists were considered to be an unnecessary expense.
However, in the 1950's things changed. There was no longer any call for cut glass. Åfors was unwilling to relinquish his ideals, and began stockpiling unsaleable goods. His motto was 'old is new' - sooner or later the old times would come back again. But they didn't, and he was obliged to accept the fact. In 1958, Erik Rosen, the former successful director of Boda, took over as managing director of the company. He in turn, was replaced by Erik Höglund, a man with modernist ideas.
The first artist to be engaged at Åfors was Ernest Gordon (1954.) Gordon, however, did not get along with EÅ and left the factory in 1961.

Erik Rosen heard of the up-and-coming student of ceramics, Bertil Vallien, and recommended him to C-H Åfors, son of Erik, who offered him a job at the end of his training. Bertil made up his mind while in America, '61-'63, that if he returned to Sweden it would be to work for Rosén - who, where artists were concerned, was in favour of a long-term employment policy.

Now and then Director Åfors would give Bertil a project that in Bertil's view was completely passé. But he went along with it to just to humour him, only to declare that "it hadn't got a hope in hell!" In the end, Åfors accepted the fact that times had changed - and the new aesthetic. Profits soared.

Erik Åfors retired in 1975, at which time he sold the entire KostaBoda concern to the *Uppsala-Ekeby Porcelain Company, with the stipulation that the factory should not be closed down during his lifetime. He died in 1983.

In March 1987, it was announced that Åfors was to close, and that production would be taken over by other factories within the concern. There were wild protests and eventually the then owner, Robert Weil (who is also a personal friend of Bertil and Ulrica) intervened. In 1995, the glass-factory underwent a comprehensive renovation.

Åfors is now part of the Orrefors KostaBoda conglommerate. There are two distinct brand names, Orrefors and KostaBoda. A major part of the concern is now Danish-owned.

 

Åfors glassfactory.

 

 

 

 

 

Bertil and masterblower Ingvar Johnsson in the Åfors hotshop in the middle of the 60´s.

 

 

 

 

 

In the hotshop in the middle of the 70´s. Bertil among the family Johansson. From right to left:Roland, Birgitta och Tomas. Photo: Ola Terje.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandcasting in the hotshop with Cemal Yousseinof and Bertil Vallient. Photo: Ola Terje.

 

 

 

 

 

Bertil with glassartist Dale Chihuly and Master - blower Anton Koch.

 

 

 

 

 

Erik Rosén, legendary CO between 1947 to 1978.

 

 

 

 

 

Former swedish king Gustav VI Adolf (1950-1973) at the left with the "Glass king" Erik Åfors.The photo was taken in the 50´s.

 


 

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