In the 1930s, Polish artists and designers were divided – there were those who continued their mission to find a Polish ‘national style’, and those, who ran towards modernity. Although, seemingly, so different from each other, these styles co-existed and even, from time to time, crossed paths. At the time, Polish design wasn’t associated with household or brand names. But that didn’t mean design from Poland wasn’t known across Europe. Rather, it was the products that were making a name for themselves. Porcelain and ceramics from Silesia, wool from Bielsko-Biała, silk from Milanówek, and metalworks from Warsaw manufacturers – the fact that they were made in Poland was a symbol of quality and good design. Often, Polish products were more well-known outside of Poland’s borders than within them.
The ŁAD Artists’ Co-operative (Spółdzielnia Artystów ŁAD) was the most important and longest-acting Polish design and arts group. Created after the success of the Polish Pavilion in Paris, the co-operative brought together prominent designers from the Kraków Workshops and younger up-and-coming artists just getting their careers started. ŁAD preferred handmade over machine-made and small workshops over big factories. The ‘Ład style’ (Ład meaning ‘order’ in Polish) is a combination of traditional inspirations with a longing for modernity, and functional simplicity with folk-style decorations: that means solid and proportional handcrafted wooden furniture and textiles are in the spotlight.
OUT TO SEA
Poland is not a landlocked country. Its southern border may be made up of mountains, but its northern border looks out onto the Baltic Sea. On 29th November 1933 in Warsaw, directors of the Polish Transatlantic Ship Society and a representative of the Italian shipyard of Monfalcone signed a contract for the construction of two twin transatlantic ships. Poland’s dream of owning its own modern transoceanic liners was coming true. When the MS Piłsudski (1934) and the MS Batory (1936) were delivered, a new chapter began for Poland. It was time to set out and sail the seven seas!
A specially-appointed artistic subcommittee led by Wojciech Jastrzębowski, co-founder of the Kraków Workshops and the ŁAD Co-operative, was in charge of the interior design of the rooms. The subcommittee was comprised of some of the best Polish architects and artists, including Stanisław Brukalski, Lech Niemojewski and Tadeusz Pruszkowski. Since the new transatlantic ships were twins, the layout of their interiors was identical, as were what they were used for. On the MS Batory, however, the space which was the Women’s Lounge on the MS Piłsudski, was replaced with a modern ‘American bar’.
The ships were designed from top to bottom: from the furniture to the knick-knacks in each room – passenger cabins, lobbies, lounges, dining rooms, reading rooms, smoking rooms, verandas, chapels, but also the tableware and menus! The ships were known as ‘floating showrooms’ because they presented the best of what Poland had to offer: Polish design, Polish art and other Polish products. The MS Piłsudski and MS Batory were the reborn republic’s newest and flashiest calling cards.
SPEED AND STYLE
While travel by sea was becoming more stylish and more comfortable, so was train travel. Trains were getting classier and much, much faster. At the World’s Fair in Paris in 1937, Poland’s aerodynamic train PM36-1 caught everyone’s attention in the Railway Pavilion. Manufactured at the Polish Locomotive Factory in Chrzanów, it was the first example of the use of aerodynamic shapes in the history of Polish rail travel.
The prototype was created under the supervision of Kazimierz Zembrzuski and was based on a series of new engineering solutions, which had yet to be used in Poland. Its most distinctive feature was its aerodynamic cover which was applied to the entire train (including the coal car). It reduced air resistance by 48% and made the train very attractive. Its coherent form along with its dark blue colour complemented by silver details earned the train the nickname ‘la belle polonaise’.
Three wagons made for a Polish tourist train were also noticed by the Parisian audience: the second- and third-class sleeper cars; the bar car, which included a dancefloor; and the bathing car, making a debut in the Polish railway industry, which included baths, showers, and even a hairdresser! Both manufacturers of the Polish train received awards, the PM36-1 steam engine was awarded the Gold Medal, and the Polish Ministry of Transportation received a Grand Prix award for the entire Polish exhibition, which perfectly fit into the theme of the Paris exhibition: ‘Art and Technology in Contemporary Life’.
MADE IN POLAND
Bogdan Wendorf began working on the Kula coffee set in his Paris studio in 1932. The production of the set began at the famous Ćmielów Porcelain & Ceramics Factory two years later. As its name would suggest, each piece of the set is a sphere. Even though the shape was gorgeous, it wasn’t necessarily convenient, so to keep these beautiful different-sized balls from just rolling off the table and smashing, Wendorf placed each one on a star-shaped base. To top it all off, the handles and edges were decorated in gold. Each part of the set was made by hand in porcelain, using thirty different specially-made moulds. Since its creation in the 1930s, Kula has been produced in exactly the same way – differing only in colour schemes and decoration. Wendorf’s tea sets, such as Kula, Płaski and Kaprys (Caprice), are some of the most beautiful and representative pieces of the interwar style in porcelain.
The Art of Modern Production
Nearly 400 different designs were created in Julia Keilowa’s workshop. For the most part they were commissions from the factories of the Henneberg Brothers, Józef Fraget, the Norblin Joint-Stock Company, the Buch Brothers and T. Werner. Keilowa’s designs were usually considered Art Deco – it goes without question that geometry was her language of choice. She used it to build her own unlimited design dictionary. She could create just about anything from a set of spheres, cylinders, cubes and cones. Keilowa made metal both elegant and functional. She was able to create extremely decorative forms using contrasting shapes, lines, textures and even light, all the while making absolutely sure each vessel would serve its initial purpose.
Huta Niemen’s story goes back to 1893. During the interwar period, it was the largest Polish producer and exporter of pressed and blown glass. Its pieces were sent all over the globe – across Europe, to North America, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Bronisław Stolle, director of Huta Niemen, was very well acquainted with the production process of top European glassworks, as well as the hottest trends in glass design. He focused on high quality, which was the joint success of the designers and its outstanding technologists, led by Herman Szall. Unfortunately, today it is hard to determine who created individual designs. There is, however, one exception. Michał Titkow was behind approximately 400 of the 1,828 designs found in the glassworks’ four-part catalogue published at the end of the 1930s.