Ceramics designer and a sculptor Lubomir Tomaszewski has gone down in the history of post-war Polish design as a man of extraordinary talent, even though he devoted only ten years of his life to the discipline. He was best known for creating decorative figurines and functional ceramic pieces like coffee sets in spiffy new guises. He was born on 9th June 1923 in Warsaw, died on 15th November 2018 in New York.
Ceramics designer and a sculptor, best known for creating decorative figurines and functional ceramic pieces like coffee sets in spiffy new guises.
After World War II, he took up studies at the Architecture Department of the Warsaw Technical Academy and at the Sculpture Department of the Academy of Fine Arts. After three years’ study, a serious illness forced him to drop out of the former. He graduated from the latter in 1955. In an interview he recalled:
I lived in utter discord with the Visual Artists’ Union, or, in fact, less with the union than with the subjects it imposed at the time. […] I’m proud to say that I never sculpted a Lenin, a Stalin, or any other communist idol.
This does not mean, however, that when Social Realism was at large he utterly neglected his art. He made a successful showing in some competitions at the time: in 1955 he took first prize in the competition for a monument located near the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, and a year later, third prize in a competition for a peace monument in Kraków.
In 1956 Tomaszewski began working with the Ceramics and Glass Studio of the Institute of Industrial Design (IWP) in Warsaw. He came to the IWP at just the right time. The institution already possessed well-organized workshop resources and employed technical workers and designers with suitable training. The Ceramics and Glass Studio had modest and somewhat primitive workshops by today’s standards, but at the time, it was the best equipped experimental institute in the country. Lubomir Tomaszewski could realize his passion for sculpture, though on a miniature scale, as he found himself in a team assigned to create new models of household porcelain sculpture.
In the IWP Bulletin of January 1957 an article appeared signed by Tomaszewski and Henryk Jędrasiak, entitled Developing Ceramic Sculpture. This two-page publication could be seen as the 'program manifesto' of the group of young designers. In the introduction they emphasized that substantial problems lay before them. They were setting to work with the awareness that their way of conceiving the shapes of these future 'knick-knacks' could in no way be based on tradition, as the existing forms were too aesthetically outmoded and did not suit the modern interior. On the other hand, they were worried that market demands could decide upon the tastes of the aesthetically unrefined, and they feared difficulties in their contact with the industry people. Apart from the authors of this text, the team included Mieczysław Naruszewicz and Hanna Orthwein. All were sculptors by education, but only Naruszewicz had had experience with ceramics. The main task in their first phase of work was thus to learn their technological capabilities and limitations. This was all done through trial and error – the design was made in plasticine, and then went to the modeling room. It was here that the true struggle with the material took place. The modelers prepared the form, first made with a cast, and then fired. The experienced workers quickly initiated the four novices into the arcana of ceramics. They were soon able to predict how the form would shape after casting and during the drying and firing processes, how to 'play with' surface glazes, and how to use color to emphasize the tectonics of the miniature sculptures. But what was the form to be like? The premise was to make it modern! In search of 'modernity' they began by simplifying the shapes and eliminating tiny decorative parts. Even their earliest works are marked by a synthetic way of seeing a model, a striving to create a geometric shape with a softly flowing profile.
Beginning in 1958, when the Experimental Production Institute was formed in the framework of the IWP, the figurines were produced in limited series, like other small pieces – such as ashtrays, candy dishes, and vases – and were sold in selected Warsaw stores. Though they were not cheap, they were purchased swiftly. In 1962 production of the figurines was also initiated in the Ćmielów Świt branch of the porcelain factory. They were also produced by other Polish factories: Wałbrzych, Krzysztof, Chodzież, Bogucice, and those specializing in porcelite: Pruszków and Tułowice. The artists complained, however, that the newer decorative patterns prepared in the factories were either insufficiently faithful to the original, or sometimes utterly altered in its form.
Exhibitions and fairs both in Poland and abroad presented the porcelain gems designed at the IWP, generating great interest from contractors affiliated with the ceramics industry and chance visitors alike. "IWP Bulletin" proudly reported organizers’ accounts that said, for instance: "Many people at the fair waited a number of days to be informed by telephone as to whether new crates of a particular, sold-out figurine had been unpacked…" (a report from the International Fair in Chicago).
Over nine years, around 120 models were accepted for large-scale production. Lubomir Tomaszewski created nearly 30 of these, of which the most popular were the zoomorphic figures: Hen, Rooster, Greyhound, Raven and Camel, as well as Songstress, Woman with Mirror and Arab Woman. This last was undoubtedly one of Tomaszewski’s most successful pieces. It is the quintessence of a design that has been contemplated down to every inch of its synthetic form – a simple, narrow, conical tube with indentation. It was a shape that splendidly matched the figure engraved in the viewer’s consciousness, the silhouette of an Arabian maiden covered with a long yashmak. The effect was emphasized by the decoration – multicolored patches, softly blending into one another, evoking the colorful magnificence indispensable to the oriental costume. Today, when IWP figurines are avidly collected, attributing authorship has created many a difficulty. The four-person team really managed to achieve their aim – the creation of a new style of household sculpture.
In 1961 Tomaszewski began work on a new design – a model coffee set. He began by investigating the traditional forms of coffee sets and their chief shortcomings, such as the protruding parts’ susceptibility to breakage, and the improper shaping of the pot’s handle which overburdened the wrist while pouring. The designer rejected a cylinder-based model and focused on analyzing forms that drew from "circular, semicircular, and ring shapes." He stressed that his inspiration came from the world of biological forms. One innovation was the use of non-rotational forms and the elimination of add-on parts. Six variants came about in the IWP workshops. Two went to production: Dorota and Ina. The sets, which were christened with the names of the artist’s daughters, were produced in limited series in the Table Porcelain Factory in Ćmielów. As per the designer’s instructions, they were monochromatically glazed – in yellow, gray, navy blue, or orange spray. In June of 1963 the sets were presented at the International Exhibition of the Board of the Industrial Designers’ Association (ICSID) in Paris. They also received distinctions in 1964 at the national fair in Poznan, in the Pretty – Good – Desired Goods Quality and Aesthetics Competition. They caught the eye of Phillip Rosenthal himself, the founder of the famous Rosenthal Studio Line. The communist authorities did not allow the two men to meet, however – without informing Tomaszewski of the German’s planned visit, they delegated him to a fair in Paris. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and the artist decided to leave the country.
In 1966 Lubomir Tomaszewski emigrated to the United States, and a year later he began teaching at the Applied Art and Interior Design Department of Bridgeport University (in Connecticut). In America he returned to his passion for sculpture, and he also began experimenting with painting.
His ‘painted with fire’ sculptures and paintings are truly created with the use of fire, smoke and water – they represent the artist’s experiences from the Warsaw Uprising. ‘I was looking for a way to define my emotions from the war’, stated Tomaszewski when asked about his technique for an interview in Polish Radio. On the other hand, the use of those natural tools draws our attention to the leading thread of his works – nature. The artist explained why he uses natural pieces of wood and stones in his work in a following manner:
When I find twisted branches in a forest, I always have an impression that they talk about the battle with nature and life’s strength. My job is to add the rest of the story in the visual language.
In 2005 Tomaszewski accepted a proposal from the owner of the AS Factory in Ćmielów, Adam Spała (who had purchased the Świt Factory along with its modelling room) to prepare some new figurines that were stylistically akin to the old ones, and resumed production of models from the 1960s. The collection created in 2005 and 2006 presently consists of 22 models.
The seek for the new forms of expression inclined Tomaszewski to create with the painter Aleksandra Nowak and the dancer Katryn Kollar the artistic group In Tune with Nature. The group shortly acquired a reasonable popularity among artists who were gradually adjoining the circle. Soon, the group evolved into an international movement and obtained the name emotionalism. It was meant to be an answer for the exaggerated conceptualism of the 20th century. Stepping against the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’, emotionalists postulate the ‘less show, more content’ slogan, while their works refer to emotions and are inspired by the nature.
In 2014 Tomaszewski was awarded one of the most important medals in Arts: Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis, honoured by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
Selected exhibitions and prizes:
- 1963 - Golden medal for the coffee set Dorota, I International Exhibition of Industrial Forms, Paris
- 1964 - Lubomir Tomaszewski’s Sculptures, Ceramics and Glass, Kordegard Gallery, Warsaw
- 1988 - Lubomir Tomaszewski’s Sculpture, Polish-American Artists Society, New York
- 1997 - Tomaszewski and the Theatre of the Intuitive Improvisation, Harvard University, Cambridge
- 2000 - Two men – Two Imaginations, Guenther Riess and Lubomir Tomaszewski Images Sculptural Concepts, South Norwalk
- 2002 - Warsaw Uprising Painted With Fire, Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw
- 2012 - TRANSFORMATIONS - Works on Paper (2011-2012), Galerie Roi Doré, Los Angeles, Paris
- 2013 - Art, Nature, Man, Artist - Lubomir Tomaszewski, Design Institute, Kielce
- 2014 - Emotions by Lubomir Tomaszewski, United Nations Office at Geneva, Palais des Nations, Geneva
- 2014 - My Art is my Confession to People, Van Rij Gallery, Ćmielów
- 2014 - Golden Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis, honoured by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage
Author: Barbara Banaś, updated: AW March 2016, NS Nov 2018
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.
For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl
1. L. Wagner, Ogniem Malowane Obrazy Ojca Teatru Natury [an interview with L. Tomaszewski], Relax Polish émigré weekly 1987, no. 9, pp. 16–18.
2. L. Tomaszewski, H. Jędrasiak, Rozwijamy Ezeźbę Ceramiczną, Biuletyn IWP, a supplement to Szkło i Ceramika magazine, 1957, no. 1.