The Estonian Glass Artist Kai Koppel
Kai Koppel (née Okas) was born on 7 August 1952 in Tallinn in the family of the renowned painter and printmaker Evald Okas. Her sister Mari Roosvalt is a painter, and her brother Jüri Okas is an architect and an artist. From 1959 to 1970, Kai Koppel studied at Tallinn 46th Secondary School. She studied glass art at the State Art Institute of the Estonian SSR (currently the Estonian Academy of Arts) from 1970 to 1975. During the years 1977−1981, Koppel worked as a teacher at Tallinn Children’s School of Art; since 1981 she has been a freelance artist. She began participating in exhibitions in 1975, and became a member of the Estonian Artists’ Association in 1984. In 1990, Koppel was one of the founders of the applied art group On-Group. She is married to the violinist Annes Koppel. They have two daughters: Üla Koppel, an architect, and Mara Lyutyuk, a painter.
Kai Koppel’s earlier works were three-dimensional objects. Her works were strongly sculptural, with various approaches to plasticity. In the 1980s, when Koppel had become known for crystal shapes that had positive engravings on them, as well as for small intimate glass figurines, her large vertical decorative, almost architectonic objects also caught attention.
An Experimenting Mind
Kai Koppel is an artist with an experimenting mind. In 1988, together with the artist-printmaker-engineer-electronics-specialist Yevgeni Klimov, she formulated the theoretical basis for an experiment that was carried out in the experimental ceramics and sculpture factory of Lviv. The factory had produced her first series of large colourful forms already in 1983. The title of the experimental work was Study on the Application of the Principles of Module-Relief Forming of Glass Products in Serial and Unique Production Using the Hot Glass Blowing Method, The report on this experiment is kept in the Estonian National Archives (the Archives of the Art Fund of ESSR). The report describes a detachable mould, whose elements can be shifted around, allowing for an endless number of alternative shapes, for which normally separate moulds would have to be made, and Kai Koppel demonstrated all that with her series. The use of a single module mould proved to be efficient in creating serial products with a similar underlying structural idea, and it reduced the prime cost of the products.
The Glass Studio
As circumstances changed in the early 1990s and glass artists no longer had the possibility to create art in the glass factory, Kai Koppel and her colleague Viivi-Ann Keerdo set up their own hot glass studio in 1991. The studio was the first of its kind in Estonia. Their first glass furnace was designed by the Finnish glass artist Mikko Merikallio, and it was an Estomelt 91 type of furnace. All the subsequent furnaces of the studio have also been built by the Koppel and Keerdo in cooperation with Mikko Merikallio. Establishing the glass workshop in the Old Town of Tallinn demanded a lot of energy. They set it up in the medieval St. Catherine’s Passage (Katariina käik), which is under heritage protection. They restored the building themselves, and opened their studio there in 1996. The studio, surrounded by the romantic milieu of Old Town, is quite popular: visitors have the possibility to see how glass is blown, to look at the display, and to choose from among the wide range of products on sale. Kai Koppel’s studio glassworks are distinguished by her joy of experimenting and improvising, the plasticity of forms, and a bold use of brilliant colours.
International Hot Glass Symposia in Haapsalu
The Evald Okas Museum, a private museum run by the family of the artist, was opened in Haapsalu in 2003. The museum is open from May to September, and in addition to displaying Evald Okas’s art, various contemporary art events are also organised. Kai Koppel has contributed to the activities of the museum by organising international hot glass symposia. There is a studio with an open glass furnace in the back yard of the museum, which is perfect for creating large sculptural glassworks. The symposium lasts for one week in July, and ends in an exhibition on the museum premises. The creative atmosphere of the symposium together with the idyllic milieu of the small seaside town of Haapsalu have attracted innumerable artists from a variety of countries, from Canada to Japan, many of whom now belong to a special group of friends-fellow artists. The Haapsalu Hot Glass Days play a significant role in the development of Estonian glass art as well as that of Kai Koppel’s own creative work: she has been able to experiment once again on a larger scale in the open air studio, and has created her monumental exhibition works of the last few years there.