You may not recognise the name Maija Isola, but the chances of you encountering her work and inspiration on a daily basis are actually ridiculous. She was a Finnish designer of printed textiles and created some of the most recognised and well-known contemporary patterns in this past century. In fact, it was her incredibly bold, colourful work that essentially brought the Finnish mega-brand Marimekko to fame in the 60’s.
Maija Isola studied painting at Helsinki Central School of Industrial Arts and, after graduating, became the first full-time designer hired by Printex, which eventually spawned Marimekko. In 1951, Maija became the principal textile designer for Marimekko and continued to design for them until 1987. Not bad for a lady who started out cutting her own rubber and wood blocks and printing left-over fabrics from the war on her kitchen floor!
During her time at Marimekko, Maija Isola designed over 500 prints. Many textiles that people associate with the company were designed by her. Her most famous print is Unikko; the big, happy, red poppy design that you would have seen on everything from phone cases to snow poles. She created the print in 1964 in competition to the company’s founder, Armi Ratia, who said that floral patterns had no place within Marimekko. With Unikko, Maija proved that florals didn’t necessarily have to be dainty or delicate but could be bold, strong and modern.The piece was entirely original and trailblazing, and today proves to be more popular than ever.
Throughout Maija’s large body of work, we can see inspiration from traditional folk art, modern art, a love of nature and bits of culture gleaned from her many world trips. As she matured, her works became more refined and pared back embracing a minimalist geometric aesthetic with explosions of colour.
In the 80’s, Maija Isola collaborated with her daughter Kristina on many artworks and prints for Marimekko. Since her passing in 2001, Kristina has continued her legacy creating new works and updating colour ways on her mothers classic, highly influential designs.