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Tea Cart

Designed by Alvar Aalto, Finnish, 1898 - 1976. Made by Oy Huonekalu-ja Rakennustyötehdas AB, Turku, Finland, 1910 - present.

Made in Finland, Europe

Designed 1936

Cork, laminated birch frame

23 1/2 x 18 1/4 x 37 1/4 inches (59.7 x 46.4 x 94.6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with funds contributed by Collab: The Group for Modern and Contemporary Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in honor of Cynthia W. Drayton, and with the Fiske Kimball Fund, 1985

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Additional information:
  • PublicationDesign, 1900-1940

    Number 98 in the catalogue of Artek, this celebrated design consists of two wide strips of laminated wood, each bent into a closed curve, to which two trays have been attached to form shelves. Two wheels made of wooden disks are fixed at one end. Aalto's first idea for the cart appeared as a design for a small serving table, one of six entries he submitted on September 9, 1929, to the Thonet-Mundus furniture company in Berlin, which had announced a large international competition for new models. Although Aalto did not win a prize in the competition, his entry, which was designed with runners like a sled, eventually matured into this small tea trolley of 1936 and a larger version of 1937, two of the earliest models offered by Artek. From 1930, working with Otto Korhonen, the manufacturer of his furniture in Turku, Finland, Aalto resolved the technical problems inherent in producing the revolutionary form of the closed circular frame by employing laminated wood, which is extremely strong and pliable enough to be used for complicated bends and shapes. When the tea cart and other examples of Aalto's furniture were first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1938, it was the designer's use of this material that was considered distinctive: "Aalto's thorough knowledge of the various properties of wood guides his imagination in putting them to work…under the direction of his unique esthetic sensibility. In his furniture, the audacious manipulation of wood might be thought bravura were it not always justified by the physical properties of the material. As in his architecture, Aalto's designs are a result of the same combination of sound construction, suitability to use and sense of style." Kathryn B. Hiesinger and George H. Marcus, from Guides to European Decorative Arts: Design, 1900-1940 (1987), p. 42.