Betzy Ählström was the first female Swedish glass artist. She created advanced Art Nouveau glassware.
Betzy Ählström was born in 1857, the fifth child of Alexander Ählström and Hedda Sofia Kanström. She grew up on Enhult farm in Malexander. She took drawing and painting classes in Stockholm, Copenhagen and London and attended Lauritz Baltzer’s drawing class for teachers in Gothenburg. She submitted drawings and paintings to exhibitions mainly in Gothenburg, where she taught drawing and handwriting at a grammar school for girls from 1886 to 1917. At the same time she also taught at other girls’ schools in the town.
Betzy Ählström was employed in 1901 by the managing director and later executive director Sten Kjellgren to design models for glassware at Reijmyre, which at that time, along with Kosta, was one of the leading glass manufacturers. Kjellgren, who had studied chemistry at Chalmers in Gothenburg, and glass techniques in Germany, hoped to establish his own glass production inspired by the success of Art Nouveau glassware at the Stockholm exhibition in 1897 and the Paris exhibition in 1900. His aim was to display his work at the first international exhibition for modern decorative art in Turin in 1902.
The collaboration between Betzy Ählström and the glass manufacturer resulted in the creation of exclusive glass art in a sinuous organic Art Nouveau style inspired by the French master glassworker Emile Gallé. Betzy Ählström was the first Swedish glass artist who worked on-site in close collaboration with the glassblower. Her designs reveal her technical ability. In contrast to Kosta, Reijmyre used an advanced decorative technique called “marqueterie de verre”: folded, coloured glass into which a flower in a contrasting colour was added and polished. It was an expensive method of production but the results were highly imaginative. This work was produced between December 1901 and August 1902. The patterns on Betzy Ählström’s glasses usually contained flowers as seen on the vases Dahlia and Julkaktus, but also included popular ocean motifs as on the vase Krabban.
Betzy Ählström signed her glasses Reijmyre B.Ähm, but some were only marked with the name Reijmyre and a number. This was the case, for example, with King Gustav V’s gift to the Swedish Nationalmuseum: a small vase bearing the number 8, which had belonged to Queen Viktoria. At the time of donation the vase could not be connected to a particular designer. It was only in 1980 when the Swedish Nationalmuseum held an exhibition on Swedish Art Nouveau glass that Betzy Ählström was rediscovered, as her glass art had been included in Reijmyre’s very successful display in Turin. After the Turin exhibition this expensive form of production of Art Nouveau glassware was discontinued. Ten to fifteen of Betzy Ählström’s Art Nouveau glasses have survived.
Betzy Ählström died in 1934 and is buried in Östra kyrkogården (The Eastern Cemetery) in Gothenburg.