Helsinki design of the past
Helsinki City Museum’s most extensive exhibition of the World Design Capital year, Made in Helsinki 1700–2012, showcases the roots of Helsinki design all the way to the time when the concept of design was not familiar in Finland. It reveals surprising viewpoints into the world of design items and hints that the history of Finnish design could be told in a different manner.
Various items from 18th-century Helsinki to the modern times are on display: from silver beakers to enamel buckets, square pianos to curtain tassels and millinery hats to outdoor overalls. Helsinki’s handicraft tradition is very much alive today, and the exhibition showcases the masterpieces of modern craftsmen side by side with museum pieces. The exhibition is free of charge, as the City Museum always is.
The Made in Helsinki exhibition displays a charming variety of items. Here different eras and aesthetics shake hands: the elaborate details of 19th-century hats are echoed in Minna Parikka’s shoes, and the graphics featured in advertisement boards from the 1930s is once again topical. Occasionally, styles and tastes also clash: imposing bombe chest of drawers and functional chairs made of steel are worlds apart, and the sample boards from the Salin twine factory are delightful in their abundance.
Both the continuity and the change in design and handicrafts are clearly visible in the exhibition. The silversmiths and carpenters of modern-day Helsinki, such as Juju Jewellery by three designers and the Ranka woodworking shop, continue to work with the same tools used by their 18th-century colleagues. Although the latest design is often incorporeal, ancient craftsmanship, such as gilding, is still alive.
The capital of Finnish design
Helsinki was a design capital before anyone even knew what the word ‘design’ meant. The craftsmen of 18th-century Helsinki were well aware of the latest techniques and trends of their time. In the 19th century, the status of capital city brought to Helsinki a growing number of skilled craftsmen and many discerning customers, too. Luxury craft items, such as settees, gilded mirrors and pianos, were acquired to wealthy homes.
In the latter half of the 19th century, industrialisation revolutionised production. The shape and maker of an object were separated from each other as the factories brought along design. The craftsman was both the designer and the manufacturer, but now the appearance of an object had to suit not only the customer’s taste and wishes but also the requirements of mechanical production. The heralds of Helsinki design were the 1930s steel pipe furniture, especially the Heteka steel spring bed.
The rise of Finnish design from the 1950s onwards made Helsinki the design capital of Finland. In addition to well-known design products, other well-designed but less famous items, such as the Opa steel kettles, were also made in Helsinki. Female masters produced discreet and elegant studio fashion and created new design to meet their customer’s day-to-day needs. A good example of this is the housewife from Helsinki who designed the EasyBeasy overalls at her kitchen table in 1970 and started a business to manufacture them.
The jewels of Helsinki handicrafts from three centuries in the exhibition publication
The Made in Helsinki exhibition is accompanied by a Finnish book of the same title, which highlights the treasures of the City Museum. The museum’s researchers and conservators have found a lot of new information and stories about the items that seem to live and breathe in the book’s impressive photographs. With its imposing design and fine finishing and print quality, the book won the Book of the Year category at the 2011 Antalis Design & Print Awards.
Modern-day handicrafts at the Uusix workshops
The new, modern-day handicrafts and their makers are also introduced in conjunction with the exhibition. At the Uusix workshops, the unemployed create inventive products from recycled materials that can also be purchased at the museum.
Made in Helsinki 1700–2012 – helsinkiläisen työn helmiä kolmelta vuosisadalta. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo 2011. 276 pages, bound. ISBN 978-952-272-067-2. Price 32 e (VAT incl.). Sold in the Hakasalmi Villa, Museum Shop, Sofiankatu 4, and Akateeminen kirjakauppa.
Made in Helsinki 1700–2012 is part of the programme of the World Design Capital year and Helsinki 200 Years as the Capital of Finland jubilee year.
Made in Helsinki exhibition’s supplementary programme
Made in Helsinki 1700–2012
Hakasalmi Villa, Mannerheimintie 13b
Wed–Sun 11 am – 5 pm, Thu 11 am – 7 pm
History of the museum building