I think this short diary needs a short introduction. Let me start by saying that I haven’t been on an organised trip since I was a student. I wasn't sure how it would feel having a programme of events over a whole week and it was initially intimidating.
I am, not for the first time, so irritated by myself with hindsight as I have come away having enjoyed an incredibly rich and stimulating week in Finland. I met museum curators, managing directors, artists, craftsmen, designers, gallery owners and ceramicists - something that wouldn't have happened if I had travelled alone. It really was a perfectly paced, “money can’t buy” sort of experience. The group..what can I say..the VERY nicest, fun, charming, kind group of people all having one thing in common…we desperately wanted to go to Finland with Yvonna and Cathy and see many beautiful artworks cherrypicked for us and look at ground breaking architecture and design along the way.
Wednesday 17th May
We caught an early Finnair flight from Heathrow to Helsinki. A very comfortable mini bus came to collect us and took us to Glo Hotel Art Helsinki where we all had a streamlined check in. We had an hour or so free for lunch and my friend and I popped over the road to a small covered market.We instantly felt like we had “arrived” as everyone we spoke with was so friendly and helpful. One interesting vegan open sandwich and excellent coffee later we were galvanised and ready for our afternoon in the Design District. Hoorah!
We walked along quiet Helsinki streets to LOKALwhich is a beautiful gallery space with a friendly owner. We met two sisters currently showing their work there ; Anna and Sandra Kantanen. They gave us some insight into their current collaboration of ceramics, furniture and art. Time was still available to explore other design shops in the same area before weaving our way back to the hotel.
A free evening to organise our own food for which I was grateful. I’d been following Nigel Slater’s Instagram whilst he was in Helsinki recently. His rave review of Chef and Sommelierhad made me grab a table for this evening and we were not disappointed. Delicious courses of vegetables (for me anyway) with wine parings (90 euros a head) and charming service in this tiny restaurant will be a memory that will stay with me for some while.
Thursday 18th May
We headed off by minibus bright and early to the Helsinki Design Centre ARABIA for a tour of the museum. We also had the opportunity to meet some of the world class ceramic artists who have their studio in this impressive former factory building.
. These artists included Fujiwo Ishimoto, Heljä Liukko-Sundström, Heikki Orvola, Pekka Paikkari, Heini Riitahuhta, Kristina Riska, Kim Simonsson, Kati Tuominen-Niittylä and Jasmin Anoschkin. My favourite was Pekka Paikkari who apologised for his being late. His explanation was that he was “picking flowers and gathering moss in the forest to decorate the tables at (his) daughter’s wedding on an island at the weekend”. This was an insight into the rather wonderful life that some Finnish have which we saw repeatedly during our visit to the woods, lakes and countryside on the rest of the trip.
There were a number of shops downstairs some of which were outlet shops and a nice cafe but we saved ourselves and kept an eye on the time as a delicious lunch had been organised for us at a restaurant near the harbour back in Helsinki. The Royal Ravintolat Salutorget featured beautiful stained glass panels in a dining room reminiscent of the Wolseley In London.
. This area near Esplanaden is teeming with lovely shops and the group seemed to converge on the same places which coincidentally featured some of the work by artists we had met at Arabia.
At teatime we visited the Ateneum, the flagship museum of the Finnish National Gallery http://www.ateneum.fi/?lang=en. Sointu Fritze, Senior Curator, introduced the new Alvar Aalto Exhibition and talked about the development of Finnish Art and Culture from 1800’s. This was a perfect introduction to the work of Alvar and his two wives that we would see much of over the course of the week. We used our extra time independently to explore the art collections before heading back to freshen up prior to our smart supper. We ate on the top floor of the Savoy Restaurant with views over Helsinki in the bright evening sunshine. https://www.royalravintolat.com/en/restaurants/restaurant/restaurant-savoy?gclid=CO7ygJbrlNQCFRHhGwodV8cLxA
Friday 19th May
Alvar Aalto’s Studio and home (different venues) are outside Helsinki and we were met there by Hannah who was a very entertaining and enthusiastic multilingual guide. The light in the buildings was wonderful and it was so different actually being in the buildings rather than looking at pictures of them.
The afternoon’s buildings couldn't have been more different. Hvittrask
was built by three architects who wanted to live and work together just after the turn of the century. The style was arts and crafts meets art deco meets romantic castle/church. It was a very special location overlooking a lake and we had lunch in the beautiful restaurant on the site before our guided tour by Lassi.
Supper was at Finnjavel back in the city which featured ceramics and furniture from Fiskars and lighting which we saw featured in the Design Museum later in the week. The meal itself was a tasting menu of nordic foods.
Saturday 20th May
Guided tour at the Design Museum. Like many of the other museums and galleries the celebration of 100 years of Finland’s independence was the theme. An object from every year was displayed in the basement and a comprehensive exhibition of the most famous and influential Finnish Designs such as the orange handled scissors from Fiskars were curated on the ground floor. Superb museum.
Free time in the afternoon was very welcome and enabled us to go an see anywhere we wanted such as the Rock churchand the contemporary art museum Kiasma
I had booked Kuurna restaurant for my friend and myself that evening. A small casual restaurant over looking the harbour. We ate fireweed with hollandaise and delicious fresh fish and lentils.
21st/22nd May FISKARS
An early start with our suitcases to travel by minibus to Fiskars which is an artists community in former industrial buildings and worker’s homes in the countryside. There was an opportunity to visit the homes of artists, craftsmen and ceramicists over two days such as Karin Widnas and hear them talk about their work.
Antrei Harti Kainen
My favourite group meal turned out to be at Wardshus next to the hotel where we were staying. Elegant and summery food in a lovely light modern dining room.
I felt quite bereft leaving Fiskars as the setting was very beautiful and peaceful next to the water and I’d felt very honoured visiting ceramicists in their houses in the woods. Onwards and upwards we travelled four hours, north to Jyvaskyla. The Sokos Hotel Paviljonki was very comfortable and I had stunning semi-industrial views from the 7th floor over the lake.
Tuesday 23rd May
We were driven slightly out of town to the university campus(designed by Alvar Aalto) and enjoyed a guided visit at the Alvar Aalto Museum followed by a tour of the campus and then the Saynatsalo Town Hall
Travelling further out of Jyvaskyla to an island on the lake we continued our Alvar Aalto education with a guided visit at Alvar Aalto’s Experimental house which is still used as a summer house by his family. The setting once again was idyllic and peaceful and I really enjoyed being in the woods looking at the wood anemones, lily of the valley and ferns growing everywhere. Another memory to cherish.
Muurame Church is a short distance away also designed by AA although I would not have guessed this. It is a tuscan (magnolia)pastiche slightly now over restored perhaps. http://alvaraaltosarchitecture.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/aalto-in-muurame.html We were met there by the delightful tapestry artist Aino Kajaniemi who is currently working on a commission for the church. She had generously invited us all to her house in the evening for supper where we heard more about her work and saw her studio.http://www.flowgallery.co.uk/portfolio/aino-kajaniemi A very lovely end to a very lovely week.
Catching the plane the next day to go back to London and looking through my pictures and couldn't quite get over the variety of buildings we had visited and the number of new artists that we had been introduced to. It really was a feast for the senses on many levels and I am already planning to return although it wont be quite the same without our very special group of new friends.