Finnish Design Museums
photo © Visit Finland / Aku Pöllänen
Finnish appreciation for art and design has long been evident to visitors to Finland, where almost every town features installations, statues, and monuments, and where galleries are almost as plentiful as the stores offering locally fashioned hand-crafted wares. Visitors can explore and discover the history of Finnish Design in a number of design-specific museums, which we introduce below.
Previously, in 1873, Designmuseo had been founded as a study collection for the arts and crafts school. Today it is a specialist museum that selects and maintains a design collection of both national and international importance. Designmuseo is an internationally recognized national specialist museum of Finnish design, which researches, collects, stores and documents design, and displays it both in Finland and in touring exhibitions abroad. Designmuseo has been located at Korkeavuorenkatu 23 since 1978, in a suitably striking building designed by Gustaf Nyström, in the heart of the Helsinki Design District, close to the harbour and Esplanadi.
Design Museum Arabia
Design Museum Arabia is located at Arabianranta in Helsinki as part of Iittala & Arabia Design Centre. The Finnish company, Arabia, has garnered a worldwide reputation for its designs, and at Design Museum Arabia visitors can enjoy an exhibition which includes their popular tableware and ornamental models throughout the company’s history. The museum displays the products of the Arabia ceramics factory and the Iittala glassworks, now part of the Fiskars Group, from 1873 to the present day. Compiled from the collections of Design Museum, the exhibition gives the leading role to the history of ceramic and glass design in Finland. Works by the designers of the Arabia Art Department are an impressive visual aspect of the exhibition.
Design Museum Iittala
Visitors to Design Museum Iittala can discover the fascinating history of another internationally famous Finnish design brand, Iittala, and the company’s contribution to the development of design in Finland. Design Museum Iittala is located in the lakeside town of Hämeenlinna, just 90 minutes from Helsinki, and features the leading works of Finnish glass art from the 1880s to the present day. Amongst the timeless classics on display here are the Aalto Vase, which was first shown to the public in 1937, becoming an instant international sensation. Other signature iittala glass pieces have been designed by artists as Aino Aalto, Kaj Franck, Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva.
Design Museum Nuutajärvi
Located in the small town of Urjala, between Turku and Tampere, Design Museum Nuutajärvi is part of the fascinating Nuutajärvi Glass Village. Founded in 1793, and home to the oldest glass factory in Finland, the art of glassblowing has been central to this small community for over 200 years. Nuutajärvi glassworks came to international attention in the post-war years thanks to work of leading Finnish designers like Kaj Franck and Oiva Toikka, and has since produced the work of other fine designers such as Gunnel Nyman, Saara Hopea, Markku Salo, and Kerttu Nurminen. In the museum you’ll discover the captivating history of glass making in Finland, through pieces like the world famous Toikka Glass Birds, which continues today in the studios of both young and experienced glass designers. Also located in the Nuutajärvi Glass Village is the Nuutajärvi Factory Shop, which is open daily.
Alvar Aalto Museum
Alvar Aalto is one of the most internationally renowned of all Finland’s great designers, a distinctive architect whose many works remain central to Finnish life. An understanding of the scope and impact of his work can best be explored at the Alvar Aalto Museum, located in Jyväskylä. Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the world of Aalto’s architecture, design, and personal life, while also having an architectonic experience of space and building. The museum’s main exhibition presents Aalto’s extensive works and interesting personal history; in addition to the architectural objects, his glass and furniture design are also displayed. The museum provides a showcase for his work, an information centre, organises exhibitions, and works to preserve the many buildings he designed throughout the world. The museum itself was designed by Aalto, and was completed in 1973.
Fiskars Village and Fiskars Museum
The humble beginnings of Fiskars Village can be traced to 1649, when Peter Thorwöste founded Fiskars Ironworks, having been granted, by Queen Christina of Sweden, a privilege to make cast iron and forged works – except cannon. Today Fiskars’ consumer products for the home, garden, and outdoors are internationally renowned for their functionality and cutting-edge design. In the 1980s the company moved its manufacturing base, while trying to keep the traditions of the village and buildings alive by searching for new inhabitants. Soon, craftsmen, designers and artists began to fill the vacant historic buildings, under the slogan ‘A Living Ironworks Village’. The project was a huge success and the result is that the Fiskars Village of today is a lively cultural environment where design, handicraft and art flourish all year round.
The Fiskars Museum has developed into a local museum of living history, preserving and displaying ironworks culture from the 17th century to today. Located in the Upper Ironworks, the museum provides guided tours, time travels, and events, which allow visitors to become immersed in the life of Fiskars over the centuries. The Pohja local history archive holds documents of the fascinating history of the Ironworks and the municipality.
There are over 20 historic buildings to see and explore in Fiskars Village, some converted to cafés and restaurants, while visitors will find a showcase of quality Finnish art and design daily at the shops that dot the village, as well as at the many exhibitions that are held throughout the year. Having explored the village, visitors are encouraged to explore the nature trails that lead from paths through pastures to steep, woody slopes with lofty broadleaved trees and green groves.
Pentik-mäki Culture Centre
The small Lapland town of Posio might at first appear to be an unusual location for a Finnish design museum, but thanks to the vision of Anu and Topi Pentikäinen, Posio is now known best for its ceramics and art. Pentik-mäki Culture Centre has become a cultural and tourist attraction, where Pentik’s world famous ceramics, candles, and art are made. Pentik-mäki provides visitors with fascinating insights into the past and present of the Pentik brand. Glass walkways connect buildings that contain a factory store, museum, exhibition and café, covering a total area of 2,500 square metres. Permanent exhibitions include the Countryside Memories and International Coffee Cup Museums and The Old Ceramics exhibition. Visitors can also visit the Pentik Home Museum, Art Center Timisjärvi, the Pentik Manor Art Centre, and the Anu Pentik Gallery.