Finnish Design Museums

photo © Visit Finland / Aku Pöllänen

In 1875, the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design was founded. To begin with, the society maintained a school which educated people in manual skills and craftsmanship, and which assembled a collection of international industrial arts and crafts.

Prompted by one of the founders, Professor of Aesthetics Carl Gustaf Estlander, in cooperation with the Finnish Fine Arts Association, a major new construction project was carried out, resulting in The Ateneum building. The Ateneum was completed in 1887 and originally housed two museum  collections, one for each society. Today, the Ateneum houses Finland’s national art gallery.

At the end of the 1980s, the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design adopted a new, international name, Design Forum Finland, whose core business was to promote design among small and medium-sized industry as well as international operations. Operations settled down in the form of exhibitions in Finland and abroad, publicity and communications, publications, competitions and awards. Design Forum Finland is located at 7 Erottajankatu in central Helsinki, where it has exhibition spaces and the Design Forum Shop.

Founded in 1873 as a study collection for the arts and crafts school, DESIGNMUSEO is a specialist museum that selects and maintains a design collection of both national and international importance. It also has responsibility for research in the field of design, and for organising international exhibitions of Finnish art and design. DESIGNMUSEO has been located at Korkeavuorenkatu 23 since 1978, in a building desinged by Gustaf Nyström in 1894. In 1989, the Foundation of the Museum of Art and Design was established to support the activities of DESIGNMUSEO.

Alvar Aalto is perhaps the most internationally renowned of all Finland’s great designers, and the scope and impact of his work can best be explored at the Alvar Aalto Museum, which is located on a slope leading down towards Lake Jyväsjärvi, in Jyväskylä. 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. The building also houses an Artek shop selling many of the design classics created by Aalto.

The Finnish company, Arabia, has garnered a worldwide reputation for its designs, and at the Arabia Museum (located at Hämeentie 135, in the same building where the old Arabia Factory used to be.), visitors can enjoy an exhibition which includes their popular tableware and ornamental models throughout the company’s history. The exhibits range from the initial products through various services with exotic plant and floral motifs, such as Fasan Willow, Japan, Canton, Singapore, Diana, Koti and Myrna, to the multi-purpose functional collections of the past years and decades. These include Kilta, Teema, Paratiisi, Valencia, Ruska, Liekki, Arctica, Olo and many others. Works by the designers of the Arabia Art Department are an impressive visual aspect of the exhibition.

Located in the town of Urjala, some 65km from Tampere, 105km from Turku, and 160km from Helsinki, is the Nuutajärvi Glass Museum in the Nuutajärvi Glass Village, which was was founded in 1793, and is home to Finland’s oldest glass factory. For over 200 years, the art of glassblowing has been at the centre of this small community, and the factory has produced the work of such great designers as Kaj Franck, Gunnel Nyman, Saara Hopea, Markku Salo, Oiva Toikka, and Kerttu Nurminen. Even today, you can still find the world famous Toikka Glass Birds still being handcrafted by master glassblowers, created by Professor Oiva Toikka, one of the greatest names in Finnish glass. Although the Birds collection is his best known work, he has enjoyed a long career which has seen him receive numerous awards, such as the Lunning Prize, Pro Finlandia Medal, World Glass Now 85 Award, Kaj Franck Design Prize and the Prince Eugen Medal. Also located in the Nuutajärvi Glass Village is the Nuutajärvi Factory Shop, which is open daily. In July, The Nuutajärvi Glass Museum is open Tue-Sun, 10am-5pm. Other times are available for groups by appointment only. The nearest railway stations are in Humppila (18km) and Toijala (38km).

Another world-famous design brand from Finland is Iittala, and their contribution to the development of design in Finland is well represented at the Iittala Glass Museum located in Hämeenlinna, just 90 minutes from Helsinki. Amongst the timeless classics on display here are the Aalto Vase, which was first shown to the public in 1937, where it became, and indeed remains today, an international sensation. Other signature iittala glass pieces have been designed by such great artists as Aino Aalto, Kaj Franck, Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva. The museum is open daily, depending on the month, and guided tours of the Glass Factory can be reserved. The Iittala Factory Outlet is also open daily during the summer and at weekends during the winter.

Finally, another space open to the public where they can explore Finnish and Scandanavian design is Galleria Norsu, which is dedicated to Nordic contemporary craft. Located in the centre of Helsinki at Kaisaniemenkatu 9, the gallery showcases the best in innovative Nordic craft, both functional and sculptural. Galleria Norsu is run by the Society for New Craft, a non-profit society, which seeks to promote the appreciation and understanding of contemporary Finnish and Nordic craft through exhibitions, seminars, lectures, and excursions.