Piispala, Tampere and Porvoo – travels in Finland

Am (almost) final installment about my travels around Finland.  After my time in Helsinki and at Haihatus art residency featured earlier on Kuriosas, I spent the last part of my trip in Tampere, Finland’s second largest city around 100 miles north of Helsinki, visiting a Finnish artist I’d met called Leena

Despite only meeting her once at the art residency, Leena kindly offered me a place to stay with her partner and two blonde tots in a leafy suburb of Tampere, and I found myself with amazingly warm, generous, creative and like minded tour guides for a couple of days.

Upon my arrival, I was given ‘arctic circle mushroom tea’ which apparently was just a health tonic and wasn’t going to make me see elves.  I loved some of the vintage Finnish ceramics on offer and enjoyed the relaxed bohemian feel to their airy apartment, with impossibly good design everywhere I looked.

I was treated to hearty porridge breakfasts with frozen berries added in – common place in Finland with it’s abundance of foraging and fruits.

We took walks in the nearby woods with her little ones and her arctic hunter dog (who at one point dragged me through bushes Frank Spencer style as it tried to hunt a squirrel)

During my time there, Leena showed me a fascinating neighbourhood on the periphery of Tampere called Pispala.  I’d actually heard about Pispala back in 2007 when I spent time in Vilnius, Lithuania (picking up treats like this book cover on the way) meeting a Finnish artist Sami who was from the area and told me what a special place it was, full of artists and creative people so I was very intrigued to see this Scandinavian artsy shangri-la.

Featuring colourful wooden houses around a lake, and steep stairwells between the streets, it reminded me of somewhere like San Franscisco, and the undeniably relaxed and bohemian atmosphere added to this.

Street art, colourful houses, waves lapping on the shore and a horizontally relaxed atmosphere, it reminded me a little of other hippy enclaves like Christiana in Copenhagen or Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania.  With factory and construction workers originally living there when Tampere became industrialised, the area is now home to a number of Finnish artists and celebrities.

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Alvar Aalto Muuratsalo Experimental House, Finland

On a mission to find the Perala museum full of Finnish product design in my recent post, I accidentally but happily stumbled upon the 1952 ‘summer cottage’ of seminal Finnish architect Alvar Aalto called the Experimental House, on the sleepy island of Muuratsalo nestled in forest next to the epic and dreamy Lake Päijänne, the second biggest lake in Finland.

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Vintage Finnish book illustration – Outi Markkanen

During my time in Finland, scouring charity shops or ‘kirpiis’ I was hoping to find some odd publications to blog about so was thrilled to come across this beautiful children’s book ‘Kurnau ja Kamaluu.’  Typing that into a translation tool expecting to find a gentle children’s title I was alarmed / tickled to find it means ‘Crouching and Screaming.’  Sounds like a lovely soothing tale for bedtime.  Anyway, something was surely lost in translation there as the illustrations contained within it are so sweet and charmingly psychedelic.

Printed in 1978 by Sanoma Osakeythio, Helsinki and written by Jaana Lappo, I love the work of it’s illustrator Outi Markkanen (b.1951).

Eye catching retro colour palettes, with bright pinks and yellows – this far out image below is my favourite

I was really bewitched by some of these scenes, especially the friendship with the giant cat which reminded me a bit of the seminal and wonderful Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro (1988) where a huge rabbit spirit creature befriends a small girl – I am still fixated on a Totoro type creature coming to see me in my dreams one day.

It seems Outi has worked on a number of children’s publications and is still creating. Her grandfather was a well known Finnish painter Urti Lehtinen (1887-1982)

Finnish is so damn weird that staring at the words on the pages is also like looking at a work of art – I find it quite mesmerising to look at

Nice effects with dots here

Endearingly, a small person called Mika had previously owned this book and had scribed their name in it

These magical end pages showing an inky blue night sky are surely the perfect way to end a bedtime story

Funnily, I was looking through some postcards by local artists at the rural arts residency I was staying at and was really drawn to this one, buying it immediately.

It reminded me a lot of the work of Estonian illustrator Juri Arrak who I had interviewed earlier on in my trip for my post here, in particular his amazing 1975 tome the Swamp Ladies of Estonia 

It was only later on that I noticed on the back of the card that this work was also by Outi, from 1983.  To me it perfectly captures the intriguing world of Scandinavian folklore, and the tales of trolls and elves that permeate Finland.

Link to (Finnish) wiki about Outi here

Kurnau ja Kamaluu, Jaana Lappo. Published by Sanoma Osakeyhtio, Helsinki 1978


Finnish Vintage Product Design Museum – Perälä | Interview with Marjukka Perälä

After over two weeks cooped up at our creative hideout in rural Finland we were itching for a daytrip before we headed back to Helsinki. The one feasible daytrip, beyond the miles of forest and lakes that engulfed us, was the unpronounceable city of Jyväskylä.  Finnish travel can be super expensive and on a shoestring artist budget, we decided this was the one trip we would do, and could justify it right at the end of our stay.  Well timed as by then our cabin fever levels in our tiny town had reached feverish heights.

The day before we planned to go, I happened to glance in the recycling box at our arts residency – and saw a particularly beguiling woman half obscured in a newspaper supplement.  Pulling it out I was even more intrigued by this individual, perched by a lake in a dazzling get-up.

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Haihatus Art Residency, Finland

A little post about my time in the Finnish wilderness.  After Helsinki in my last post, my companion, artist Rachael Macarthur and I set off for an arts residency Haihatus based in the remote lakeland region of Finland in a small town surrounded by forest called Joutsa.

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Early 20th century surreal postcards


I came across a super exhibition of nuts early 20th century surreal postcards when I was in Helsinki, at the brilliant Finnish Museum of Photography.

Some of the cards below are from as early as 1905 so pre-dated the Surrealist era of the 1920’s – so interesting to see how people were receptive to oddball and obscure humour long before we imagine it was part of popular culture.

My favourites were the oldest ones that I thought were also the most out there. The lemon is also possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen



The curators did a great job to locate so many beautiful and odd examples from all over the world.  I liked these April Fool’s ones

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Women and small animals metamorphosing also seemed to be a theme




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Helsinki & Kauniste design shop




A few snapshots from Helsinki here, which I sailed into from Tallinn.  I was given a ‘traditional’ Estonian send off which meant I was rolled onto the ferry at 7am, after no sleep and surrounded by a curious scent of vodka so proceeded to snore through the entire glorious morning cruise through the Baltic.  When I stumbled off the boat at 10am with Scandinavian summertime rays already beating down, in a haze of trying to wake up and work out where I was I found scenes like this greeting me:


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