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.

Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) was an architect and designer raised in nearby Jyvaskyla creating furniture, textiles and glassware along with painting and sculpture which he considered to be “branches of the tree whose trunk is architecture.”

His career spanned many architectural styles from the 1920’s through to the 1970’s and consistent throughout his career was an attention to Gesamtkunstwerk – a total work of art – where the whole building would be considered with special consideration to interiors, furniture, lamps, textiles and glassware.

The Experimental house was Alvar and his partner Elissa’s Aalto’s self-designed studio and summer abode.  It was here that Aalto undertook various experiments with different materials and techniques

Walking through the woods I decided to take a further look and was amazed at the red brick building peeping out, which looked more like a British school or community centre in it’s style yet was nestled in a sleepy Finnish forest.

Formed around a central courtyard which accommodated stunning views out to the lake, the summer residence acted as an incubator of sorts to Alato  he “could carry out experiments that are not yet sufficiently well developed to be tried out in practice and where the proximity of nature may offer inspiration for both form and structure”

There were all kinds of intriguing brick patterns around the courtyard – apparently he used fifty types of brick, getting to simultaneously test the aesthetics of a variety of patterns as well as how durable they would be in an exposed climate

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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.

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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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Estonian Abstract Art

“Windmill” Kuno Veeber, 1918

Another post here about my travels in Estonia, following on from my earlier interview in Tallinn with Estonian painter Jüri Arrak.  Lots of my images were stuck on a defunct hard drive until now so now I’ve finally unearthed them I’ll be continuing the thread for a wee while.  After my Estonian jaunt I also hopped on a boat for some frolics in Finland so expect a Baltic / Scandi flavour for the next few posts.



One other thing I enjoyed in Tallinn alongside the Russian market and  my meeting with Jüri Arrak was the fantastic KUMU art museum where I discovered all sorts of exciting Estonian artists active at the height of Modernism between around 1910 and 1930 and producing some beautiful abstract works to rival their better known Cubist and Expressionist counterparts in Western Europe.

IMG_1534Here’s a selection of some of the folk I came across and a few of their striking works.

Kuno Veeber (1898-1928) was an Estonian painter and graphic artist. Originally studying medicine, he later travelled to Germany where he acquainted himself with Expressionism (which shows in this stunning technicolour windmill painting from 1918) He later relocated to Montparnasse in Paris, which was obviously a magnet for many artists and intellectuals from around the world at that time.  Here he spent his time studying French and examining old graphic techniques at the Paris National Library of prints, and later moved on to a scholarship at the Italian Foundation of Fine Arts.

The mellow pastelly light blues and pinks in this painting also really reminded me of one of my favourite paintings of the period, ‘Pavlova’ by Leeds based artist Bruce Turner , produced six years earlier in 1912.


‘Pavlova’ Bruce Turner, 1912. Oil on canvas

Kuno exhibited all over Europe but very sadly ended his life at the age of 32, although I’m glad he seemed to have filled his short lifetime with a range of adventures and experiences that would have taken some courage back then, as well as well as some incredible creative accomplishments.

I also loved the work of Edgar Tomberg which I came across through looking up Kumo Veeber’s work, but can find next to no information about apart from that he studied alongside Kuno in the early 1920’s


‘The Boats’ Edgar Tomberg, 1924, Oil on Cardboard.

I really enjoyed happening upon the more Cubist looking works by Henrik Olvi and Arnold Akberg too, and later found out they were actually part of a group of Estonian artists in the early 1920’s (called, appropriately, the ‘Group of Estonian Artists‘, or ‘EKR‘) who joined forces based on their shared interest in Avant Garde movements of the time, particularly Constructivism and Cubism and their mutual interest in ‘reshaping the every day environment.’

This is what the general shift towards Abstraction in visual arts around the globe at that time was obviously exploring – finding novel, more experimental ways to express and represent the physical world, after centuries of art being figurative.  EKR produced many artworks throughout the 1920’s in the fields of painting, graphic arts, stage arts and sculpture, as well as book and applied design.

Henrik Olvi (1894-1972) was a painter and sculptor, going on to study in St Petersburg and later working in the field of theatre and Arnold Akberg (1894 – 1984) was mostly self taught and exhibited widely across Europe during his career.

‘Seahore’ Arnold Akberg, 1926


‘Rand’ Arnold Akberg, 1931

‘Dekoratiivinen paneeli’ Arnold Akberg, 1927


Henrik Olvi 1945

More about EKR and many other related artists here.

I also loved the rainbow post-impressionist landscapes from Konrad Magi (1878-1925).  Having studied in the Estonian city of Tartu he then moved on to St Petersburg and spent time studying in Paris and Norway before returning to Tartu as an Art teacher.  Magi produced some of the first modern Estonian nature paintings and was strongly influenced both by Impressionism and the dazzling colours of Fauvism


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