FINLAND

 

 

 

Finnish History in brief

 

Finland's traces of human settlement date back to the thaw of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago. The Finns' ancestors seem to have dominated half of northern Russia before arriving on the north of the Baltic coast well before the Christian era. By the end of the Viking Age, Swedish traders and chieftains had extended their interests throughout the Baltic region. Over the centuries, Finland has sat precariously between the Protestant Swedish Empire and Eastern Orthodox Russia. From the 12th century on, for seven centuries, it was part of Sweden. In the Finnish War (1809) Sweden was defeated by Russia and lost Finland, which became an autonomous Grand Duchy with the Czar as its ruler. Finland retained its own legislation and its old form of society, including the free status of the peasantry, the Lutheran religion and the old Swedish system of law and government.

 

With nationalism beginning to surge during the latter half of the 19th century, Finland gained greater autonomy, though new oppression and Russification followed, making Finns emotionally ripe for independence. In the 1917 Revolution in Russia, Finland declared itself independent on December 6; Russia's Bolshevik government recognized Finnish independence on December 31. Finland has been a member of the European Union since 1995. The long, rich and eventful past has spun a lot of…

 

Mythology

 

Despite being a sparsely populated place, thick with forests and littered with lakes, Finland maintained it's close connection with nature and it's magic. Whenever the folks plowed or harvested their fields, whenever they hunted or fished – or healed the sick - there were always many magical details to consider, spirits to please and omens from nature to observe. Every tree and lake, river and mountain, every plant and animal had their guardian spirits. These spirits could be malefic or benefic but it was important to keep them happy with rituals and offerings of food. Some of these spirits could take animal or bird form, such as bear or raven.

Finnish mythology survived based on word-of-mouth tale-telling – a few to mention are the rambling epics of V
ÄINÄMÖINEN, the Finnish folk hero, and the publishing of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic (which has been an inspiration to later writers, like J.R.R. Tolkien on The Lord of The Rings and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on the Song of Hiawatha). These stories give intriguing glimpses of a mythology centered around trees, animals, natural forces... and more trees.

When Christianity came and spread into Finland, Finnish mythology didn't disappear - instead the Christian beliefs influenced and merged at times with old folk beliefs. Elves, fairies, trolls, guardian spirits and other mythical creatures continued to live on in tales by the fireside. And they have found their way even into the daily, modern life – on Christmas Eve some people still leave porridge out (like cookies for Santa here in the US!) for the elves, guardian spirits of the house and barn; Midsummer is still one of the most celebrated times of the year – big bonfires are burned all over the country (originally to scare away bad spirits) and Midsummer Night is the time to cast some spells to capture the heart of elusive sweetheart.  You can see some of these magical creatures from the old tales hiding in the forest outside the window in this exhibit! Most of these creatures live in…

 

Nature

 

Despite the continuing urbanization of life in Finland, most Finns still maintain links with the nature. Conservation and other green values have wide support. What gives Finnish scenery its own particular charm is the interplay between forests and lakes. Even the densest forests are interspersed with countless lakes, ponds and rivers; while even the largest lakes are dotted with tree-covered islands. You can see some of beautiful Finnish landscapes outside the window! The wonderful nature has also influenced…

 

Design

Many world known Finnish designers, for example, Alvar Aalto, Tapio Wirkkala, Kaj Frank, recent Oiva Toikka and many others, have derived their inspiration from nature and natural elements. Textiles often echo these same motives, most noticeably the popular textile design line of Marimekko.

The American shopper became familiar with the distinctive cut and bright colors of Marimekko back in the 1960s, partly through the extensive publicity the company attracted when Jacqueline Kennedy bought their dresses. These days there are three main product lines: clothing, interior decoration textiles, and bags.

 

In recent years, Marimekko has made a strong comeback in interior design by reintroducing whole families of products from Maija Isola’s bold floral fabrics of the 1960s. You can see some Marimekko prints and other modern Finnish interior design in the “living room” where you are standing right now!