Easter greetings from the Helsinki University Museum! Our object of the month in April is a red Easter egg that is more than 100 years old. The egg used to belong to Eero Loimaranta, a Finnish medical doctor, who is said to have received it as a gift from Grand Duchess Maria of Russia during the First World War. The porcelain egg is 10 centimetres high. It has holes on the top and bottom of the shell, perhaps for hanging the egg on a string. The smooth porcelain surface is decorated with the Cyrillic characters X and B, or H and V when translated into the Latin alphabet. The egg came into the Helsinki University Museum’s possession as part of the collections of the museum of medical history.
A metre is a comfortable measurement. The length of a pike is about one metre, that of Finland is a million, and a cubic metre is one thousand litres. A thousand litres of water weighs a tonne. Easy! It must have been a walk in the park to develop and adopt such a simple and functional system. Or was it?
February’s object of the month is Hugo Backmansson’s painting “12 Ophthalmologists” from the Galleria Academica portrait collection of the University of Helsinki. The piece hangs in the Emergency Outpatient Clinic for Eye Diseases. Located in the Meilahti medical campus, the clinic was originally affiliated with the University, but was transferred to the Helsinki University Central Hospital in 1958 and to the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) in 2000. The Helsinki University Museum and the HUS Museum Committee performed an inventory on the historical collections of the clinic last year and divided the objects in the collection between them.
Completed in 1923, the painting, which is also known as “The meeting of ophthalmologists”, depicts a group of twelve ophthalmologists gathered around a green table. Some seem to be engaged in a lively discussion while others are lost in thought. Backmansson has rendered each character as a distinct personality without ignoring the group dynamics in the piece.
This time, the Object of the Month is an interesting recent donation to the Helsinki University Museum that consists of photos mainly illustrating the activities of the Hämäläis-Osakunta student nation (a student association originally affiliated with the Häme region of Finland) in 1929 and 1930. What makes this donation particularly valuable is that the original owner of the photos, Moira Lindfors (née Tuomikoski, formely Hormi, 1908–1979) has written on their back when and where they were taken, often also noting the names of the people in them.
The grandmother of the Berlin-based donor was Irja Tuomikoski, known as Moira, who completed her matriculation examination in Hämeenlinna and began to study law at the University of Helsinki in autumn 1928. She joined the Hämäläis-Osakunta student nation, a community of close to 1,000 students in the late 1920s. In 1930 the members of Hämäläis-Osakunta comprised up to one-quarter of all members of the Student Union.
The donated photos were discovered when I went to view a large set of photos sent to the Vantaa City Museum. My aim was to identify people in the photos who were associated with Katrineberg Manor in Vantaa, which I was investigating. Browsing the photos, I realised that they included rare depictions of student life.
I found a total of 31 photos which the owner eventually donated to the Helsinki University Museum at my request. Many of the photos were from 1929 and showed, for example, a procession celebrating the birthday of J. V. Snellman, a Finnish baseball tournament between student nations, excursions by Hämäläis-Osakunta, Flora Day celebrations and individual members of the student nation. I became particularly interested in a photo showing male students in dark caps and two female students in white caps, standing in front of a ship. I recognised the darker caps as those worn by Estonian students because I had previously visited the University of Tartu Museum in Estonia.
Resusci Anne is resting in the collection facility of the Helsinki University Museum, protected by dust covers. Anne bears the likeness of a beautiful, youngish woman with golden blonde hair and a blue-and-white tracksuit. Her eyes are closed and her mouth is slightly open. The manikin, its carrying case and other equipment for practising resuscitation were donated to the University Museum by the museum committee of Pitkäniemi Hospital in 2012. Pitkäniemi, Finland’s fourth oldest psychiatric hospital, is still operational today.
Used for practising cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), Resusci Anne is a remarkably realistic looking manikin, developed by the Norwegians Åsmund Lærdal and Björn Lind and the Austrian Peter Safar. The manikin was first presented in 1961 at the First International Symposium on Resuscitation in Stavanger, Norway. The face of the manikin is based on L’Inconnue de la Seine, a plaster cast death mask of an unidentified woman reputedly drowned in the River Seine in the 19th century.
A gold ring rests on a purple velvet pillow in a leather case. A golden building glows against a dark-blue enamel ring base, with a golden lyre glimmering above the building. Today, the building is known as the Old Student House, but when the ring was forged, the unique edifice had just been completed – a building for the nation’s young hopefuls!
A number of rings commemorating the construction process were made at the time. The ring included in the collections of the Helsinki University Museum belonged to Carl Gustav Borg, a university lecturer, writer and translator. Another ring, which used to belong to businessman Nikolai Kiseleff, is safe and sound in the archives of the University’s Student Union. The University Museum has no information on the fate of the other rings.
Previous owner of the ring
Who then was Carl Gustav Borg? Born in the Northern Ostrobothnia region of Finland in 1823, he completed a master’s degree in Helsinki and later conducted research on language and translated both fairy tales and legislation. He also served as extraordinary lecturer of Finnish at the Imperial Alexander University and held elected positions in the Finnish Literature Society and the Diet. In fact, the ring came to his possession through his position on the Student House’s five-member construction committee. Borg had a versatile career: for example, he administered the affairs of Elias Lönnrot, a physician, philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry, and organised his funeral.
Students as tenants
As early as the 1850s, the Student Union and faculties together rented a whole floor of a stone building, including an outbuilding, owned by city surgeon Fredrik Pihlflyckt. However, the high rent gave rise to the idea of constructing an all-new building just for students. The matter was officially discussed in 1858 at a meeting of the faculty of history and philology. The identity of the person who first proposed the construction of the building has later been the subject of debate. One of the names put forward was C. G. Borg, who was the faculty’s curator and extraordinary lecturer in Finnish at the time.
The project strikes the right chord
The construction project required funds. At the recommendation of the University Senate and the deputy chancellor, the emperor gave students permission to raise funds. Various events and plays were organised, but student singing events proved the most productive source of revenue. A triple quartet founded for the purpose toured the country, raising funds. This is the reason for the inscription Spei suae patria dedit (‘The fatherland gave to the hopeful’) above the entrance to the building.
Change of plans
Originally, a plot was acquired for the building on what is now the site of the National Archives of Finland. However, after a series of phases and difficulties, the plot in the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Itä-Heikinkatu (now Mannerheimintie) streets was chosen instead. The plans for the building itself also underwent significant changes. It was proposed that the building have three or four storeys and that it also accommodate other parties, such as the National Museum of Finland. Eventually, the decision was made to build a two-storey building.
Construction committee and architect
When the plot had been acquired and an appropriate nest egg had been built up, it was decided in 1867 to elect a construction committee that would hire an architect, inspect the drawings, see to the instalment of the foundation piles, the levelling of the plot and the erection of the building itself, and regularly report on progress to the Student Union. The five members elected to the construction committee included C. G. Borg, who had managed the project funds since 1863. The board selected Axel Hampus Dahlström as the architect. He was also the first architect (later director general) of the National Board of Public Buildings. Dahlström drew a plan for a neo-Renaissance building with a banqueting hall at its centre. The building also included a restaurant, a library and rooms for the meetings of student associations and faculties as well as a smaller venue known as the music hall. The emperor approved the drawings in 1869, and the building was completed the following year.
The building was inaugurated on 26 November 1870. The date was chosen to commemorate the University’s opening on the same day in 1722 after it had been closed due to the Great Northern War. The inauguration programme included a morning celebration held in Finnish and Swedish, with the construction committee attending as honorary guests. The celebration began and ended with the song Maamme (‘Our Land’), now the Finnish national anthem. After the other guests had left, the Student Union presented the members of the construction committee with gold rings. The festivities continued in the evening with a ball. At a dinner held the next day, the participants raised their glasses to the triple quartet singers, architect Dahlström and the construction committee.
Public and private
From the outset, the construction project drew the attention of the press and the public. The press reported eagerly on the fundraising campaign, the building plans and the issue of which language or languages would be used at the inauguration ceremony. The donation of the gold rings was also promptly chronicled. The Old Student House and events held there have been in the public eye in later years as well. The building has seen its fair share of history, including a visit by Alexander III of Russia, anti-Russification activism, a performance by an underground artist that led to a prison sentence, and the occupation of the building in the late 1960s. However, students have also met each other in the building for reading, singing, celebrations and other activities without making the headlines.
This article will be published on 26 November 2020, the 150th anniversary of the Old Student House. What will the future bring for the building?
Congratulations to the Old Student House, and all the best both now and in the future!
Susanna Hakkarainen, project planning officer
Forsius, Arno: Elias Lönnrotin (1802–1884) hautajaiset 3.4.1884.
Historiallinen sanomalehtikirjasto: https://digi.kansalliskirjasto.fi/search?formats=NEWSPAPER&set_language=en
Klinge, Matti 1978: Ylioppilaskunnan historia osa 2. Kansalaismielen synty. Helsinki.
Klinge, Matti 1970: Ylioppilastalo. Helsingin Yliopiston Ylioppilaskunnan kiinteistöjen vaiheita. Jyväskylä.
When I visited the University of Helsinki’s Agricultural Museum with my colleagues in the winter of 2012, I fell in love with its extensive collection of animal sculptures which was on display in a side room on the first floor. The curator of the Agricultural Museum was about to retire and the museum had just been transferred under the Helsinki University Museum. The figurines of domestic animals, made by Anton Ravander-Rauas (1890–1972, Ravander until 1936) were grouped by species on the shelves, while reliefs hung on display on the walls. There were cows, bulls, horses, pigs, dogs, and sheep, just to mention a few. When we later on were selecting the Helsinki University Museum’s last exhibition to be mounted in the Arppeanum building, I suggested the collection of animal sculptures. The charming figurines, portraying Finnish animal personalities, had been hidden away from the public for many years.
A new academic year has again begun at our University. To mark the occasion, the Helsinki University Museum’s Object of the Month blog presents the University’s silver sceptres.
It is August, and students admitted to Finnish institutions of higher education appear on the streets with peer tutors wearing their overalls. I donated my own pair of student overalls to the Helsinki University Museum in 2015 for the new main exhibition. It had been years since I had worn them, and whenever I had moved, I pondered whether to keep or donate them. Luckily, I had kept them, possibly in anticipation of a renovation or paint job that had never happened. The overalls, originally designed for Rupla, the association for students of Russian language and literature as well as Slavonic philology, were issued in November 1990. My pair was on display in the Power of Thought exhibition until August 2018.
Overalls for the Rupla association, at last!
Acquiring a pair of overalls was no easy task. Two energetic students of Russian, who had begun their studies in 1987, decided something had to be done after enduring three May Day celebrations wearing the ‘boring overalls designed for the University of Helsinki Student Union’. They did not hesitate to approach large companies to talk to those holding the purse strings. Usually, they were given just a phone number to call. The cost estimate for an order of 40 pairs of overalls was 10,000–12,000 Finnish markka, truly a tall order, as just two names were on the list of buyers in March 1990. However, the project moved forward, and by May, the number of buyers was already 13. The rank-and-file members of Rupla had a suspicious, if not surly, attitude towards the project.
The collections of the Helsinki University Museum include eight gas masks, of which seven are from the 1930s and intended for the civilian population. The University Museum has received the masks from hospitals and University of Helsinki departments. The collections also include an equine gas mask dating back to the 1930s or 1940s which is of an unknown origin.
In 2015 we made plans to place one of the civilian gas masks on display in the University Museum’s new main exhibition, The Power of Thought. However, we had to scrap these plans at the last minute when we discovered that the filters of old gas masks may contain asbestos.
In spring 2020 we decided to find out whether these suspicions were true. In this blog post, we explain how we investigated the matter and what we eventually found out.