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.
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 University of Helsinki Art Room holds an impressive collection of drawings, but the identity of some of the artists is not known. The signatures, if any, may be unclear, and notes made on the drawings may sometimes be misleading.
As I was cataloguing the drawings in our database and conducting online searches to establish the identity of the artists, I came across a skilled drawing entitled Portrait of a Young Woman, which showed the profile of a woman, from a slightly downward angle, with her hair in a bun and wearing a check shirt. At the bottom of the paper was the name Onni Bäckström, while at the top were the initials F. A. followed by ‘April 93’. Based on what I saw, I immediately assumed that the artist was a male student called Onni Bäckström. The initials at the top were of the person who had approved the work: Fredrik Ahlstedt, a teacher at the Art Room.
The University Museum’s craft science collection features several atelier-created evening gowns, but one stands out as exceptional: it is entirely made of knit fabric. The outfit includes a knitted evening gown, jacket and shawl as well as shoes dyed to match the gown. What is the history and background of this outfit? This has been the research focus of Docent Ritva Koskennurmi-Sivonen, whose articles have been used as references in this text.
Some physics instruments can be quite captivating due to, for instance, their peculiar shape or material. Take this pear-shaped object known as Nicholson’s hydrometer, for example. With the anniversary of the Great Fire of Turku of 1827 taking place on 4 September, we decided to select as the object of the month one of the treasures that survived the blaze and now features in our collection. What is this pear-shaped, streamlined, metallic object known variously as an areometer, a gravimeter, a densimeter and a hydrometer? The names tell us very little about the object itself, so let’s find out more.