A marble likeness of Porthan

Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739–1804), librarian and professor of rhetoric and verse at the Royal Academy of Turku (the predecessor of the University of Helsinki), was a popular figure during the period of national awakening in 19th-century Finland. He is considered the father of Finnish historiography. The University of Helsinki’s Galleria Academica portrait collection contains a large number of sculptures, including a marble bust of Porthan wearing a wreath and a toga – our object of the month. The artist who created this work is Swedish-born Carl Eneas Sjöstrand (1828–1906). The sculpture is fairly heavy, coming in at 82.5 cm in height, and is accompanied by a mahogany pedestal measuring 151 cm.

The white bust of a man wearing a wreath and a robe, the top of which is visible. The sculpture stands on top of two wooden pallets of different sizes placed on a pallet stacker.
The marble bust of Porthan is currently kept in the University’s collection facility. Photo: Johannes Keltto, Helsinki University Museum.

Continue reading “A marble likeness of Porthan”

The colourful tradition of student caps in Estonia

In honour of the 390th anniversary of the University of Tartu on 30 June 2022, our object of the month is the cap of the first Estonian student organisation. We are also presenting a student cap from the Soviet era and the Estonian cap tradition more broadly.

A cap embroidered with a white star and made of blue felt fabric, with a black-and-white band round the edge and a black peak.
The collections of the Helsinki University Museum include a cap that originally belonged to a student who had gone on an exchange to Estonia in the 1930s. A cap embroidered with a white star and made of blue felt fabric, with a black-and-white band round the edge and a black peak. Photo: Mai Joutselainen, Helsinki University Museum.

Continue reading “The colourful tradition of student caps in Estonia”

A healthy cow in a clean shed

Two brown cows in a tie stall. One is standing and the other is lying down. In front of the cows is a feed trough and below is a manure storage pit. The cows are part of a miniature used by Finnish milk hygienist and veterinarian Walter Ehrström (1890–1966). The object is approximately 30 cm long in each direction and is estimated to have been completed in 1937.

The photo shows a miniature of two cows in a tie stall, depicted from the side. The cows are facing left. The cow at the back is standing and the one in the front is lying down. Below the cows is a large, empty manure storage pit. Drawn on the miniature are the locations of supporting structures. The background is grey.
A short stall and cows with a manure storage pit behind them. Photograph: Helsinki University Museum/Timo Huvilinna.

In a tie stall, the animals are tethered within their stalls, allowing them to stand or lie down, but not turn around. In Sweden and Norway, tie stalls can no longer be built, and a similar ban has long been discussed in Finland as well. Continue reading “A healthy cow in a clean shed”

Education, nostalgia and propaganda: An analysis of milk posters

A poster on the wall of the school cafeteria advocating the benefits of milk is a familiar sight for many Finns. These commonplace posters have a long history connected to both public education and support for agriculture. The collections of the Helsinki University Museum include several milk education posters. This article explores a series of 20 paper posters dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. Last winter, we participated in training entitled Merkitysanalyysia paikallismuseoille (‘Local museums analysing the value and significances of objects’) during which we analysed 20 milk posters together with the University Museum’s collections team.

Collage of images with posters of different colors. The posters depict children and various dairy products.
Twenty of the milk propaganda posters were selected for analysis. There were several language versions of some of the posters. Photos: Collections of the Helsinki University Museum.

Continue reading “Education, nostalgia and propaganda: An analysis of milk posters”

A taxidermist’s urban elk

June is a great time to get out and about in nature, but if you are in Finland, watch out for roaming elk! However, there is one elk who never moves from his position in the Töölö district of Helsinki. Many people are familiar with the Object of the Month for June: it is the Elk sculpture that stands proudly in front of the Finnish Museum of Natural History. Created by the Finnish sculptor Jussi Mäntynen (1886–1978), this realistic depiction of an antlered bull elk is included in the University of Helsinki art collection.

A colour photo of a large bronze sculpture of a bull elk standing on a plinth outside a museum building, with a round arch window visible in the background
The bronze Elk sculpture by Jussi Mäntynen outside the Natural History Museum Photo: Helsinki University Museum/Marja Niemi.

Continue reading “A taxidermist’s urban elk”

Taking the measure of the metre

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?

An open wooden box, inside measurements made of brass.
Reference standards (metre, kg, 3 feet, pound). Image: Helsinki University Museum.

Continue reading “Taking the measure of the metre”

Photos depicting the Estonian relations of the Hämäläis-Osakunta student nation

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.

Student cap of the Tartu-based Eesti Üliöpilaste Selts (Estonian Students Society) male student organisation, made of blue felt fabric, with a black-and-white ribbon around the brim. The cap was donated to the Helsinki University Museum by a Finn who studied at the University of Tartu in the 1930s. Photo: Helsinki University Museum/Mai Joutselainen.

Continue reading “Photos depicting the Estonian relations of the Hämäläis-Osakunta student nation”

The King of Finnish Hounds

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.

Miniature sculptures of cows and dogs on yellow shelves.
The collection of statuettes of domestic animals by Anton Ravander-Rauas was on display, grouped according to species, in a designated room in the University of Helsinki’s Agricultural Museum. Helsinki University Museum / Pia Vuorikoski

Continue reading “The King of Finnish Hounds”

The story of student overalls

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.

Symbols (a hammer and a sickle drawn in the form of a question mark) referring to the Soviet Union as well as text printed on a red, slightly crinkled piece of fabric.
In November 1990, the Rupla student association placed an order for 26 pairs of overalls for students of Slavonic languages. The logo on the back, based on an idea put forward by the overalls committee, was created at an ad agency. Detail from the back of the overalls. Photo: Helsinki University Museum/Salme Vanhanen

Continue reading “The story of student overalls”