Friday, December 4, 2015

Finland: Where creativity abounds with “designs” on the future

The quietly forested Ainola was the home of Finnish national composer Jean Sibelius  (wikipedia) 
FINLAND Admittedly this story is better suited for summer travel unless you thrive on outdoor winter activities. That said, Finland celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of national composer, Jean Sibelius, on December 8th. With that in mind, here are three great day trips you can do in Finland from the capital city of Helsinki.

1 – Iittala & Nuutajärvi (Finnish Glass) – Visitors to Finland are often surprised at the superb ceramics and design that is a national characteristic of the country. Nowhere is contemporary creativity better displayed in Finland than in the glass district.

Glass blowing demonstrations are popular  (wikipedia)
Nuutajärvi Glass, founded in 1793, is the oldest functioning glass factory in Finland. The factory site itself is one of the best preserved milieus in the country. Built in Neo-renaissance architectural style the bell tower dates to the 18th century while the manor house, constructed in 1822, remains active nearly 200 years later.

Today, one of Nuutajärvi’s most popular collections is Birds by Toikka established in 1962 by Oiva Toikka who remains one of the greatest names in the history of Finnish glass.  

Nearby, another glassworks founded in 1881, Iittala has  expanded into other areas of design such as ceramics and metal which today includes tableware and cookware. Over the decades, thanks to an all-star group of designers, Iittala has built an international reputation for elegance and timeless design.

Commemorative Aalto stamp  (wikipedia)
Among the most famous artists were Oiva Toikka and Alvar Aalto who created his iconic Savoy Vase, now affectionately known as the Aalto Vase, in 1936.

For travelers, not only are the prized glass products unique souvenirs, but the glass blowing process itself is worth the visit. Here master craftsman breathe crystalline beauty from red-hot molten glass into incomparable glassware.

From the Aalto Vase to the exquisite architecture of Finlandia Hall, the white marble congress center in Helsinki, nothing better emphasizes the range of Finnish creativity. Completed in 1971, every detail of the building was designed by Aalto.
Alvar Aalto's creative genius is displayed in the magnificent Finlandia Hall  (wikipedia)
Such diversity makes Finnish design and craftsmanship “crystal clear.”

2 – HvittraskSpeaking of building design, Hvittrask may just represent the greatest collection of architectural brilliance in history.
Hvittrask was home for three great Finnish architects  (wikipedia)
Located just 19 miles west of Helsinki, Hvittrask was originally designed to be a studio home for associates of a Finnish architectural company. It later became the private residence of Eliel Saarinen, Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren. Constructed of logs and natural stone, the studio was created to provide the ultimate working environment for architectural innovation. Among the innovative studio designs was a huge slanted skylight that maximized the natural light in the forest to its fullest advantage.

Hvittrask translates in English to mean “White Lake” deriving its name from the small lake at the end of a wooded path leading from the house.
Finnish architect Eliel Saarninen  (sikipedia)

Hvittrask was not without scandal, however, which makes the site all the more interesting. During the time of their residence, Saarinen fell in love with Gesellius’ younger sister Louise, a sculptor in Helsinki. Following his divorce from his first wife, Mathilde in 1904, Saarinen married Louise, thus making it possible for Gesellius to marry Mathilde. One can only imagine what holiday gatherings were like at Hvittrask.

The site was also the boyhood home of Eero Saarinen, the son of Eliel and Louise.  Eero primarily made his reputation in the United States designing monuments such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

During its heyday, Hvittrask was regularly visited by artist Axel Gallen-Kallela, writer/dramatist Maksim Gorki and composer Jean Sibelius.

3 – AinolaTravelers to Finland immediately recognize the Finnish passion for the outdoors and Mother Nature. Ainola, which means “Aino’s place” in honor of Jean Sibelius’ wife, is an ideal synonym for that  zeal.
Sibelius demanded absolute solitude during his creative periods of composition  (wikipedia)
Situated on the shores of Lake Tuusulaniärvi in forested surroundings, Ainola was the family home from 1904 until 1972. Sibelius required only two things from architect Lars Sonck; a lakefront view and a green fireplace in the dining room.

Sibelius portrait  (wikipedia)
The site was chosen for its solitude which Sibelius demanded for his work. Don't expect to hear the music of Finland’s national composer during a tour, Ainola remains totally silent out of respect for Sibelius’ need to concentrate.

So intense was Sibelius for quiet that water pipes were not installed in the house while he was alive because he could not deal with any distractions during construction.

Though isolated, the passion for nature attracted other Finnish artists to the area providing an active social circle for Sibelius and his family when he was not concentrating on his work.

Sibelius died in 1957 and is buried in a garden at Ainola. Today the home is open for visitors from May to September.

Sibelius monument in Helsinki looks like an irregular series of organ pipes  (wikipedia)
So you see, traveling to Scandinavia can be a rewarding exercise in all disciplines of creativity, and here are three examples of day trips to enjoy from start to Finnish.