The Moomins have been captivating successive generations since their creation by Tove Jansson back in the 1930s. The long anticipated Moomin Museum opened its doors at Tampere Hall in Finland on June 17th.
Blooloop spoke with Minna Honkasalo (right) about the new museum and the global fascination for all things Moomin. Honkasalo is researcher at Tampere Art Museum and, alongside director Taina Myllyharju, is responsible for the Moomin Museum.
Preserving the Moomin heritage
The concept of the Moomin Museum started back in 1986 when Tove Jansson decided to donate her Moomin artwork to Tampere Art Museum. At that point her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, had an art exhibition there.
Jansson was over seventy. Feeling her life’s work was behind her, she wanted to find a home for the original Moomin art; somewhere it would be accessible for fans worldwide.
The Moomin archive comprised more than 2,000 drawings and watercolours by Jansson. It also featured scores of Pietilä’s magical models, including a five-storey house standing three metres tall. This had been built in the 1970s with their friend Pentti Eistola. The house needed a year’s worth of conservation work on the fragile wooden structure and its thousands of contents.
“The director of Tampere Art Museum was interested in the Moomin art collection,” says Honkasalo. “After negotiations, Tove donated the collection. A year later, Tampere Art Museum opened the old ‘Moominvalley’, a pre-Moomin museum. The collection was on exhibition there for exactly 30 years. At first it was housed in the main library in Tampere.
A permanent home for the Moomin collection
However the library had never been intended as a permanent location. It was inevitable that the old Moominvalley would have to be moved. “We had been searching for a permanent place for thirty years,” says Honkasalo.
When the collection left the library, it spent two years downstairs in the art museum. Finding a permanent home became a pressing concern.
“Many people took lots of interest in where the Moomin collection should be in Tampere,” says Honkasalo. “People thought it should perhaps have a building of its own, perhaps at the Tampere Art Museum. At that point Tampere Hall, the biggest commerce and culture centre in the Nordic countries, had a huge renovation going on. They needed new commercial spaces, new restaurants, and so on. So politicians in Tampere decided that there would be enough space for a museum. Three years ago it was decided that the Moomin collection should move to Tampere Hall.”
So designs began on the new museum. “It took about three years,” says Honkasalo.
The team was headed by Museum Director Taina Myllyharju. She worked closely with Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece and Creative Director and Chairman of the family firm, Oy Moomin Characters. At this point that Jansson suggested it was time the old Moominvalley collection should be renamed the Moomin Museum.
“We were very pleased with the new name, the Moomin Museum,” says Honkasalo. “Because that, of course, is what we are: an art museum. And this is the only permanent Moomin Museum in the world.”
A world of kindness and acceptance
The Moomins enjoy an enduring global popularity. Minna Honkasalo attributes it to the ethos of the world that Tove Jansson created. “It has this wisdom of kindness and friendliness,” she says. “Of taking care of one another, and accepting one another as they are. It is very simple, and very beautiful, actually. Not naïve. It has adventure and friendship, and some darkness, too.
“They always survive together. No matter what comes to them, they always get over it together. And that’s a very important thought for everybody, especially at this time.”
She recalls that when Tove created the first Moomin book, the world felt very perilous. “The world was in the middle of a big mess, because of the Second World War. Tove wanted to create something that would comfort herself. But she created something that comforted everybody, and still does.”
Tove Jansson was a serious artist who found fame and worldly success with the Moomins. However it caused her to be ostracised by the ‘real’ artistic world. So it’s not surprising she occasionally resented the little creatures that made her name.
To find out more about the history and background of the Moomin phenomenon, Blooloop talked to Tove Jansson’s niece Sophia Jansson.
Moominhouse is the centrepiece of the exhibition
The new museum’s permanent exhibition, What Happens Next?, provides a consecutive narrative of the twelve books. It consists of around 400 original illustrations and 30 tableaux.
“We wanted the books to be at the centre of the exhibition,” says Honkasalo. “There are some people who don’t realise that Moomins are originally from the books. They have seen the animated stories of Moominvalley, and they think those are the original. So we thought it was very important to take the books, and put them at the heart of the exhibition.
“We have these huge book covers. When you follow the big book covers you follow the narrative chronologically through the exhibition. Each books has the original illustrations, and those three-dimensional tableaux Tuulikki Pietilä made.”
The centrepiece of the exhibition is the five storey Moominhouse built by Tove Jansson, Tuulikki Pietilä and Pentti Eistola. The museum has installed a 3D modelled fly-through video to display the exquisite and painstaking detail of the interiors.
Interactive elements bestow magic
“Then there are, of course, some little specialties that we have added to the story,” says Honkasalo. “Like the magician’s hat, from Finn Family Moomintroll. Moomintroll found the magician’s hat – when you put egg shells in it, they become clouds. And then Moomintroll puts himself in the hat. He comes out looking so weird that even Moominmamma doesn’t recognise him. That, of course, is very sad. We have a huge magician’s hat in the exhibition. Visitors can go in, and then something happens to them…”
The interactive Magician’s Hat uses shadow and silhouette to create the effect of magical transformations happening to the user.
“The huge Magician’s Hat installation has been made by a contemporary artist,” says Honkasalo. “We have commissioned artworks that bring something more to the stories.”
Another artwork is a giant comet piece inspired by the Tove Jansson’s original drawings for the book Comet in Moominland. This was created by artist Hanna Vihriälä, and consists of over 200,000 acrylic beads.
Interactivity and technology have been incorporated in a number of further ways to enhance the collection, and to add to the magical atmosphere. “We also have animated details. Maybe not everyone will spot them but they’re there for those curious people whose eyes see everything. You might find some little Toffle and Miffle hurrying off somewhere, for example.
“And there are the Hattifatteners, also animated, which flash with lightning if you touch them.”
Different ways to enjoy the museum
The museum’s informative text is not on the walls, as might be expected. “We wanted to give all the space to Tove’s drawings and creations, and to the tableaux,” says Honkasalo. “Also, not everyone wants it. Museums can be too full of text.”
She explains that many visitors prefer to immerse themselves in Tove Jansson’s created world, enjoying the atmosphere and the illustrations. “For those who do want background information, we have tablets.”
The tablets contain a wealth of information about the Moomins and their creator. There is a precis of each book, and an explanation of how the events in Tove’s life coloured the events depicted in the texts.
“For example, Tove had met Tuulikki Pietilä when she wrote Moominland in Midwinter. Tove’s mother had just died at the time of Moominvalley in November – Tove felt that the story of the Moominvalley was coming to an end. All that information is on the tablets for those who want it. Others are free simply to feel the spirit of this fantasy world. They can just go around the exhibition, and not have to read anything. They can simply look at the illustrations, and enjoy the atmosphere.”
The information on the tablets is also available in booklet form, for visitors who prefer not to read everything on a screen. “We have thought a lot about different kinds of visitors, and the different ways in which they might enjoy the museum,” says Honkasalo. “There is not one way, but many, to enjoy the Moomin stories.”
Temporary exhibitions delve deeper into the Moomins
In addition to the permanent exhibition, there will be a series of temporary exhibitions. The first of these is entitled Tove and the Moomins.
“The permanent exhibition tells the story of the Moomin books,” says Honkasalo. “While this first temporary exhibition tells the story of the Moomins more widely, and in greater depth. It focuses more on Tove’s life and the Moomin business. It’s about all the things that go around the Moomins, and also where the Moomins started.”
The Moomins and the Great Flood was the first Moomin book. However Moomintroll had appeared in a previous iteration. “In the 1930s, he had already appeared in Tove Jansson’s paintings,” Honkasalo explains. “In those paintings Moomintroll was skinny and black, with red eyes. He looked kind of mean. He was nothing like the friendly little round creature that we know as Moomintroll.”
A thin and sinister Moomin?
The first Moomin in print was in an anti-Hitler cartoon that Jansson drew for the satirical Finnish magazine Garm in 1943. He was called Snork and was far thinner and more sinister than he would become. “By this time, he was white, but still very small, and not friendly at all. Garm was a political satirical magazine, so Moomintroll was a sort of satirical version of what he would later become.”
Honkasalo explains that the first temporary exhibition also shows the first Moomin mug. “Moomin mugs are becoming a big thing around the world,” she says. “There are a lot of collectors, but not all of them know that the first Moomin mugs were already in production in the 1950s. They are very rare, and cost about €3,000.”
There are roughly 400 of Tove Jansson’s drawings in the museum’s permanent exhibition, but over 1,000 in the collection. Future exhibitions will aim to centre on these.
“We are going to have a number of illustration exhibitions from different perspectives,” says Honkasalo. “For example, we could look at how Tove brought nature as a theme into her illustrations. And we could look at Moomins not in the books, but in the theatre, or at the new Moomin animation being made. Moomin animations were first done in the 1960s, and have a very interesting history.
“Illustration art will be an important part of the future exhibitions. We won’t only look at Tove’s, but also that of other illustrators.”
A place of pilgrimage
When the Moomin Museum opened June 17th, 3,000 visitors streamed through the doors. Since then, it has attracted around a thousand guests each day.
“In fact, before we opened, we already had the first Japanese group at the door,” says Honkasalo. “They were really eager to be the first ones in the museum. It was very important for them.
As Blooloop reported earlier this year, the Moomins are hugely popular in Japan. A brand new theme park based around the characters is set to open next year on the shores of Lake Miyazawa in Hanno.
A middle-aged British couple were also in the long queue on opening day. “They had never been to Finland before,” says Honkasalo. “They had travelled to Finland that precise day so they could be amongst the first people in the museum when it opened. People find it really important and significant and they are really touched when they see the museum. I would say it is not only fast becoming a place of pilgrimage: it is one already.”
Detailing the demographics
Over the first two months there have been over 40,000 visitors. “I would say that a little bit more than one third of them were foreign tourists,” says Honkasalo. “Most of them are Japanese: we have about one group of Japanese people a day.
“Then there are a lot of people from Britain, from Russia, and from Sweden. After that, there are people from Germany and other European countries, but those are the main groups, at least for now.”
She emphasises that it is a very international museum. “I know that there have been a lot of travel agencies from China that have already visited the museum. These travel agents are starting to be very interested in the story of the Moomins.”
Moomin-mania really does travel across the world. Earlier this year Blooloop reported on how the Moomins came to the Royal Botanical Gardens in London’s Kew.
The Moomins have conferred immortality on the creator they outlived. They also enjoy an iconic status across the world. Now, at last, they have a fitting permanent home in their original homeland, Finland.
Feature image courtesy of Jari Kuusenaho/Tampereen taidemuseo.