The Archive in Good Hands
The Friends of Finnish Handicraft invited the Design Museum to design and implement an exhibition process that would take on the Association’s historical archive, with the aim of creating something new based on history. In close collaboration with the exhibition curators and key
experts from the association, we were able to generate a process where young artists and designers were involved in a very special research and design process.
The collection of the museum (formerly Museum of Applied Arts, founded in 1873) includes the Association’s textiles from an early age. The museum acquired for example fresh examples of “Finnish-style” interior textiles in the 1880s, the iconic textiles designed by Akseli Gallen-Kallela from the 1900 Paris World’s Fair and starting in the 1970s a special collection of famous Finnish art
rya rugs. Historical material of the Friends of Finnish Handicrafts is preserved also in the Finnish National Museum and in the Craft Museum of Finland.
The huge design archive of the Association is a unique historical treasure chest of textile designs from different times, and it was the Design Museum’s first digitized collection of material in the mid-1990s. The archive includes, among other things, designs for interior textiles, rya rugs and church textiles. In addition to sketches made by individual artists, the archive contains technical drawings with yarn samples that were made by company’s artists and craftspeople, as well as various fabric samples and experiments. The huge time scope and variety of original material makes it a unique source about the textile design process.
In the Good Hands project, encounter with the museum material was planned in close co-operation between the Friends of Finnish Handicraft and the museum staff. From the museum, Curator Harry Kivilinna (exhibitions) and Curator Susanna Thiel (collection) and Head of Learning
Leena Svinhufvud were involved in the planning and implementation of the process.
For the Design Museum, the project gave good experience of how the museum collection can in practice serve as a tool for future design. Research and learning hands-on and in interaction with the museum collection is among the top priorities in museum learning today. Today it is very timely to study how the history of design can best be made available to designers and artists.
The process progressed in steps. The physical contact with the historical archive and learning about the Association’s past was organised as a collective meeting joining the entire artist and experts. In two meetings the designers were invited to get acquainted with the original material that was presented at the museum in a special private exhibition and to hear, learn and talk about
the history of the Friends of Finnish Handicrafts. The personal experiences were discussed together, and the museum people were able to comment the artist’s ideas. In addition to these two curated encounters with history, the designers were allowed to make wishes to the museum about what they would like to explore in more detail and what examples of historical material they would like to bring to the exhibition with their new works.
For the museum professionals who attended the meetings it was inspiring to see how the designers see museum objects and what they perceived about them. Genuine, old objects inspired admiration and also aroused reflection. The designers were surprised and delighted to encounter in the history topical features of today, for example the DIY phenomenon. They were fascinated by
technical drawings of rya rugs that were sent to clients all around Finland for guidance, it was important to see the proof that these patterns were worn in the hands of many craft enthusiasts. The age and aging of the materials was marveled – the fact that the passage of time is also reflected in museum material. The creative makers seemed to enjoy studying the design process of an individual model: sketch, working drawing, yarn samples, and fabric samples. Also the appearance of the artists ’handprint’ or signature of a famed artist in the archive material seemed significant. The encounter with history created a sense of a continuum of generations of designers. The discussions highlighted the importance of personal research and hand-making for the