Decades of Finnish Fabrics Featured in Radically Marimekko Exhibit

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By Kynaat Moosvi

Set in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia is the American Swedish Historical Museum. Their newly opened exhibit, Radically Marimekko, features colorful fabrics which were created from Finnish traditions and the contemporary art world. A tour of the room takes visitors through the company’s journey, from its start to its current standing as a fashion symbol. 

The end of World War II left many Finns without homes and having to start over. Marimekko’s founder, Armi Ratia, molded her longing for a lost home and her hope for a better future into her work. She symbolized the Finnish ideal of stoicism, or sisu, which means to persevere when confronting adversity. 

Ratia attended the Institute of Industrial Arts in Helsinki and after graduation, she founded Marimekko in 1951. The name is a combination of the Finnish name Mari and mekko, which stands for dress. In the offices of her company, she immersed herself in new world technologies but her home resembled that of a Karelian landscape, where she was born. 

The museum's walls also featured the artist Maija Isola, who attended the Institute of Industrial Arts and went on to work alongside Ratia. From the years of 1949 to 1987, Isola created 533 designs for Marimekko. She became inspired by travel and nature, which is shown in her 1957 series, Nature. One of her most recognizable patterns, the Unikko, really became popular in the 1960s because it was the “flower power” generation. The flower pattern has gone on to become the company’s logo. 

Another featured designer was Katsuji Wakisaka, who completed his studies at the Kyoto School of Art and Design and then traveled to Finland to pursue work alongside Ratia. His designs differed due to their simple shapes and forms. One could spot his tapestry as soon as they entered the room with its vibrant pinks and reds. The Kumiseva consists of a skyline, featuring many church spires. Be sure to keep an eye out for this one! 

In 1959, Ratia and designer Vuokko Nurmesniemi were asked to showcase Marimekko in the United States at a new retail store designed by architect Benjamin Thompson. It was a chance for their take on Finnish design to make its way to America. Both Ratia and Thompson bonded over their interests in designing homes, reflecting back to Ratia’s entry into this industry. 

This glimpse into the Marimekko exhibit discusses just some of the stories and textiles the design house has to offer. It was a thorough and interesting look into the history and journey of such an iconic textiles, clothing, and home furnishings company. It allowed for the visitor to reach through time and be able to relate to someone like Ratia, who made such strides from a tough start. The Radically Marimekko exhibit will be at the American Swedish Historical Museum until September 24.

Arts and Culture
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