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Fiskars since 1649

You are almost certainly familiar with Fiskars
– if nothing else, you will recognize the characteristic orange-handled scissors; so far, the company has sold more than 1,000,000,000 pairs.

September 2023

 

I recently visited Finland on a press tour. During my visit, I saw and learned about scissors, axes, pots and pans, and I heard about design DNA, sustainability strategy and the Fiskars Group, which over a number of years has bought up several iconic design firms, including Rörstrand, Iittala, Wedgwood, Arabia, Royal Copenhagen and, most recently, Georg Jensen.

I am now convinced that these storied companies are in safe hands!

left from The Fiskars Village Museum

This post is not about scissors, porcelain or glass but about Fiskars Village, a sort of utopia located 1 1/2 hours’ drive from Helsinki.
The town where the Fiskars empire began in 1649 is located close to mining operations, the forest, a rich source of timber, and the river, which was once the main route to the rest of the world.

At first glance, Fiskars Village looks like the realization of my most romantic dream of life in the country in Sweden or Finland.

The village has beautiful old stone houses and picturesque wooden houses, the surrounding forest is full of mushrooms and blueberries, and there is a dance pavilion that overlooks the lake.

Upon closer inspection, I find that reality is even better than my dream.

History

Until 1980, Fiskars was a flourishing industrial town with the ironworks and smithy as its beating heart. When the company outgrew the town, it was gradually depopulated and eventually abandoned. 

Today, the town has 600 permanent inhabitants. More than a hundred of them are artists and makers: cabinetmakers, potters, glassblowers, blacksmiths, painters and sculptors, among other professions. In summer, the population triples.

The Fiskars artists’ community has existed since the early 1990s. It was established because Ingmar Lindberg, Fiskars’s visionary corporate vice president and head of real estate, realized that breathing new life into the abandoned town would require a radical approach.

The solution was to offer very affordable housing and workshop facilities to creatives from Helsinki.

First Mover

One of the first people to move to Fiskars was Karin Widnäs (b. 1946).

When she made the move, Karin Widnäs was already a well-established and esteemed designer and ceramicist. She has been a key figure in the new community, and in 2019, she initiated the establishment of the KWUM Ceramics Museum.

The museum architecture combines wood and ceramics. The building was designed by architect Tuomo Siitonen, who also designed Karin Widnäs’s own studio and home, completed in 2005.

Karin Widnäs’s modern wooden buildings stand out in town, where most people live in wooden houses that are several hundred years old.
In addition to a permanent presentation of Karin Widnäs’s private collection, the museum shows varying exhibitions of ceramics from Finland and abroad.

Tourist destignation Fiskars Village

In the 1990s, when Ingmar Lindberg and the Fiskars Group invited new residents to move in, it was with the primary goal of revitalizing the community. Since then, the project has evolved. Fiskars Village has now also become a popular tourist destination, which provides a market for the products from the many craft and art studios. 

On the main street, craft shops are lined up side by side. The level varies, and the style is eclectic – there is something here for every taste and budget. 
Naturally, Fiskars Group also has a shop with products from most of the brands under the Fiskars umbrella.

The town also has a wide selection of cafés and restaurants, ranging from the historic Fiskars Wärdshus, founded in 1836, which serves high-quality food on tableware from Fiskars Group brands, to Cafe Antique, where you can enjoy cinnamon buns, and Veitsitehdas (the old knife factory), which offers locally made beer and gin, among other treats.

Last year, 200,000 visitors came to Fiskars Village for the scenery and cultural offerings. 

Most people come during the summer months, so in winter, the many shops, galleries and restaurants have limited opening hours. 

left Matias Karsikas at KWUM, right chair from Nikari

Art galleries and shops

The local artists’ association Onoma runs a collective shop on the main street and holds an annual curated summer exhibition. Onoma is also a partner in the Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale, which has its next instalment in the summer of 2024.

Next to Onoma lies the Aura cooperative shop. The members of Aura are also members of Onoma but wanted more exhibition space than the larger cooperative was able to provide.

Here, I met potter Riitta Talonpoika (b. 1961), who moved to the village 20 years ago and is more than content with her choice. She tells me that the children of the first people to move here often want to stay when they grow up or return to establish an artistic practice of their own after spending time elsewhere.
Generally, Fiskars is a sought-after place, with demand exceeding the supply of housing and studios, I am told.

Prospective inhabitants include artists from both Finland and abroad, and many of them have previously stayed in one of the two artist-in-residence flats that Fiskars makes available and which Onoma manages.

‘Occasionally,’ she says, ‘someone settles here who doesn’t thrive.’ I ask if some makers are bothered by the many tourists. ‘Some might be,’ she says, ‘but if you don’t like that and the possibilities it affords, you’re in the wrong place.’ Still, she admits, after a hectic summer, she is looking forward to the quieter winter months, when the only planned activities are a Slow Food market and a Christmas market. 

Nikari

Another high-profile company in Fiskars Village is Nikari, which is run by cabinetmaker Kari Virtanen (b. 1948).
Established in 1967, the company moved to Fiskars in 1993. The company’s product development and production take place in Fiskar’s former foundry, which is located next to the water-powered sawmill. All the wood used in Nikari’s production comes from the surrounding forest, owned by Fiskars Group. 

Over the years, Nikari has collaborated with Alvar Aalto (Finland), Louise Campbell (Denmark), Cecilie Manz (Denmark), Claesson Koivisto Rune (Sweden), Thomas Sandell (Sweden), Harri Koskinen (Finland), Yrjö Kukkapuro (Finland), Wataru Kumano (Japan) and Jasper Morrison (United Kingdom).

 Nikari’s furniture is seen everywhere in town, from the ceramics museum and the exhibition hall to the recently reopened (and recommended) hotel The Torby, located in Fiskars’s former scissors and cutlery mill.

Like most buildings in the village, it is owned by the Fiskars Group. The hotel has 24 rooms, 5 conference rooms and a large lounge area.

The hotel also features Fiskars Group’s design products, including the beautiful Ultima Thule glassware created by Tapio Wirkkala in 1968 for Iittala.

The Torby is certified Sustainable Travel Finland, Green Key and We Speak Gay.

Hotel The Torby

Visions for the future

My imagination has been sparked – could we copy this idea? Could other towns in other countries revive and revitalize abandoned towns in the post-industrial era by inviting artists and makers in?

Perhaps, but one of the explanations for the success of Fiskars Village is that Fiskars, which owns most of the land, all the woodland and most of the buildings, never threw the doors wide open but carefully selected the occupants based on who might contribute to the community, and that the company operated with economic patience rather than narrowly pursuing commercial goal. 

Fiskars Group’s office in town has a staff of 20, who work with marketing, property management, maintenance, renovation and forestry. 

During peak season, guides attached to the office offer historical guided walks, including a visit to the small museum, which tells the story of the industrial adventure that became the foundation of the town.

I return home – full of dreams, tasty food and reflections on good conversations and with the smell of smoke in my hair after a bonfire picnic with the Fiskars design and marketing team – ready to continue where I left off, conveying knowledge of materials and craft processes as the closest shortcut to a sustainable and durable practice.

Du kender helt sikkert til Fiskars – om ikke for andet, så for de karakteristiske sakse med orange håndtag, som er solgt i mere end 1.000.000.000 eksemplarer.

Jeg har for nylig været på pressetur til Finland. Jeg har set på og hørt om sakse, økser og gryder potter og pander. Jeg har hørt om design DNA, bæredygtighedsstrategi og om Fiskars Group, der gennem en årrække har opkøbt ikoniske designvirksomheder som Rörstrand, Iittala, Wedgwood, Arabia, Royal Copenhagen og senest Georg Jensen.

Jeg tror nu på at de gamle virksomheder er i gode hænder!

Fiskars kornmagasin tegnet af Waldemar Aspelin blev bygget i 1902. De blå-sorte partier er fremstillet af ”slaggetegl” et restprodukt fra jernudvinding. Bygningen har fungeret som udstillingslokalesiden 1996.

Baggrund

Her skal det hverken handle om sakse, porcelæn eller glas, men om landsbyen Fiskars. En slags Utopia beliggende 1 1/2 times kørsel fra Helsinki.
Byen, hvor Fiskarsimperiet tog sin begyndte i 1649, ligger tæt på minedrift, i skoven med adgang til træ, langs floden, som var datidens vej ud i verden.

Fiskars Village ligner ved første blik min mest romantiske drøm om livet på landet i Sverige og Finland.

Her er smukke gamle stenhuse og pittoreske træhuse. Den omkransende skov bugner af svampe og blåbær, og dansepavillonen ligger med udsigt over søen.

Ved nærmere bekendtskab viser virkeligheden at overgå drømmen.

Fiskars var frem til 1980 en blomstrende industriby med jernværket og smedjen som naturligt omdrejningspunkt. Da virksomheden voksede ud af rammene, blev byen langsomt affolket og lå øde hen.

I dag har byen 600 fastboende indbyggere. Mere end 100 af dem er kunstnere og kunsthåndværkere: Møbelsnedkere, keramikere, glaspustere, smede, malere og billedhuggere blandt andet. Om sommeren bor her tre gange så mange.

Kunstnersamfundet Fiskars har eksisteret siden begyndelsen af 1990erne. Det opstod fordi en visionær koncern-og ejendomsdirektør, Ingmar Lindberg, indså, at skulle der pustes liv i den forladte by, måtte man gå radikalt til værks.

Det blev besluttet at tilbyde meget billige boliger og værkstedsfaciliteter til kreative mennesker fra Helsinki.


Det Keramiske Museum KWUM

En af de første, der flyttede til Fiskars, var Karin Widnäs (f 1946).
Karin Widnäs var allerede den gang veletableret og respekteret både som formgiver og keramiker

Hun har været en central skikkelse i det nye samfund, lige som hun på eget initiativ i 2019 etableret det keramisk museum KWUM.

Museets arkitektur kombinerer træ og keramik og bygningen er, lige som Karin Widnäs private atelier og hjem, som stod færdig i 2005, tegnet af arkitekt Tuomo Siitonen.

Fiskars Village som turistdesignation

Da Ingmar Lindberg og Fiskars Group i 1990erne inviterede til bosættelse, var målet først og fremmest at genoplive samfundet, siden har projektet udviklet sig. Fiskars Village er nu også en turistdestination, hvilet muliggør afsætning af de mange produkter, som de kreative og kunstneriske virksomheder fremstiller.

På hovedgaden ligger kunsthåndværkerbutikkerne på stribe. Niveauet er blandet og navnlig er stilen mangfoldig. – Noget for en hver smag, og en hver pengepung.
Fiskars Group har naturligvis også en egen butik med produkter fra de fleste af de brands de ejer.

Byen har også et varieret udbud af cafeer og restauranter spændende fra det historiske Fiskars Wärdshus, som blev etableret i 1836 – her serveres højkvalitetsmad på service fra Fiskars Groups brands, til Cafe Antique med kanelbulleservering  og   ”Veitsitehdas” (The old knife factory) som udskænker lokalproduceret øl og gin, blandt andre.

Fiskars Village besøgtes i forgangne år 200.000 turister, som kom på grund af naturen og på grund af kulturen.

De fleste kommer i sommermånederne, hvorfor de mange butikker, udstillingshaller og restauranter også har begrænset åbningstid i vinterhalvåret.

left Antrei Hartikainen at Onoma, right the carpenter workshop Nikari

Butikker, gallerier og udstillingshal

Den lokale kunstnersammenslutning Onoma står både bag en fælles butik på hovedgaden, men også bag den årlige kuraterede sommerudstilling, og de er samarbejdspartner på Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale, som næste gang finder sted i sommeren 2024.

I butikslokalet ved sinde af Onoma ligge Aura, den er også et kooperativ. Medlemmerne her er også medlemmer hos Onoma, blot ønsker de sig mere udstillingsplads end de kan få i det store fælleskab.

Her mødte jeg keramiker Riitta Talonpoika (f 1961), hun har boet i landsbyen i 20 år og er mere end tilfreds. Hun fortæller at flere børn af dem som flyttede hertil tidligt er blevet boende som voksne eller er flyttet tilbage efter at have været ude i verden.
Der er i det hele taget en stor interesse for at bo og arbejde i Fiskars, efterspørgslen er større end udbuddet, erfarer jeg.

Søgningen kommer fra både finske og internationale kunstnere, ikke sjældent fra kunstnere som i en periode har resideret i en af de to Artist in Residence lejligheder, som Fiksars stiller til rådighed, og Onoma administrerer.

”Indimellem hænder det”, siger hun, ”at nogen slår sig ned, men mistrives”. Jeg spørger om det for eksempel er fordi de ikke kan udholde turiststrømmen? ”Sådan kan det absolut være ”, svarer hun, ”men bryder man sig ikke om den, og om de afledte muligheder den giver, så er man det forkerte sted”. Hun afslører i næste sætning, at efter en hektisk sommer glæder hun sig til stille vintermåneder hvor den eneste planlagte aktivitet er et Slow-food marked og et julemarked.

 

Nikari

En anden højt profileret virksomhed i Fiskars Village er møbelsnedkervirksomheden Nikari som er drevet af møbelsnedker Kari Virtanen (f 1948).
Virksomheden blev etableret i 1967 og flyttede i 1993 til Fiskars hvor al produktudvikling og produktion varetages i Fiskars gamle støberi, som ligger side om side med byens vandkraftdrevne savværk. Alt træ som indgår i Nikaris produktion kommer fra Fiskars Groups omkringliggende skov.

Nikaris har gennem årene samarbejdet med blandt andre Alvar Aalto, Finland, Louise Campbell, og Cecilie Manz Denmark, Claesson Koivisto Rune, og Thomas Sandell Sweden, Harri Koskinen, Finland, Yrjö Kukkapuro, Finland, Wataru Kumano, Japan og Jasper Morrison, United Kingdom.

Nikaris møbler ses over alt i byen, på keramikmuseet, i udstillingshallen og på det nyligt genåbnede og anbefalelsesværdige hotel “The Torby”, som er beliggende i Fiskars gamle bestik og saksesmedje.

Bygningen er som langt de fleste andre bygninger i byen ejet af Fiskars Group. Hotellet har 24 værelser og 5 konferencerum foruden et stort loungeområde.

På Hotellet indgår også Fiskar Groups designprodukter, især bemærker jeg brugen af de smukke Ultima Thule glas skabt af Tapio Wirkkala i 1968 for Iittala.

The Torby er certificeret  “Sustainable Travel Finland”, “Green Key” and “We Speak Gay”

Nikari at The Thorby
Ultima Thule glassware created by Tapio Wirkkala in 1968 for Iittala.

Visioner

Min fantasi går i gang – kunne man kopiere ideen? Kunne man i andre byer i andre lande genoplive og revitalisere forladte byer i den postindustrielle tidsalder ved at lade kunstnere og kunsthåndværkere flytte ind?

Måske, men en af forklaringerne på at det lykkes her er, at det er Fiskars som ejer hovedparten af jorden, al skoven og de fleste bygninger, de har aldrig åbnet døren på vid gab, men nøje udvalgt hvem som kunne bidrage til fællesskabet – og at de har haft økonomisk tålmodighed og ikke først og fremmest kommercielt sigte.

Fiskars Groups kontor i byen beskæftiger 20 mennesker med markedsføring, ejendomsadministration, vedligehold og renovering og skovdrift.

Kontoret har et antal guider tilknyttet, som i højsæsonen tilbyder en historisk byvandring, inklusive besøg på byens lille museum hvor man kan dykke ned i historien om det industrieventyr som ligger til grund for byens eksistens.

Opfyldt af drømme og gode samtaler, mæt af dejlig mad og med røglugt i håret efter en skovtur med Fiskars design og markedsførings team, har jeg nu vendt næsen hjemad for at fortsætte hvor jeg slap, – med formidling af kendskab til materialer og håndværksprocesser som nærmeste genvej til en bæredygtig og langtidsholdbar praksis.

Bonfire and picnicpicnic with the Fiskars design and marketing team

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