A trip to the Moomins’ birthplace
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson, artist, writer and creator of the Moomins. This made me look back on my visit to the Klovharu island in Pellinki in the Porvoo archipelago three years ago.
This small, rocky, and rugged island on the Gulf of Finland is the place where Tove and her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä spent their summers for almost thirty years. Martin Tillman, a fisherman from Pellinki, took us to the Klovharu island with his boat Carolina on a hot summer day and told us about the island and the people living there.
The summers in Pellinki
The Jansson family – the sculptor father Viktor Jansson, the artist mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, and the three children – began renting a villa in the Pellinki archipelago in the contemporary Porvoo rural municipality back in the 1920s. The family moved to Pellinki in early May with the maids and returned to Helsinki in September. The summers in the archipelago became important to Tove. They made trips to the numerous islands there, and Tove wrote stories about these trips in her early diaries. She added spice to the trips by reading adventure books, and her diaries mixed reality with fantasy. These stories later became dramatized parts of the Moomin life.
The first Moomin characters
The first Moomin book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, came out in 1945, but Tove had created the earliest sketches and pictures of the Moomin characters back in the 1930s in Pellinki. The story tells that Tove drew the first Moomin figures –“the ugliest creatures she had ever seen” – on the cardboards on the walls of the outdoor toilet at their summer place. These cardboards have since been restored and taken to Helsinki. The round Glosholm lighthouse, which was blown up in the Second World War, is considered a model for the Moomin house. Glosholm was one of the islands where Tove went on trips in her childhood, and she had climbed the rickety, winding stairs in the lighthouse. The Moomin family later climbed the same creaking, tottering stairs in Moominpappa at Sea, where the author describes how the few small holes in the thick wall let a little daylight in and how they could see a large shadow of a motionless bird in every hole as the birds were watching them.
Field studies in the archipelago
Tove always made ‘field studies’ while she was in the archipelago. She studied the soil, stones, plants, and animals and made photographic observations about the seashore and the sandy sea bottom, the colours around her and how the colours changed along with the seasons. The experiences and atmospheres inspired by these observations still appear in her books, for instance in Finn Family Moomintroll, where the author describes how, in late August, there were owls hooting in the night, bats soaring silently above the garden as black flocks, how the forest was roaring, the sea was restless, how there was anticipation and sadness in the air, how the moon was large and had a colour of heat, and how Moomintroll thought the last weeks were always the funniest although he did not know why.
The woman who fell in love with an island
The Swedish researcher Boel Westin writes in his 2007 biography of Tove Jansson about her love for islands. He writes about how they meant both loneliness and closeness, both openness and isolation to her. A sea isolates, but creates a possibility to connect at the same time. An island was a symbol of freedom and a place where you could create and build a world of your own. Building and equipping a house symbolized, for both trolls and humans, the building of your own personality. Living on an island is constant balancing between safe home life and natural disasters.
According to Boel Westin, Tove Jansson’s islands appear in her books in different shapes, appearances, and sizes. She has written about islands, painted and drawn pictures of islands, and documented islands in novels, short stories, paintings, and films. The first island she fell in love with was Kummelskär, which, according to her, was the largest and most beautiful of the uninhabited small islands in the Pellinki region. She did not manage, however, to build a house on the island like she had dreamed. Instead, she built a summer villa called Vindrosens hus on the Bredskär island with her brother Lars in 1947 and a new villa by the open sea on the Klovharu island, which she called an angry small island, finally in 1964.
Life on Haru
Klovharu, or simply Haru, is an atoll-shaped island of only about 6000-7000 square metres looking like it had split in two. There is a lagoon surrounded by cliffs in the middle. There are small archipelago plants growing among the stones, for instance beach grass, heartsease, and field madder, and also some purple loosestrife, which grows a little higher. The only tree on the island, a lone rowan tree, is growing next to the entrance of the cottage. Persistent rose bushes seem to thrive on the island as well. The cottage itself is small and shallow and located a little below the top of the hill. It has a huge cellar, bigger than the house itself.
The story of the island is told in the 1996 book Anteckningar från en ö (“Notes from an Island”), the text of which is written by Tove and the illustration created by Tuulikki with her graphic prints and watercolour paintings. The book describes the construction of the house, which became a long process with all the building licences and contracts. They received help and support with the building process from a man living on the Kråkö island called Sven Brunström, whose notes appear in the book. Brunström is an original character travelling between the islands with his nameless boat, and, according to the book, when you speak to him, it feels natural to raise your eyes to the horizon.
The book also describes the environment of the island during the different seasons, as well as animals, human work, and life by the unpredictable sea. Tove wrote and Tuulikki created her art. They fished, fixed up the cottage, watched birds, repaired the motor, and built different things of loose stones and wood brought by the waves just to be swept away by the sea every autumn. The sea around them was sometimes a boiling cauldron and sometimes, like on a warm summer day, calm and friendly. Every once in a while, ships made noise in the fog in the waterway nearby. Once, when there was a storm, Tove wrote in her almanac: “A storm of six, rain. Saved the boat barely. The sea is a cauldron, the breakers like cannonade. The tent split. Incredibly beautiful.”
Time to say goodbye
Tove and Tuulikki spent nearly thirty summers on Klovharu. That was until the summer when they realized their legs had become heavy and they had difficulty pulling the nets out of the water. The rough terrain was now against them. In the end, even the sea began to appear frightening. They felt that the large waves did not mean adventure any more, only fear and worry about the boat and all the other boats sailing in bad weather. They felt it was unfair. A stage of life had come to an end, and it was time to give up. Tove Jansson concludes her book about Klovharu describing how , Tooti while cleaning up the cellar on the last day, had found one of their kites from the sixties and brought it to the hill. Just for fun, she had given the kite a push in the tail, and a gust of wind had appeared taking the kite straight to the sky where it had continued its flight far away above the Gulf of Finland.
Tove Jansson & Tuulikki Pietilä: Anteckningar från en ö (1996).
Boel Westin: Tove Jansson – Ord, bild, liv (2007).