How do you find hundreds of Finnish travel posters? Magnus Londen knows the answer.
The journalist Magnus Londen’s passion for Finnish travel posters came alive several years ago.
– Like so many other things in life the Come to Finland-project got started by accident. When Helsinki was the European capital of Culture in 2000 I saw a fabulous poster and started to play with the idea of creating a book about Finnish travel posters.
What is it that is so special about travel posters? One should understand their historic background. For many years Finnish travel companies, towns and travel destinations trusted completely in posters as a marketing tool. The passion that went into it is clearly visible in every single poster. Early poster art has also created the following terms: “Off The Beaten Track” as well as “Come to Finland” which also is the title of the book.
Londen emphasizes that it is literally all about Finnish cultural treasures that every Finn can be proud of.
– When I compare classic Finnish travel posters to foreign posters, the passion in Finnish posters when it comes to graphic design is clearly visible.
The hunt for the missing posters
Years went by and the poster became less and less important. Like many other “old fashioned” things, posters wound up in basements, with private collectors and in museums. Unfortunately the garbage bin was also a widely used archive. It is interesting that Finnish travel posters also have been found in abundance abroad. The project group found material in museums, archives and in private collections all around the world.
– We were so naïve that we thought that most posters would be beautifully and neatly archived in for example Finland’s National Board of Antiquities, but that was not the case. Some posters were found there, but the real finds where made in quite unexpected places, says Magnus Londen and continues:
– For example, in Washington National Library we found many unusual posters, a private collector in San Francisco had some and in Trondheim, Norway, we found a real fan of Finland, who hade a really impressive collection.
Around the world with the World Wide Web
Londen bluntly says that a project of this magnitude would have been impossible without the World Wide Web.
– The thought of being able to travel around the world and collect material is tempting, but unfortunately it is only a dream. With the help of Internet and e-mail one can track down material and contact collectors within a reasonable budget. But the Internet is only a tool, and you have to do the work yourself. One can say that finding the material takes up over 80 % of the time that goes in to the project.
Additionally Londen and the project group have once again seen that an old truth still holds: Personal contact is a key factor.
– In a job like this there are no shortcuts. When you send an e-mail or call a museum, you are still an unknown person, and the receiver usually has a skeptical attitude to begin with. Our enthusiasm seems to catch on when we meet with that person face to face. Our most enthusiastic contributors have been those who have been completely unconcerned at first. Usually because they are so stressed out. One just has to find an opening.
The driving force, besides money
In conclusion, why does one indulge in a huge project like this that today is a corporation with several employees? To attract investors? To establish a similar concept in Sweden? Is there a lot of money to gain?
Londen says, that the real inspiration is the desire to show the world a Finnish cultural heritage that is disappearing – but to continuously work somewhere in the middle where culture and business meet.
– Every poster is an artistic interpretation of a certain place in Finland. One has to remember, that before the poster was born, the artist has pondered upon the subject and its unique selling arguments and its strengths and weaknesses. Londen analyses that one can hardly express passion in a more concrete way.
Have they all been found?
What about today, ten years after Londen found the first poster, have they all been found?
– We have thought that… many times. But then a new poster suddenly turns up. We have certainly found 99 percent, but we will never reach 100 percent. Now I realize that, Londen laughs.
What about the dream poster, what would it look like?
– Ultimately my greatest dream is to find the lost Suursaari posters by Jorma Suhonen, that he drew during the late 1930’s. They combine many of the things that I love: Suhonen’s glamour, the mysticism of Suursari and the golden years of travel in Finland before the war.
Banner photo: ©Helsinki City Museum, 1920s, published with CC BY 4.0 license.