The gifted and prolific Zacharias Topelius (1818-1898) was one of the most influential opinion leaders of his time in matters cultural, social and political. He is also considered to have been the father of Finnish children’s literature. His major work in this field was Lukemisia lapsille [Stories for Children], an 8-part collection of fairy tales, poems, plays and adventure stories that appeared in Swedish between 1865 and 1896 and in Finnish from 1874 onwards.
Topelius considered it important to nurture a child’s imagination and became the children’s champion. Although he did not consider his writings moralising, a modern reader might have a different opinion. His tales taught children to love their country, be brave, honest, compassionate and humble, to respect their parents and live in the fear of God. Topelius’ world was utterly positive and the children adventuring in his tales are upstanding and self-reliant.
The exhibition not only delves into the background to the publication and illustration of Topelius’ Stories for children books, but re-creates the fairy-tales as a gigantic magical playground for children. It also tells of the importance of illustrated books in children’s lives.
The exhibition begins with a “book wall” constructed from the covers of Topelius’ books. Behind each cover is a secret chamber concealing a special object. This refers to a fairy tale, to Topelius’ beliefs and ideals, but you can also play with it. The huge book cover in the middle of the wall serves as the door leading visitors into the exhibition.
The exhibition itself is divided into different themes, each one represented by a huge open book. The book leads us into the countryside, a forest or over the sea, to a castle, city, to some exotic distant land or snowbound Lapland. Each opening is a collage of illustrations by different artists throughout time. I have combined different styles of illustration onto a common background whilst retaining the respect due to the individual artists. The illustration sources, artists, books and publications are listed separately. I wish to express my sincere thanks to all the illustrators whose beautiful creations have made this exhibition possible.
The exhibition is brim full of fairy-tale related props with which you can play. You can prepare food, go fishing, gather mushrooms and plant them in forests, crawl along the dark passages of castle cellars, rummage through a treasure chest, dress-up as princes and princesses, sell goods in the town market, recall and jot down the pranks you’ve been up to, feast yourself on exotic confectionery, warm yourself by the hearth of a Lapp kota hut, build snow castles and snowmen and confer with the Well of Truth. But above all to read and listen to fairy stories.
Idea, exhibition architecture, graphics:
Printing and installation:
Artists whose works are used in the exhibition:
Johan Axel Gustaf Acke
Bo H. Lindberg
Helsinki city library
Photos: Annika Johansson, Alexander Reichstein