Luostarinmaki: A Trove of Finnish Handicrafts
The Luostarinmaki handicrafts museum is a short walk from Turku’s square, across the Aurajoki to the south-east. It’s a steep climb to this formerly-poor district, but the cliff-top location saved it from the Great Fire that consumed the rest of Finland’s former capital. By 1940, it was the city’s last collection of 18th-Century wooden houses. That was the year it was turned into the handicraft museum.
Souvenir shopping can be a hit-and-miss affair sometimes, with the occasional pain of finding out that a trinket was actually made in a Chinese sweatshop. That’s not the case here, however. Goods were made the old-fashioned way in the museum long before the hipsters made it cool.
A quick look at Luostarinmäki’s houses
Visitors would enter the wooden houses via the enclosed courtyard. The interiors were very spartan; after all, it was common for a family of ten to squeeze into one room. The few pieces of furniture were basic, and it was left to the occupants to decorate them by painting the walls or weaving their own embroidery.
Still, they had a sauna! While that meant they washed more often than other Europeans, it was only a biannual event.
These days, the houses have become workshops for artisans, furnished with equipment donated by the guild. They make almost everything, from pottery, shoes and prints to picture frames, saddles and even the guides’ costumes.
For people who want to see the artisans and equipment in action, summer is the best time to visit Luostarinmaki. Some of them move into the houses and work as visitors pass and watch. In the last week of August, even more artisans move in for the annual Handicrafts Days festival. When I was there, the cobbler was quite talkative, and she was also sufficiently fluent in English to speak directly with visitors.
As far as I could tell, there was no electricity (heaven forbid that a short circuit destroys these precious houses), so they rely on the long hours of daylight. The cobbler even showed how a glass orb filled with water could act as a light bulb.
Given how traditional the methods are, I suspect that these ladies and gentlemen will do well when the apocalypse renders all our computers useless. Who needs Asos when you can make your own clothes?
I thought back to how Europeans often pay to watch Asian artisans toil in batik workshops, and then get guilt-tripped into buying yet another sarong. It’s funny to think how the tables had turned in that moment. Life is fair indeed, and I couldn’t stop myself from buying a couple of handicrafts.
After a couple of elderly ladies showed me how to play a kukkopilli (a clay rooster whistle), I walked away from Luostarinmaki’s shop with one, as well as a postcard from the printmaker. The whistle still brings back fond memories when I play with it, as all good souvenirs should.