On Klovharu Island, Tove Jansson’s spirit and handprint live on

Located far out in the archipelago of Gulf of Finland, the island of Klovharu was Tove Janssons haven, summertime paradise and source of inspiration for nearly 30 years. The atmosphere of the tiny, rocky islet can be sensed in Janssons Moomin books and throughout her artistic work. Explore the unique island with Design Stories!

Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories reflect the ambience of the isolated Klovharu island and the Finnish archipelago.

TOVE JANSSON loved islands. Especially small and lonely islands, where you could feel freedom and peace and the sense of great adventure. Tove, having spent her childhood summers in the Porvoo archipelago in Southern Finland, dreamed of having an island of her own at an early age and looked for a perfect, suitably remote place for a long time.

First, she tried to realize her dream of living on a lighthouse island, but that proved impossible. Then she rented an island with his brother Lars and built a cottage there, but the island was soon filled with frequently visiting relatives and friends. Finally, she found the rocky and isolated islet of Klovharu in the outer archipelago of Porvoo, and it charmed both Tove and her life partner, art graphic artist Tuulikki "Tooti" Pietilä.

It was no easy task to get a building permit for the deserted islet, and Tove and Tooti stayed in a tent on Klovharu while they waited for the permission to start building. One evening, a local builder and fisherman came ashore and told the couple that they would most likely never get a building permit, but by law, a building cannot be torn down if it is already built. So they decided to start building immediately. The modest cottage, comprising one room and windows opening in all four directions, was completed in the summer of 1965.

Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Tove Jansson and Tuulikki "Tooti" Pietilä landed on Klovharu with their boat Victoria in almost 30 springs. Image: Moomin Characters™.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
The cottage was designed by Tooti’s architect brother Reima Pietilä and his spouse, architect Raili Pietilä.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Both Tove and Tooti had their own desks where they worked with art, books and letters. Tove received approximately 2000 letters from her readers every year, and she wrote a handwritten reply for everyone.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Only minor changes have been made in the cabin since the 1990s. Even old spice jars with their handwritten labels are still on the shelf.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
The modest cottage has no electricity. It was heated with wood, and oil lamps provided light for dark evenings.

Tove and Tooti lived on Klovharu every summer, from spring to autumn. They spent time on the island writing and making visual art, entertaining the occasional surprise visitors and observing nature. Nature was not always favorable: the surging waves of the open sea broke jetties and the sea birds nesting on the island hated the intruders relentlessly. Tove used to take a break from her creative work and clear her head by chopping wood and rolling rocks – a great rock, weighing about 50 tonnes, had been blasted to make way for the cottage, and rock debris had been scattered across the island.

Tove and Tooti lived on Klovharu every summer, from spring to autumn.

Tove’s love for the islands and the sea is the cross-cutting theme in all of her production, from visual art to the Moomin books. During the years spent on the island, she created for example the classic books Moominpappa at Sea (1965) and Moominvalley in November (1970). Many of the Moomin stories’ main themes, such as adventure, desire for freedom and loneliness, are expressed in the works through the sea and islands.

Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Tove Jansson (1914–2001) was one of the most loved and internationally celebrated Finnish artists. Her Moomin books have been translated to over 50 languages. Image: Moomin Characters™.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Visitors were always accommodated inside the cabin, and Tove and Tooti slept out in a tent. Quite often they spent nights in a tent just for fun, and to be closer to the sea.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Today, the cabin belongs to a local heritage association that organizes popular open days on the island every July.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Drinking water was brought from the mainland or collected from rain water. Under the cottage is a large cellar with a small sauna.
Tove Jansson Klovharu island
The islet is too rocky and windy for trees – only one rowan grows next to the cabin. Wild rose bushes provide shelter for nesting sea birds.

Tove and Tooti lived on Klovharu for almost 30 years, until the early 1990s. They also knew when the time had come to give up their paradise and move to the safety of the city apartment to spend their late years.

“And last summer, something unforgivable happened: I started to fear the sea. The giant waves no longer signified adventure, but fear, fear and worry for the boat and all the other boats that were sailing in bad weather. [...] We knew that it was time to give the cottage away,” Tove wrote in the book Anteckningar från en ö (Notes From an Island, 1996).

The couple left the island in 1992 and never returned, not even for a short visit. They donated the island to Pellinge Hembygdsförening, a local heritage association, which rents the cottage as an artists’ residence and also organizes popular open days and guided tours on the island every year.

Tove Jansson Klovharu island
Tove and Tooti left Klovharu almost 30 years ago, but their handprint is still visible all over the island.

The photos for the article are by Nora Forsman, Communications Manager at Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association, who had the privilege to visit Klovharu a few years ago with her colleagues.

“The island had a truly magical atmosphere. It’s hard to describe. The spirit of Tove and Tuulikki seemed to be present. The rugged islet was magnificent, completely isolated from the rest of the world. We spent our days there at the end of August and, unbelievable as it may seem, I also saw the Northern Lights there!

The cottage was very authentic, and as far as I know, nothing much has been changed there since Tove and Tuulikki left the island for the last time. It was wonderful to study, for example, spice jars with labels written by them. The couple's handprint was visible everywhere. It was amazing to use their everyday items, such as dishes or even the flyswat, let alone sit at their desk,” says Forsman.

Moomins celebrated at the National Museum of Finland

2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Moomins and the Great Flood, the first Moomin book. In honor of this, the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki celebrates Moomins with a new exhibition. The exhibition Courage, Freedom, Love! is a journey into the values and philosophy of the Moomins, defined by love for family and friends, tolerance and equality, and an eternal desire for adventure and freedom.

The exhibition Courage, Freedom, Love! is open at the National Museum of Finland from 14 August 2020 until 28 February 2021.

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Text: Nora Uotila Images: Nora Forsman and Moomin Characters™

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