Female Design

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Finnish women have had full political rights since 1906. The exhibition Naisen muoto – Female Form is one of the events the present centenary year, an homage to the versatile and ambitious work of women in design for over a hundred years. The heroic history of design in Finland has largely been written from a male perspective. Owing to reasons of both history and attitudes, the work of women in design has often remained without its due appreciation and visibility.

Great male figures are remembered as the heroes of nationalist art of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The period ideal of the total work of art, however, required the efforts of skilled women in sculpture, painting, furniture design and architecture alike. Textile design was the first field to have a large number of self-supporting professionals.

Women have played a significant role in the modernization of Finland. At the Arabia ceramics factory and in the furniture of the Stockmann, Asko and Artek companies, women designers were already prominent before the Second World War. Eva Anttila and Maija Kansanen received international attention at the Barcelona World’s Fair of 1929, being awarded grands prix at the fair. In Milan in the 1930s, Aino Marsio-Aalto helped put Finland on the world map of design along with her husband Alvar Aalto. Both Artek and Marimekko have been led by women of artistic talent and vision, and the success of these companies would not have been possible without the personal contribution of Maija Isola and Vuokko Nurmesniemi.

The success of Arabia’s women designers – Toini Muona, Friedl Kjellberg and Aune Siimes – in international exhibitions has partly influenced the present image of the 1950s as the golden age of Finnish design. Inspired by the teaching of Kyllikki Salmenhaara in the 1970s, women ceramists began to establish cooperative workshops, such as Keramiikkakellari, Pot Viapori and Seenat. Kirsti Rantanen, Maija Lavonen and Irma Kukkasjärvi have been trailblazing figures in experimental textile design.

It has often been seen that womanhood is an asset and that the character traits typical of women match the needs of contemporary society. In the field of industrial design, the design of prams and strollers or the planning of waste disposal in homes, among other tasks, have readily become women’s projects, while men have been involved in the design of means of transport, cars, ships and technical equipment.

In our ostensibly equal society, glass is mainly created by women, both as freelance designers and studio artists, while the markets and society still appear to be promoting men as the heroes of glass design.

Naisen muoto – Female Form explores the contribution in design throughout the period during which we can speak of a history of Finnish design. All the selected objects and works of art could, with due cause, be displayed in exhibitions of design – alongside works by men. Owing to the large material, many fine works and excellent designers had to be excluded. The contribution of women designers from a period of over a century is approached from nine different perspectives. The home and public space, the women’s room and women and industry present society, women and their traditional materials in both the home and industry. The women’s century, contacts and the construction of womanhood address the concepts of womanhood and the image of women. A number of ”women’s organizations” are given as examples of entrepreneurship as a factor of success for women designers. Thanks to the work of the Friends of Finnish Handicraft, the ryijyweaves pass on tradition and the significance of women designers in this area in creating the interiors of homes.

The exhibition runs until 30 April 2006 in the Designmuseum in Helsinki. For more practical information, please visit


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