Gösta Serlachius became the director at Mänttä paper mill after his uncle Gustaf Adolf Serlachius. Under his leadership G. A. Serlachius Ltd. grew to be one of the most succesful paper companies in Finland. The strong leader had also a more sensitive side, which has been shown particularly in his love toward art.
Gösta Serlachius converted the paper company that his uncle G. A. Serlachius established into one of Finland’s most important forest combines. A mill owner that was direct in his business affairs had also a delicate and sensitive side, particularly apparent in his relation to art.
Gösta Serlachius was born in Pietarsaari on 26 April, 1876. His parents were the brewery-owner Gabriel Serlachius (G. A. Serlachius´ brother) and Aina Matilda Schauman.
He attended primary school in Pietarsaari, after which he was sent to the Swedish-speaking Lyceum (secondary school) in Oulu. Upon matriculation in 1895 he entered the University of Helsinki, where he read law. He found little motivation to study and his father´s death in 1896 was probably a contributory factor in his decision to begin a career in working life instead.
It was in 1898, the same year that he began as a trainee at the paper mill owned by his uncle G.A. Serlachius in Mänttä, that Gösta Serlachius bought his first work of art, a portrait of a young girl painted by an unknown artist in the 18th century.
The following year he married G.A. Serlachius´ daughter Sissi (Sigrid). They had five children before they divorced in 1918. Gösta remarried in 1919 to Ruth Ingrid Björkenheim. Their marriage was childless.
In 1902 Gösta Serlachius became a member of the board of the family business, which was reconstituted as a joint-stock company called G.A. Serlachius Aktiebolaget. He went to study paper technology at a technical institute in Vienna and made his first study trip to the United States in 1903-04.
He was the manager of a paper mill in Kangas in 1904-08, managing director of the Kymmene forest products company in 1908-13 and as managing director of G.A. Serlachius Ab from 1913 to 1942.
Gösta Serlachius was a talented economic innovator with a gift for choosing the right moment to act. He could see the big technical and financial picture in industrial operations and understood the importance of improving social conditions. He laid the foundations for the family company´s growth into a major corporation with operations in many parts of Finland. Its success, in turn, made it possible for Mänttä to grow and Gösta to pursue his interest in art.
On his initiative, organisations representing the country´s paper and pulp mills were founded and another representing the mechanical wood-processing sector was completely restructured. In 1918 he was awarded the prestigious honorary title Vuorineuvos (Counsellor of Mining) by the newly-independent Finnish state.
After Mänttä had hived itself off from Vilppula and become a separate municipality in 1922, Gösta Serlachius stepped up his efforts to promote its development. The work was done according to plans drafted by some of the country´s front-rank architects and town planners.
Ruth Serlachius likewise made an impressive contribution to Mänttä´s development and was instrumental in the foundation of a maternity hospital and other services there. The work done by the Lotta Svrd and Martta organisations, both of which engaged the energies of women for the good of Finland and its society, were very close to her heart, as were drama and music.
Supporter of the White Finland
Gösta Serlachius was active also in politics and social affairs. When the Finnish Civil War broke out in early 1918, he was called up for duty as the Quartermaster-General of the (non-socialist) White army, which emerged victorious from the conflict. In the 1930s he served on several committees set up to erect war memorials, such as one commemorating the battles in and around Vilppula in 1918 and the Freedom Statue in Vaasa. He was also a member of the committee that erected the fine equestrian statue of Field-Marshall Mannerheim in the centre of Helsinki.
In December 1939 the Ministry of Defence sent him to Britain to use his contacts there to lobby for economic help for Finland, which had just been invaded by the Soviet Union. He also served as the Vice Chairman of the Finnish Red Cross and from 1941 as its Chairman when Field-Marshall Mannerheim was otherwise engaged. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel during the Winter War of 1939-40.
Collector and Patron of Art
Alongside his engagement in industrial development and his activity in the affairs of society, art played an important part in Gösta Serlachius´ life. In the first two decades of the 20th century he added to his collection by buying individual works, especially by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. As early as 1919 he was able to present 86 of his pieces at an exhibition in the Ateneum art museum in Helsinki.
In 1928 Gösta Serlachius commissioned the building of Mänttä Church, the artistic decoration of which was unique. It comprised the biggest totality ever executed by the sculptor Hannes Autere, an altarpiece and two glass paintings by Alvar Cawn, and a rose window designed by Eric O. W. Ehrström.
The collection of sculptures that he commissioned from Autere made Gösta Serlachius a patron of major stature and his weight in the art world grew. The Artists´ Society of Finland had made him an honorary member already in 1917. He was one of the driving forces behind the foundation in 1918 of A.B.Taito OY, a company that manufactured wrought-iron products, and thereby promoted the development of an arts and crafts industry in Finland.
In 1938, together with some of the leading personalities in Finnish society - including President Kyösti Kallio - he drafted an appeal on behalf of art. It called on prominent figures in business and industry to let artists decorate their public buildings. This would bring art within reach of larger numbers of people.
His great dream was to build an art museum in Mänttä. This project was interrupted however, when he died in 1942.