Art blacksmith Luotonen’s gift
Unique gifts say something about their giver. The Serlachius Museums’ object collection includes a gift from art blacksmith Atle Luotonen to the Gösta Serlachius Art Museum in 1983, the 50th anniversary year of the Fine Arts Foundation.
Jämsänkoski-born Atle Luotonen’s road to the neighbouring municipality of Mänttä made a long bend. Born into a poor family in 1906, the boy sought apprenticeship at Taito Oy’s art forge in Helsinki as a young man in his twenties. Master apprentice Nieminen, an art blacksmith, also taught forging at the Ateneum art school. The company was later led by Paavo Tynell, who rose to fame as a lighting designer. On the other hand, one of its founders was Gösta Serlachius. In Mänttä, the kingdom of Serlachius, many kinds of movables were acquired of Taito Oy. As the master’s assistant, apprentice Luotonen was able to participate in the manufacture of the lighting fixtures for the church built by the Serlachius company.
After his military service, the blacksmith ended up working at the G. A. Serlachius company’s metal workshop in Mänttä. Gösta Serlachius became interested in Luotonen’s forged pieces after seeing a lamp designed and manufactured by him, which was commissioned for an engineer’s birthday. Serlachius was at that time building his future home, the new main building in Joenniemi, whose exterior was designed by architect Jarl Eklund and artist Hannes Autere. Luotonen was commissioned to implement wrought-iron details designed by Autere, such as the main door’s knocker which depicts a witch. In addition to the Joenniemi manor, Serlachius also commissioned forged art pieces of Luotonen for his farms in Huhkojärvi in Koskenpää in Central Finland and in Lövö on the southern coast. In both, Gösta Serlachius favoured vernacular construction and interior design, to which the details forged by the blacksmith matched naturally.
Serlachius had a very unique taste, which met Luotonen’s style. Serlachius commissioned of him iron objects, which the blacksmith also designed and drew himself. Gösta and Ruth Serlachius chose the option which they preferred to be implemented. Sometimes Luotonen’s plans were also evaluated by Paavo Tynell from Taito Oy, who knew Luotonen from his apprenticeship. Serlachius’ orders were unique pieces, and the blacksmith was not allowed to do the same for anyone else. Of course, Serlachius paid a little extra for the exclusivity. Among the most unusual commissions were carrying handles for Serlachius’ own coffin. The coffin carved by the artist Autere, however, never ended up being buried, as Serlachius found it too fine to be placed in the bosom of the earth.
On the eve of the Continuation War, Luotonen was assigned to the State Aircraft Factory in Kuorevesi, and Gösta Serlachius also died in 1942. Luotonen left his work in Mänttä and later also at the aircraft factory and returned to the Helsinki metropolitan area. Various utensils were created in his own blacksmith’s workshop in Järvenpää, the products of which found their way to be sold at Stockmann Department Store, among others. The department store’s shop window displayed charcoal taps and shovels, sausage sticks and fireplace decorative fittings made by Luotonen. The “fire dog”, intended as a firewood rack, was a best seller that was also sold abroad. Sometimes, instead of a dog, it got a more exotic look of elephant figurines.
In his old age Atle Luotonen returned to Joenniemi Manor to visit Gösta Serlachius Art Museum in October 1982. Chief curator Maritta Pitkänen interviewed him, and with his eyesight still intact the blacksmith went to see his work. The following year, Luotonen congratulated the 50-year-old Fine Arts Foundation sending a gift he had forged himself. It depicts a large and a small elephant carrying a felled tree. On a copper plate, the poet-souled blacksmith had written (in Finnish):
Atle Luotonen fell the message tree
drew the words on its bark
the elephants carry the message to the museum 1983
On tree stood: Congrats to 50-year-old Art Museum.
Pitkänen, Maritta: Muistio Taideseppä Atle Luotosen vierailu Joenniemessä 20.10.1982.
Tolmunen, Elsa: Tulikoiran takoja. Helsinki 1994.