The frieze of the genesis of Mänttä and its factories at Museum Gustaf
On the 17th of September 2018, 150 years have passed since the founding of the Mänttä factories. During the year of the Finnish Famine 1868, the pharmacist G. A. Serlachius came from Tampere to Mänttä. His purpose was to investigate the possibilities of building a ground wood plant at the shore of Mäntänkoski. He sailed with five Ostrobothnian timbermen on the Pegasus ship. At first they arrived in Vilppula. From where they continued by boat to Mänttä – to the neck of land between Kuorevesi and Keurusselkä, through which Mäntänkoski Rapids flows. The watercourse has got its name from an agricultural farm called Mänttä.
Almost 70 years later, the nephew of the founder of the family business, Gösta Serlachius, proposed that G. A. Serlachius Ltd. would commission from the artist Lennart Segerstråle (1892–1975) a narrative history painting for the factory’s head quarters.
It was to be positioned at the entrance hall of the functionalist style head quarters, which was completed in 1934 and designed by architecture bureau Jung & Jung. In 1935, the same artist had already painted the colourful al secco paintings Land and Forest for the entrance hall. This time Serlachius was hoping to get an illustration of the genesis of the Mänttä factories. It would be placed on the surface of the balcony of the upper floor between the ground floor and first floor around the oval skylight of the hall.
In 1986, when G. A. Serlachius Ltd. merged with Metsäliitto Industries, the 118 year long story of the Serlachius family business came to an end. In the year 2000, the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation bought the building of the head quarters and established the museum nowadays known as the Serlachius Museum Gustaf.
The frieze The Genesis of Mänttä (height ca. 80 cm and length 28 m) was completed in December 1937. Lennart Segerstråle created it almost in monochromatic colours . The artist called the sketches for his work “film spools”, because the long painting consisted of a series of episodes. He creates the work on a wet marble sand surface with a technique called stucco lustro. The artist defined his work as a marble frieze. Segerstråle placed his signature on the pharmacy bottle visible in the portrait of pharmacist G. A. Serlachius in the story’s first motif.
The original idea for the motif of the frieze came from Gösta Serlachius. Segerstråle wanted adhere to the Nordic role models of fresco art of his time, and create an artistically conceived, decorative ornamental frieze. They agreed that the artist’s royalty would be 50 000 Finnish marks, which in the currency of 2018 is slightly more than 18 000 euros.
The story about the genesis of Mänttä begins opposite the main entrance, with the first pharmacy of Tampere. The pharmacist Serlachius is planning to change of careers. He is dreaming of the ground wood plant that he would establish in Mänttä. In those days, you could not travel to Mänttä by road or by railway. Those arriving on Näsijärvi Lake had to drag their boat from the Ruovesi side through Vilppulankoski Rapids, upstream to Kuorevesi, before they could reach Mänttä. This constitutes the third motif of the frieze.
The following episode describes the building of the ground wood mill on the shore of Mäntänkoski, which consisted of two riverbeds. Contrary to the ideals of his time G. A. Serlachius wasn’t a teetotaller. The fifth picture of the painting, which is the most comical, depicts the volunteers’ community work organized to clear the shores of Mäntänkoski in 1870. The volunteer workers wages for the task was a keg of liquor. They had spent their day carrying stones from the river, and in the evening, as the story goes, the stones as well as the men were lying all over the ground.
The sixth motif shows the production of pulp sheets.This was the era when factory work was to a large degree handiwork. After the quality checks of the pulp, the workers out sheets or “cakes” could in summer out to dry on lines in the open air. Then they were assembled in pulp bales.
In the seventh picture, the bales covered with brown tarpaulin are sent out into the world using the force of rowers and sails, on purchased or rented church boats. The cargo was first transported to the bay at the southern end of Kuorevesi Lake and from there by carriage horses to Länkipohja, then continuing on ships or barges to Hämeenlinna.
The bales had to be taken to Hämeenlinna during open waters. When winter arrived, people loaded them on horse sledges. The train connection to Saint Petersburg passing through Riihimäki and Lahti existed already in 1870, but Serlachius didn’t use it at first. He would rather put his confidence in his coachmen and horses. In the last picture, transport workers are warming themselves up circling around coal baskets in front of the cargo storehouse in Saint Petersburg.
According to commissioner’s wishes, the artist painted the dome of the Kazan Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Church of the Saviour on Blood with its onion domes, as renowned landmarks of Saint Petersburg in the background. In the far right corner of the picture, there is the so-called Bronze Horseman, the equestrian statue of Peter I. In this way, the frieze symbolically parallels the founder of Mänttä with Peter the Great, founder of Saint Petersburg, because the portrait of Serlachius is the next motif of the circular frieze.
On the frieze, you can find the factory owner in four different episodes altogether. In addition to the portrait, you can discern him supervising the dragging of a boat at the shore of Vilppulankoski. In the picture showing the building of the ground wood plant he is fishing salmons in Mäntänkoski. Subsequently, he is supervising the quality of the product together with the engineer in the factory.
Before the final implementation of the frieze, Segerstråle had an opportunity to meet and interview at least two men that had been working for G. A. Serlachius during the early years. Timber man Manu Järvinen, who had lived in Ruovesi, belonged to the group of five that had arrived at Mänttä in 1868 together with the factory owner. Aukusti Sillanpää from Kuorevesi informed the artist of the use of church boats. In addition, he was able to tell also about the clothing of the means well as about MÄnttä’s first ground wood plant, which later burned down in a fire in 1890. Lennart Segerstråle immortalised Aukusti Sillanpää in the frieze as the steersman of the church boat.
Curator, Art Historian