Gösta Serlachius was a mill owner who was direct in his business affairs. He also had a delicate and sensitive side that was particularly apparent in his relation to art. He converted the paper company that his uncle G. A. Serlachius established into one of Finland’s most important forest combines.
Gösta Michael Serlachius was born in Pietarsaari on 26 April, 1876. His parents were Aina Matilda Schauman and brewery-owner Gabriel Serlachius who was the brother of the mill owner Gustaf Adolf Serlachius. Gösta attended primary school in Pietarsaari. Then his parents send him to the Swedish-speaking Lyceum (secondary school) in Oulu. Upon matriculation in 1895, he entered the University of Helsinki. There he read law. However, he found little motivation to study. Subsequently, his father’s death in 1896 was probably a contributory factor in his decision to begin a career in working life instead.
In 1898, Gösta Serlachius began as a trainee at the paper mill that his uncle G. A. Serlachius owned in Mänttä. He married 1899 G. A. Serlachius daughter, a cousin of his, Sigrid (Sissi). 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. The firm was reconstituted as a joint-stock company called G. A. Serlachius Aktiebolaget. Gösta Serlachius went to study paper technology at a technical institute in Vienna. He 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 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. On the other hand, he also 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.
On his initiative, organisations representing the country’s paper and pulp mills were founded. Subsequently, another representing the mechanical wood-processing sector saw a complete restructure. In 1918 he received the prestigious honorary title Vuorineuvos (Counsellor of Mining) that the newly-independent Finnish state awarded.
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 started as the Quartermaster-General of the (non-socialist) White army. In the 1930s he served on several committees set up to erect war memorials. He was responsible for the 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.
December 1939 the Ministry of Defence sent him to Britain to use his contacts there to lobby for economic help for Finland because the country was at war. He also was the Vice Chairman of the Finnish Red Cross and from 1941 as its Chairman when Field-Marshall Mannerheim was unable due to other engagements. He received a promotion 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. With his first salary from the Mänttä mills, Gösta Serlachius bought his first work of art. It was a portrait of a young girl of an unknown artist in the 18th century. In the first two decades of the 20th century he added to his collection. As a result, he bought individual works, especially those of Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
Mänttä hived itself off from Vilppula and become a separate municipality in 1922. Subsequently, Gösta Serlachius stepped up his efforts to promote its development. This took place according to plans that some of the country’s front-rank architects and town planners had created. In 1928 Gösta Serlachius commissioned the building of Mänttä Church, which received a unique artistic decoration. It comprised the biggest totality ever executed by the sculptor Hannes Autere. In addition, Alvar Cawén created its altarpiece and two glass paintings, and Eric O. W. Ehrström designed a rose window .
Gösta Serlachius became a patron of arts and his weight in the art world grew. As result, 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. It manufactured wrought-iron products, and thereby promoted the development of an arts and crafts industry in Finland. His great dream was to build an art museum in Mänttä. His death in 1942, however, interrupted this project.