The Fieze telling the story 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 in order to investigate the possibilities of building a groundwood plant at the shore of Mäntänkoski. He sailed with five Ostrobothnian timbermen on the Pegasus, first to Vilppula, from where they continued by boat to Mänttä – to the neck of land between Kuorevesi and Keurusselkä, through which flows Mäntänkoski, which 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 order from the artist Lennart Segerstråle (1892–1975) a narrative historical painting for the hall made in functionalist style of the factory’s head quarters, which had been finished in 1934 and was planned by the architecture bureau Jung & Jung. There, in 1935, the same artist had already painted the colourful al seccos Land and Forest. This time Serlachius was hoping to get a story in pictures about the genesis of the Mänttä factories. It would be placed between the first and second floors covered by the oval skylight of the hall, on the wall surface of the balcony of the upper floor.
In 1986, when G. A. Serlachius Ltd. was merged with Metsäliiton teollisuus, the 118 year long story of the Serlachius family business ended. In the year 2000, the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation bought the building of the head quarters and there founded the museum nowadays known as the Serlachius Museum Gustaf.
The frieze The Genesis of Mänttä (height ca. 80 cm. and length 28 m), almost monochrome in colour and painted by Lennart Segerstråle, was finished in December 1937. The artist called the sketches for his work “film spools”, because the long painting consisted of a series of episodes. The work was completed on a wet marble sand surface, in the technique called stucco lustro. The artist defined his work as a marble frieze. The signature of Segerstråle is found in the story’s first motif, on the pharmacy bottle seen in the portrait of pharmacist G. A. Serlachius.
The original idea for the motif of the frieze came from Gösta Serlachius. Segerstråle wanted to create the work according to the Nordic role models of fresco art of his time, as an artistically conceived, decorative ornamental frieze. It was agreed that the artist’s royalty would be 50 000 Finnish marks, which in the money value 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, where pharmacist Serlachius is planning a change of career dreaming of the groundwood plant that would be founded in Mänttä. In those days, it wasn’t possible to reach Mänttä by road or railway. Those arriving from Näsijärvi, before reaching Mänttä, had to drag their boat from the Ruovesi side through Vilppulankoski, upstream to Kuorevesi, this constituting the third picture motif of the frieze.
The following episode describes the building of the groundwood mill on the shore of Mäntänkoski, which consisted of two riverbeds. G. A. Serlachius, contrary to the ideals of his time, 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, for which the volunteer workers were paid in the form of a keg of liquor. The day had been spent 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, in an era when factory work was to a large degree something done by human hands. After the checking of the quality of the pulp, the sheets or “cakes” could in summer be put out to dry on lines in the open air, after which they were assembled to form pulp bales.
In the seventh picture, the bales covered with brown tarpaulin are sent out into the world by 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 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 the period of open water. When winter arrived, they were loaded 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, instead putting his confidence in his coachmen and horses. In the last picture, transport workers are warming themselves up around coal baskets in front of the cargo storehouse in Saint Petersburg.
The artist, according to the wishes of the orderer, made the dome of the Kazan Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Church of the Saviour on Blood with its onion domes, stand out as landmarks of Saint Petersburg in the background. In the far right corner of the picture motif there is the so-called Bronze Horseman, the equestrian statue of Peter I. In this way, in the frieze the founder of Mänttä is symbolically being compared to Peter the Great, founder of Saint Petersburg, because the following picture motif of the circular frieze is the portrait of Serlachius.
On the frieze, the factory owner has been depicted 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 groundwood plant he is fishing salmons in Mäntänkoski, and in the factory he is supervising, together with the engineer, the quality of the product.
Before the final painting of the frieze, an opportunity had been organized for Segerstråle to meet and interview at least two men that during the initial years had been working for G. A. Serlachius. The timberman 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, whom Lennart Segerstråle immortalized in the frieze as the steersman of the church boat, could tell him not only about the use of church boats, but also about the clothing worn and about the first groundwood plant in Mäntta, which was destroyed in a fire in 1890.
Curator, Art Historian