Some time ago I was so lucky to interview the head of Moomin Characters Oy Ltd, Sophia Jansson. It has been on print in both Norway and Sweden.
I thought it was such a nice interview that I have decided to translate it into english so a broader audience of my site can enjoy it too.
Moomin Characters Oy Ltd is a hugely succesful company. And passion, craftmanship and family ties lays the ground.
Have a good read, folks!
The mum of the Moomintroll was a beloved aunt.
– She never said “go and play on your own”, but was just as keen on swimming and looking at the stones in the water like the children, tells niece Sophia.
It was in the Rue de la Gaite – Joy Street in Paris – Tove Jansson gave the first sign of life, a kick. And pure joy was what she later would bring the world through her Moomin stories and art.
She was born in Helsinki in Finland the 9th of August in 1914.
And Tove would go in her parents footsteps, early on. At age 14 she made her debut as an illustrator to help family finances.
Her father, Viktor (Faffan) Jansson, was one of Finland leading sculptors. The mother, Swedish-born Signe (Ham) Hammarsten, is considered the Finnish mother of stamps, and she also worked as an illustrator in the banknote printing works in Finlands-bank.
– They were wonderful human beings, says niece and nephew Sophia Jansson.
The family Jansson comes from the swedish-speaking minorities in Helsinki.
– Aunt Tove was pleasant and different, with a fantastic sense of humour. She was artistically gifted in all respects with an inquisitively and inquiring mind, says Sophia.
The family read books for little Sophia, but especially Tove read a lot.
– She read aloud in the evenings. I was often as a testpublic, she says.
Sometimes they celebrated Christmas Eve with her aunt, but above everything they were together during the summers.
– We met regularly. She lived in the archipelago, and we were living close. The summers were like the life in the Moomin books. We were on a boat in the horizon, exploring new reefs, and grilled food over an open fire. As a child, everything felt enchantingly dangerous and unknown. Aunt Tove was participating in the game of the children. She was never a boring adult whom would say, «go and play for yourself» but she was equally keen to swim and look at rocks. She had an adventurous and playful attitude to life. It was always fun to be with her, the niece recalls.
The family of Sophia was positive and playful.
– I had a happy childhood. It was not a family that talked about feelings, but feelings were quietly understood, she says.
A versatile artist
As an adult, she became acquainted with her aunts public persona, especially since she took over the family business Moomin Characters Oy Ltd.
– As an artist, she was highly principled, with deep humanistic values, like equality and human rights. She was also very careful to ensure that the work was of utmost quality, she tells.
For Tove, the creative life was of most significance, secondly came love.
The art was like a mania, she painted, drew and wrote, was a writer, playwright and businesswoman. The work could fill several people careers.
– That she, who was so thin and small, had such a force in words and brush, is impressive. She even made frescoes on house walls, says the niece.
The Moomin family’s happy life reminiscent of Tove’s childhood.
But the characters are also experiencing unrest, unrequited love and the deepest loneliness.
In the last Moomin book «Late November» Tove writes that many of the Moomin family members are gone. Nevertheless the absence made their presence feel stronger. Maybe stronger than if they actually had been there.
The comics, based on the books, was the Moomintroll´s international breakthrough; in the heyday read by 20 millions daily in about 40 countries.
– The illustrations and texts convey general human feelings. Therefore the books are still perceived as meaningful, she says.
The form of the figures are also important for the dissemination.
– The moomin´s soft shape, almost like cushions, makes them nice, friendly, and peaceful. Tove´s imaginary figures from a fantasy world has almost become like human characters. Unnoticed, you get drawn into the adventures. In th end one would desire that life was as in the Moominworld, smiles Sophia.
– The moomin´s soft shape, almost like cushions, makes them nice, friendly, and peaceful. Copyright: Moomin Charcters Oy Ltd.
Escape from war
Tove began the first Moomin book in 1939. She wrote it to herself, as an escape from the war.
In total there would be nine books about the Moomins. The war years were heavy on a sensitive artists soul. Probably, it was then she decided not to get her own family and have children.
She emphasized the artistic freedom, but freedom was also important in her own life. Tove saw early, through the parents marriage, the limitations such union could make in a woman´s life. The mother handed the biggest creative freedom to her husband, and secured the family an even revenue.
– Tove would not bear children to a world of warriors. It was the men who decided to go to war. She lost male friends. It was a dark mindset to have, but the reality was dark. Therefore she wrote the fantasy stories, among others about a mom and her Moomin seeking after his fugitive dad – analogously with the war-situation. But her stories always had a happy outcome, so that one could dream oneself away. It was the start for Moomins, she says.
Moomins and the Comet Chase, from 1946 was also influenced by the war.
– A comet hits Moominvalley- a metaphor for an atomic bomb, says Sophia.
Tove´s mother was her big love. They had a symbiotic relationship.
The book Sculptor’s Daughter portrays Tove as a small girl with her mother in a house, they are being buried by the white snow masses. The girl´s emotional state is filled by tranquility and happiness.
She visualizes that no one can enter, nor get into the house. She yells happy to her mother «I love you, I love you», laughing and throwing pillows on her mum and wishes the house never gets digged up from the snow crystals.
All evil is outside. She feels absolute safety. This was a real event, but the week she spent with her mother in a snowed house, drawing, Tove was already 30 years of age.
Family stability and mutual care was the main core in Moominworld. Love and yearning sends Moominpappa and Moomintroll out on many a perilous travel, in search of Moominmamma.
In the books Moominmamma represent Toves real mother.
Sophia’s favorite book is, Moominpappa at sea.
– The one in the archipelago, where the Moomin characters travels to the islands, she explains and continues: Moominmamma has a change of character from being the warm and good mother. She is still thinking positive, but for the first time on herself above the family.
In one scene, she longs to Moominvalley and disappears into her own painting.
Sophia adds that it exists a Chinese myth where a philosophically artist veritably disappears into the artists board.
– Tove was to the highest degree, such an artist. Moominmamma must in her longing paint the roses and everything in Moominvalley to get there. The story has a deeper theme and a basic idea. Toves books exists on so many levels. Many people have read the books again as adults, and get something out of it, she says.
A family business
Sophia is now creative director in Moomin Characters Oy Ltd.
Her husband, Roleff Kråkström, is chief director. They have two sons, of which one is a graphic artist.
– I assume Tove and her siblings talents have made a jump above my generation. I studied a little art, and worked as language teacher before I started here, she says modestly.
But at one point also Sophia considered to become a painter. But she then received long glances from her family members, who all believed she was of another character.
– My choice was more feeling-based, and I wanted children, she says.
Her aunts advice; to reflect about what she could live without, played a role.
– Once in the store I saw a nice but expensive crockery. Tove said: «Can you not live without? Then you might get it. »
It was an important erudition, for what can you not live without, maybe it is
not material? It is nice to think of sometimes, she reflects.
Sophia, is the daughter of Lars Jansson, often called Lasse.
He was an author and illustrator. For many years he drew the Moomin- series. A job he mastered to his fingertips.
After an exhausting period as a comic artist, Tove then got to concentrate on being a painter, and wrote books for adults rather than children.
– In the 50s the series took up too much time. My father overtook the workload, while their other brother, Per Olov, photographer, documented the family life, she says.
Freedom is the best
The first Moomin character Tove drew on the wall of the outhouse toilet, at the summer place, Pellinge.
It represented the philosopher Kant, and she therefore wrote:
«Freedom is the best».
Freedom was a common thread in Toves life. Motherhood means the biggest bond and therefore savored as scary.
Later, though, she would be loved by millions of children.
Common among several of Toves lovers were that they affected her opinions and values.
Maybe it was an unconscious choice that she always selected freedom loving men, so that she avoided the sealing of a marriage.
In Helsinki Tove got herself an atelier, it was not large, but big enough for her.
At the atelier she lived all her life from 1944. A separate studio was for her a symbol of freedom.
When she later met life partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, they both got an atelier in the very same building. There they, romantically enough, went through a loft in the building to visit each other.
Tuulikki was a woman, one of Finland most recognized graphic artists and an inspiration to Moomin character Too-Tickie.
But Toves first female love was Vivica, though the love ended. But Tove always retained a good friendship with her exes.
Especially Vivica became an important person whom drew her into the theater world.
Tove and Tuulikkis paths already crossed in 1938 on a drawing school. But the love sparks first hit in 1956.
Tove later wrote:
«I am finally with whom I belong.»
– It was forbidden with equal gender relationship, but Tove proclaimed it.
«I have a crush on a woman, and it is wonderful”.
– She bravely went against defined contemporary social perceptions, and was also open towards her family and me. As younger she likely chose men by conventions, but women eventually. For her it was about individuals, she says.
Tolerance was important in the Moomin universe.
– Tove would not be categorized, but lived after her own conscience and humanistic values. It is seen in the characters of the Moomins, which is a part of her. The attitude was about being playful and curious on others, says Sophia.
In several stories she describes strangers whom the Moomin family welcomes with openness and friendliness.
– Under the war, many refugees came to Finland, and some had to evacuate.
Refugees is not a new phenomenon, but equally applicable; she says.
Today as the world again is uneasy, we therefore let Tove close this story with her own words. The same words she often responded with in interviews.
The living rule she gave Too Tickie in the Moominworld.
«Everything is very unsure, and that is what calms me. «
Today, Moomin Characters Oy Ltd is a big trademark with an annual turnover on about 4.6 billion NOK.
The Mommin figures exists at everything from Finnair’s body to peoples bed linen.
The Moomin products came on the market in the 50s.
The newspaper Evening News, whom published the comic strips, made a small Little My-tie as a Christmas gift to the employers. Tove and the brother Lars then soon founded the company. The children´s tableware set, Mumin, a collectable, was created in 1990. Today there also exists several, child friendly, Moomin cafés throughout Europe and Asia.
The creator of Moomin was Tove Jansson (1914-2001), painter, illustrator, author and Finlands foremost artist. The first book about the Moomintroll – The Moomins and the Great Flood, was released in 1945. Tove wrote and illustrated nine novels, four picture books and hundreds of comic strips. Her life work is translated into 50 languages.
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