Charlotte Ashby (Birkbeck, University of London), ‘Building in wood: Finnish ornament and international models’

This paper introduced the architect and journalist, Vilho Penttilä, who was one of the most vocal proponents of the development of a Finnish Style. His writings in The Finnish Industry Gazette reveal the varied international sources that provided the foundation for his national vision. It was the recognition of distinctive national vernaculars elsewhere, in particular Norway and Switzerland, that prompted his search for a Finnish Style. The idea of a national style was international in origin and Penttilä depended on a growing body of literature that had built up since the mid-nineteenth century based around studies of national ornaments and vernaculars. The origins of these studies can be traced, on the one hand, back to Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament  (1856) and, on the other, to theories of the relationship between nation, people and culture originating in Germany. Penttilä’s knowledge of different national vernaculars, and indeed of much Finnish material, depended on secondary published material. It was the international and national circulation of literature and the reproduced image that enabled the conceptualisation of new national languages of form and ornament. Penttilä learnt from these studies of national vernaculars to emphasise that which was distinctive and could be represented as a separate language, not merely a local variation on another dominant culture. It was the emphasis on uniqueness that led to a preference for the vernaculars of isolated regions whose traditions were less familiar, such as Karelia and Zakopane.

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