GUNNEL NYMAN – OPEN ARCHIVES
In 2019, the Design Museum received a significant donation: the archives of designer Gunnel Nyman (1909–1948), who was particularly renowned for her glass designs. Including sketches, correspondence, photographs and other materials belonging to the celebrated designer, these exhibits offer a more complete picture of Nyman at the same time as they reflect the world around her. The exhibition built around the Gunnel Nyman Archives showcases design while putting museum work in the spotlight. What happens to the archives as they are incorporated into the Design Museum’s collection? How do the private archives of a designer become accessible to museum visitors?
In this exhibition, visitors will learn about museum work and the diverse materials that remain of the designer’s life work. In the activity area located in the Design Attic, you can experience at first hand how archive materials are processed.
GUNNEL NYMAN (1909–1948)
Gunnel Nyman is one of the most renowned Finnish glass designers. From 1932 to 1948, she worked as a designer with all the most influential Finnish glassworks: Riihimäki, Karhula, Iittala and Nuutajärvi. But Nyman’s career as a designer extended far beyond glass objects.
She graduated as a furniture designer in 1932, and also ventured into lamp and textile design. Nyman was a productive and dedicated designer, always ready to seize a new opportunity as it arose. As a freelancer, she was able to work for multiple manufacturers at the same time.
The designer’s death in 1948 after a prolonged illness meant that Nyman did not live to witness the successful turn taken by Finnish design in the 1950s. Gunnel Nyman was posthumously awarded the gold medal for glass work at the 1951 Milan Triennale.
The archives of Gunnel Nyman include many drawings and sketches that have not been associated with a specific object or manufacturer. These unidentified sketches include glass objects, furniture, lamps and textiles. The primary step in identifying an object in a sketch is to look for any notes that might provide dates or names of purchasers and manufacturers. Although the sketches in Nyman’s archives generally lack this kind of information, photographs and manufacturers’ product catalogues have enabled many of them to be identified. The sketches that remain unidentified will be digitalized, providing an excellent resource for future research opportunities.
STORAGE AND CONSERVATION
Conserving the objects in its collection for future generations is one of a museum’s top priorities. When archive materials are placed in storage, all materials that could damage them, such as paper clips and plastic folders, are removed.
Any damages or tears are restored by a museum conservator, who is also tasked with smoothing out any folds and creases. Each drawing will be treated separately, protected with acid-free paper and stored in a case made of acid-free cardboard. The original materials must be protected from light and dust in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment.
Some items in the Gunnel Nyman Archives are likely to perish over the course of time. The ink of thermographic copies will fade, and its acidity will make the paper brittle. These types of materials are not accessioned into the museum collection and will be discarded. However, copies of these will be added to the museum’s collection as digital records.
Only final copies of documents or drawings will be archived. Once they have been recorded as entries in the collection’s database, any duplicate copies, working copies or notes are usually discarded from the archive materials.
Any rolled or folded items must be carefully unrolled or unfolded and stored flat.
ADDITIONS TO THE COLLECTION
The Gunnel Nyman Archives contain a great deal of materials that supplement the Design Museum’s existing collections. Drawings related to the work of the Iittala glass factory are one example. Nyman worked for the Iittala glass factory for a short period of time in early 1947. The Design Museum’s Iittala archives include drawings by Nyman of glass objects which were manufactured at Iittala. The Gunnel Nyman Archives contains additional sketches of the same objects, shedding new light on the design process. The first sketches by the designer are sheets of paper filled with drawings through which she searches for the shape of an object. Some of these sheets contain sketches of several glass objects that she was designing, sometimes for different factories.
MUSEUM STUDY TRIPS
Gunnel Nyman made two study trips, to Germany in 1936, and to Sweden in 1946. Her archives contain a substantial amount of materials produced during these trips. In Germany, Nyman visited several museums to explore their glass collections, filling the pages of her sketchbook with drawings and notes on the history of glass production and its various techniques.
A museum visit offers designers the opportunity to learn about the history of design. The predecessor of the Design Museum, known as the Museum of Art and Design, was established in 1873, originally as a study collection. From the very beginning, the museum has exhibited the finest achievements in the field to the public.
Gunnel Nyman and textile artist Dora Jung organized a joint exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in 1938. The influences and inspiration behind the glass objects featured in the exhibition can be traced back to Gunnel Nyman’s notes from her first study trip.
ARCHIVES AS A SOURCE OF INFORMATION
Gunnel Nyman’s work as a lamp designer is not as widely recognized as her glass designs. Although there are plenty of sketches for lamps in the Gunnel Nyman Archives, the sketches contain very little information that would help to identify the designs.
Nyman worked as a designer at Taito Oy, an industrial design company, from 1932 to 1938, but no models designed for Taito have been identified among the sketches found in the archives. In 1939, Nyman started as a designer for Stockmann-Orno, and worked with Idman during World War II. A number of lamp models designed by Nyman have been identified by comparing the sketches in the archives against Idman’s product catalogues.
The Design Museum receives a lot of queries about the origins of lamps produced by Taito and Idman. Sketches of lamps contained in the Gunnel Nyman Archives are now available for viewing in digital form via the online search portal Finna. These are freely accessible materials offering further information for researchers and other interested parties.
COMPLEMENTING THE COLLECTION
The Gunnel Nyman Archives include approximately 500 sketches of pieces of furniture. Furniture designed by Nyman was manufactured, inter alia, by the Kerava carpentry shop, owned by the Stockmann department store and the Boman furniture factory in Turku. Although the Design Museum’s collection includes no furniture designed by Gunnel Nyman, the personal archives of the designer compensate for this shortcoming.
The archives will also facilitate the identification of pieces of furniture designed by Gunnel Nyman in the collections of other museums. Materials from the Boman factory are included in the collections of the Regional Museum of Southwest Finland, while materials from the Kerava carpentry shop belong to the collections of the Museum Centre Sinkka in Kerava. Nyman’s sketches for other manufacturers and private commissions are awaiting new research. It will be exciting to see which of these were eventually produced.
Come and join us in the museum’s collection activities! Step inside to explore and lend a helping hand.
You will be able to examine sketches by Gunnel Nyman at the activity point in the Design Attic, giving you a glimpse into the museum’s behind-the-scenes collections work. You can scan and save the original drawings, as well as pack pieces of the materials for storage together with a museum professional.
The Design Attic is open from Tuesday to Saturday. You will receive a thorough introduction to the tasks and learn about the collections work at a museum. All you need to participate is a keen and curious mindset! Children will have the opportunity to reproduce sketches by drawing copies of them.
AN ARTEFACT’S PATH TO THE COLLECTION
Riihimäen lasi Oy
This mirror decoration, handmade from glass, was part of Gunnel Nyman’s 1938 exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design. It was inspired by Venetian glass, which Gunnel Nyman had seen examples of at the Paris World Exposition in 1937. Glass objects, lamps and furniture by Nyman were showcased in the Finnish Pavilion at the same exposition, and she was awarded three medals.
As a museum exhibit, the mirror decoration becomes more than a single artefact: it tells a story of the past. This is the starting point for the selection process through which objects are accessioned into the museum’s collections. The principles for accessioning exhibits into the collections are set out in the museum’s Collection Policy. New acquisitions are also restricted by the size of the storage facilities and other resources.
The mirror decoration is the only artefact to be accessioned into the collection from the archives. The Gunnel Nyman Archives were received as a donation in March 2019. A comprehensive donation agreement entered into with the donator included a provision on the right of the museum to select materials, i.e. not to accession them all into the collection.
The process of registration of artefacts consists of several steps, including the assignation of number codes, cataloguing and photographing of the artefacts. Background information on the objects in as much detail as possible will be collected for the museum’s collection management system. When an object is registered into the collection, one of the key steps is to evaluate the quality and volume of data content available.
Separate main registers are maintained for objects, drawings and images. All items accessioned into the Design Museum’s collection since 1978 are assigned a running inventory number. The older collections still use another kind of numbering system.
INVENTORY NUMBERS OF ARTEFACTS
An inventory number is first assigned to the mirror decoration. This number is entered into the collection management system and is also recorded on the object, either by painting it on or attaching a number tag. Each artefact in the collection has a unique inventory number with which it can be identified.
The mirror decoration is then catalogued, which means that the information on the object is recorded in the museum’s collection management system. An inventory code identical to the one in the main inventory will be recorded on the object, and this will be entered into the collection management system.
At this point, a catalogue entry for identification purposes is made. The catalogue entry, which can be added to later, includes the measurements of the artefact, a written description, the materials used, and any other observations.
The mirror decoration is photographed and the photograph is then transferred to the collection management system. The photograph is assigned a number code that corresponds to the inventory code indicated on the artefact and it is attached to the file containing the other catalogue entry data. Sketches, photographs and paper documents are usually saved using a scanner. One of the purposes of the photograph is to facilitate identification of an artefact.
LIFE OF THE COLLECTION
The mirror decoration is placed in a container and stored in the museum’s collection storage facility in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. Plastic materials, such as bubble wrap, can be used as padding. A protective material such as acid-free paper must be placed between the artefact and the plastic to prevent the plastic sticking to the artefact and damaging it.
CARE AND CONSERVATION
Visual observations are made of the condition of the mirror decoration. The decoration is fractured, which means that it will need conservation. A conservator will carry out the necessary tasks, in this case, making an analysis of materials and working methods, reviewing the damage and estimating which conservation measures will be needed and documenting these in the conservatory report.
Conservatory is the final step of artefact care. The museum’s policy is to maintain the original form of artefacts and other original materials. This requires adequate storage conditions and the careful handling of artefacts in transfer, transport and exhibition situations.
The museum’s collection management system now contains information about the mirror decoration and a photograph of the artefact. When artefacts are selected for exhibitions, the digital data system is the primary tool. The artefacts in the Design Museum’s collection are exhibited in the museum’s own exhibitions, but artefacts and archive materials are also loaned to other museums and public organizations, usually for the purpose of being showcased in an exhibition. The borrower undertakes to handle and exhibit the artefacts in conditions that correspond to museum-level safety in a manner predetermined by the Design Museum. The prospective borrower first submits a loan request; the Design Museum then checks the condition of the object and makes a decision as to whether the artefact can be loaned out.
Earlier research has ensured the preservation of a great deal of information in relation to the mirror decoration. We know who designed it, we know the glassblower who made it, and we know which exhibitions featured it. We also know that the mirror decoration was used at the home of the designer.
The museum’s collections are explored especially in connection to exhibitions. Researchers from various fields also visit the museum to learn more about materials and artefacts.