To stay in the loop with the latest features, news and interviews from the creative community around licensing, sign up to our weekly newsletter here
Mhairi Muncaster on working with The Moomins – and not exploiting their creator as a brand.
Mhairi, thanks for making time! So: The Moomins! As a brand, they’re decades old – and earn hundreds of millions a year. They never strike me as being particularly “in your face”, though. Why is that, do you think?
The Moomins aren’t too “in your face” as a brand, perhaps, because the trolls themselves are so kindly and well-meaning. There’s also a huge variety in the type of creatures in Moominvalley – something relatable for everyone.
I understand The Moomins made their creator, Tove Jansson, one of the most successful kids’ authors of all time. Did she have other string to her bow?
Absolutely! Jansson was not only one of the most successful children’s authors of all time but also a great artist. On top of that, she drew satirical cartoons, wrote fiction for adults – and many more things besides. She had a truly fascinating life which our exhibition The Woman Who Fell in Love with an Island at Walthamstow Wetlands celebrates.
Tell us about that… Where is it?
It’s at Walthamstow Wetlands. This is Europe’s largest urban nature reserve and has the same designated status as the Amazon and the Nile – all this in London!
Is that right? I had no idea! And why stage the exhibition there?
We noticed the similarity between Walthamstow Wetlands and Tove Jansson’s beautiful drawings of her Island – Klovharu. That got us exploring the possibility of bringing a little slice of Finland to London. In themselves, though, the Wetlands are a nature reserve, and an archipelago of islands. It’s a really special place, with a unique landscape.
Bonus points to you for using the word ‘archipelago’! So: you open on June the 19th… What can we expect to see, hear and do?
There’ll be an exhibition which focuses on Tove’s life on the Island, with her partner Tuulikki Pietilä. Their story is told through beautifully reproduced and intimate photographs, and interpretation.
There’s also a nature trail, which takes visitors on a journey through the Wetlands, meeting some of their favourite Moomin characters along the way… Children can also fill out a beautifully designed activity sheet and map. Lastly, there’s a download of an essay that Tove Jansson wrote, called The Island. This is a reading by Tove’s niece, Sophia Jansson.
Oh wow. Given the Moomin’s themes of family and togetherness, that seems appropriate…
Yes! The recording is a real labour of love… We worked on it with Erland Cooper, the Scottish multi-instrumentalist. He composed a truly stunning score for it. We also worked with an artist in Finland who gathered field recordings from Jansson’s Island, which Erland then mixed into the piece. All of the proceeds from the download during the life of the exhibition will be donated to the London Wildlife Trust, which runs Walthamstow Wetlands.
Brilliant! I’m curious, then: How did this event come about?
My business partner – Alison Williams – and I both come from places where islands are part of the culture. She’s from Acaill Island in Ireland… I’m from Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands. That’s where the Summer Isles are, and from where you take the ferry to reach the Outer Hebrides.
Strewth! For those that don’t know, I’ll explain that the Outer Hebrides are a remote chain of islands in Scotland. Hard to reach.
Right. So, like Tove, we’re inspired by islands. Alison and I met while working together at the William Morris Gallery, and discovered a mutual love of Tove Jansson and islands. We started to develop the exhibition concept while looking at Tove Jansson’s life. We enjoyed exploring the idea that – every summer – this incredibly famous author took herself off to a remote island to work and be at one with nature.
“We’ve been inspired by the Moomins love of nature – and we hope this comes through.”
What was your starting point for an attraction around The Woman Who Fell in Love with an Island?
Well, we knew the public would want to see Moomins, and so the nature trail was born. This has been designed to be sensitive to the unique nature of the Wetlands… There are animals, plants and colonies of birds there that need to be protected, so we’ve been subtle in our approach. We want visitors to use their imagination when walking around. We’ve been inspired by the Moomins love of nature and care of their environment, and we hope this comes through.
And who controls the licensing rights for this? How did you get permission?
We were lucky enough to get support from Moomin Characters Inc, which is now run by Tove Jansson’s family. They loved the concept and invested in it. We also had support from The Finnish Institute, The Finnish Embassy and Visit Finland, who have all been amazing.
What was the creative process behind it?
Again, we were very lucky because there are some really intimate and beautiful photographs that were taken of Tove Jansson on her Island, by her brother Per Olav Jansson. We’ve reproduced these on a grand scale. Moomin Characters also gave us access to their unique archive of drawings and material. It was such an honour, and it’s a real treasure trove for Moomin fans like us!
Another creative resource was our amazing graphic designer, Anthony Peters of Studio Imeus. He’s come up with a really striking identity for the project… We’re very grateful to him, and we’ve used the wonderful look and feel he created throughout.
“It’s important to remember Tove’s work, but not to exploit her as a brand.”
You mentioned earlier that, as well as creating The Moomins, Tove Jansson seems to have had a very interesting life. Moomins aside, is Tove herself something of an untapped brand?
Tove Jansson is an amazing artist, but it’s important to draw a line of distinction between the Moomins as a brand and Tove Jansson as an artist. In many ways Tove Jansson was a very private person, and sought peace on her island during her summer visits. We want to respect this, and think it’s important to remember her work, but not to exploit her as a brand.
Great answer! In terms of working with other partners, what do you look for in a set up like this?
One of the reasons that this project has worked, and we have so many amazing funders is because our love of the artist, of the Wetlands, and of the Moomins shines through our content and curation company – Acaill & Skye – seeks to produce and design content that we’re passionate about. There are no specific types of partners as such – we’re motivated by nature, art, and creativity, so the right project could come in any shape and size. We do have some really exciting up-and-coming plans after this – so watch this space!
Well, to that point: what’s next for you?
We’re curating a Tove Jansson exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in 2022. This will bring together many of her personal possessions and works that’ve never been seen in the UK before. We’re also presenting the work of her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä – who was an amazing artist too… That work’s never travelled to the UK before so we’re very excited!
Terrific. Mhairi, we need to start wrapping this up but – before we finish –what’s the one question I should’ve asked that I haven’t asked yet?
What were the Moomin company like to work with?
And what’s the answer?
They were exactly as you’d want them to be – an absolute joy! They’re supportive, warm and kind… They use their brand for good; supporting charities and brilliant initiatives. It’s been such a pleasure to work with such a generous and inspirational group of people.
Lovely answer! Thank you so much for your time on this. I’ll be sure to include a picture with dates on it, but for anyone that misses it, I’ll give the exhibition opening date again… It’s the 19th of June 2021.
Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.