On the train to Bendigo with Ruth and me were 3 women who were with but not paying attention to several unruly children. Having a day out, they were on their way to the Bendigo Art Museum to see the Marimekko exhibit. The women were talking to each other but not to the children, who were free to do whatever they wanted. I wondered how many others on the train were going there too until we arrived at the Bendigo station, which was not the train’s final stop, and almost everyone got off. It was May 19 and Aussies only had 3 weeks left to see this show before it closed on June 11. That’s when I knew the Marimekko presentation that Ruth and I had seen advertised in almost all current Melbourne travel stuff would be great. It was.
I knew virtually nothing about Marimekko other than it was a Finnish company known for its bold designs and that many Finns are design masters. Ruth knew a bit more than me but not much. We were about to be dazzled by a company that all the ads for this show called “Finland’s premier design house”. It was founded in Helsinki by Viljo and Armi Ratia in 1951. Within a few years the company was thriving because, according to the exhibit’s info, women were being liberated from their traditional roles as houswives and the Ratias were hiring design geniuses. Marimekko was different, contradictory: its designs were plain yet bold, modern yet traditional, etc. Viljo died in 1979 but his wife Armi carried on and finally sold their company to an American group in 1985. In the 1960s Jackie Kennedy, a much copied fashion icon, often wore Marimekko clothes; and it was featured in articles in Elle, Life, Vogue, etc. Jacqueline Bouvier and the about to-become-President John Kennedy appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated when Jackie was wearing a typical Marimekko top. In Finnish, Mari is a woman’s name and mekko means dress.
I was astonished by room after room of fabrics, housewares, sketches, etc. I had no idea that Marimekko was such an influential design company. After being tempted by trays and purses and framed prints, Ruth only bought some paper napkins for a souvenir. That astonished me too as did the Bendigo Art Museum’s boldness in hosting this unusual show. However, this 130-year-old museum is in a town that was once home to many gold-finding, philanthropic millionaires and billionaires. In 2016, The Bendigo Art Museum hosted a sold out show featuring Marilyn Monroe.
This exhibit has been on the road since 2016. It opened in Tokyo and went on to 3 other Japanese cities in 2017 before coming to Bendigo. It was popular in Japan because Marimekko began opening stores there in 2006 and now has 28 of them. Moreover, a design genius named Fujiwo Ishimoto joined the company in 1974 and created more than 400 popular textile patterns for it. It will return to Finland when it closes in Bendigo. I don’t usually write about shows that Ruth & I see unless they are ongoing. I made an exception for 3 reasons. This show was sensational. It was developed by Helsinki’s renowned Design Museum, which will continue to feature Marimekko in its displays. Anyone who goes to Finland or New York or Japan will surely see lots of Merimekko.