Wetterhoff History


Fredrika's Youth

Fredrika Wetterhoff was born in 1844 as the ninth child of Judge Georg Adolf Wetterhoff and his spouse. Soon after her birth, the family moved to the provincial town of Hämeenlinna, some 100 kilometres north of Helsinki. Fredrika Wetterhoff's childhood and youth were the time of the national awakening in Finland. Ideas supporting Finnish nationality, culture and language were warmly embraced by the Swedish-speaking Wetterhoff family.

According to the educational tenets of the time, gentlewomen were to be prepared for "the kitchen, the drawing-room and the nursery". It was important to learn French, elegant needlecraft, and decorous social manners. Girls were generally taught at home or by the local clergy, but prosperous families of the higher estates, such as the Wetterhoffs, were able to employ governesses.

When still quite young, Fredrika Wetterhoff became concerned about the deep spiritual and material rift between gentlefolk and the common folk. It was her belief that literacy had a particular significance for improving the mentality of the common folk. Therefore, she persisted in learning Finnish and, when still a girl, began to teach the children of the dependents at her home manor.

In 1873, Fredrika was able to realize her dream of travelling abroad: she studied languages and the newest methods of teaching drawing in Paris and Leipzig. On returning to her home town, she began her teacher's career at the Hämeenlinna Normal Lyceum. Shortly thereafter, as a result of the lively contemporary debate on the improvement of educational opportunities for girls, a Finnish School for Girls was founded in Hämeenlinna, which was one of the centres of national idealism. For the first couple of years, Fredrika Wetterhoff was the headmistress of the school.

The Founding of the Fredrika Wetterhoff Craft School

In 1884, Fredrika again travelled abroad, this time to study drawing, sculpting and geometrical construction in the Technical School in Stockholm. She also completed a course in education. During her year in Stockholm, Fredrika became acquainted with notable feminists and their projects for improving the educational level of the working classes. Fredrika became convinced that the only way of improving the lot of the poor would be to offer them the opportunity for theoretical and practical education. As regards women in the first half of the 1800s, practically the only prospect open to them was marriage, for a single, unconnected woman living in a town had next to no opportunities for earning a living. Fredrika never married, and so the difficulties and prejudices encountered by single women were familiar to her.

Freedom of trade, it was possible for Fredrika to put into practice her project of training women as independent entrepreneurs. The Fredrika Wetterhoff Craft School started its activity in 1885, in a building owned by the Ladies' Society of Hämeenlinna. For the first year, eight young and eager girls from "the labouring classes” enrolled, aged from 12 to 16 years. The aim was to give the girls instruction in crafts and to accustom them to organised work.

The instruction was free and attendance was allowed until the students should find a job in a shop or factory, or in private families. During the first year instruction was offered in sewing linen, knitting, crocheting, straw work, woodwork and geometrical drawing. The industry and eagerness of the students quickly brought good results. The following spring, the school's exhibition of work was greatly admired. This annual spring exhibition, planned and carried through by the students themselves, is still a feature of the school year at Wetterhoff's.

The Craft School Expands

The following year, the curriculum was expanded to contain weaving, for which an experienced teacher, Miss Nanny Odenwall, was recruited. The aim of the Weaving Department was to awaken interest in weaving and to promote the wider use of practical but beautiful traditional

In the autumn of 1886, the teaching was moved to the town centre, to Fredrika's spacious home, in which she now lived alone since the death of her father. Even though the Craft School aimed at improving the lot of the poor, it received no particular sympathy or financial support from the Hämeenlinna councillors. However, in the course of a few years the School became known all over Finland and its activity was greatly appreciated. As a result of this new, wider interest, the town fathers finally acknowledged the significance of the school and in 1889, rented to the school premises which were later bought for the school by Fredrika. After more than a hundred years, the school is still using the same building, though it has been greatly expanded and added to.

With the new premises, the Weaving Department began to expand rapidly. Soon there were more than 50 students. In 1889, Fredrika Wetterhoff and Nanny Odenwall travelled to Germany to study the newest methods of teaching weaving. On their return they brought mechanical parts for looms, for which the wooden parts were made in a carpentry shop which the school had organized and which continued its operation until 1939. In addition to tools and instruments, new teachers were needed, in spite of the fact that the most advanced students were occasionally used as assistant teachers.

The staff was augmented by Carl Neu, master weaver from Germany, who taught weaving and dyeing. His influence was visible in the weaves as
European Jugend and the fashionable Orientality. Most of the students completed the short course of three months, after which they returned home with their new skills. Some of them, however, stayed the entire year and were subsequently employed as skilled weavers by the school. A few students had the opportunity of being employed as teachers, either in Finland or in Russia.

Teacher Training Begins

Fredrika Wetterhoff was not satisfied with the results of the first few years. In her opinion, the students leaving the school were skilled enough, but not sufficiently well informed. Before coming to Wetterhoff's, the students had attended folk school, learning arithmetics, reading and writing. Many, however, had forgotten much of this learning. Taking all this into account, Fredrika began to plan a separate Teacher Training Department as a continuation to the Weaving Department. She felt that in addition to being proficient in craft work, a teacher needed good general information, skill in drawing and designing patterns and familiarity with matters of economy.

Teacher training at the Craft School was started in 1890, first as a one-year course, which was later expanded to two years. For almost a hundred years, all Finnish-speaking craft teachers were graduated from Wetterhoff's. Moreover, the eacher training at Wetterhoff's constituted the foundation on which the numerous arts and crafts schools still operating in Finland were created. Fredrika Wetterhoff's pioneering work also contributed to the unique network of arts and crafts associations in Finland, offering opportunities for recreation and financial gain for everyone interested in crafts.

International Contacts

The Craft School quickly became famous for its competent teaching. As early as in 1900, for instance, a group of teachers from Norway came on a state scholarship to train in the school and to fetch a loom pattern to Norway. Also in Russia, Finnish weaving skill was attracting interest: many newly graduated teachers found a permanent job there. Girls from Russia, as well as from Estonia and Sweden, came to study in the school. Ever since Fredrika's day, each year has seen many international students not only from Europe, but distant countries like Japan, for instance.

It was important for the school's development that its products should find a market. To this end Fredrika set up a shop adjacent to the school, in addition to which the school received several large and demanding commissions, in both weaving and dressmaking. The shop was administratively separated from the school during the 1950s, and is today operated by an independent company, the Wetterhoff Osakeyhtiö, working in close collaboration with the school. Exhibitions were another important channel for informing the world at large about the high-class teaching in the school. Agents for the school's products were established not only in Helsinki, but also in Viborg, St. Petersburg, Riga and New York, among others.

Fredrika's Will

Fredrika Wetterhoff died in 1905, leaving a will in which she wished the school to continue its activity under the name of "The Fredrika Wetterhoff Craft School" and in the same spirit, fundamentally with the same curriculum. To direct the school she stipulated a three-member board, naming the first three in her will. Later, the board was appointed by the Town Council. Industrious work, lack of prejudice, lively exhibition activity, visits by private people in the school and close contacts with former students are still a part of the school life, as traditions handed down from Fredrika's time.

The Curriculum Expands

The first headmistress (until 1919) of the school after Fredrika Wetterhoff was Anna Henriksson, a former student of the school. She paid attention not only to craft teaching, but also, perhaps even more, to the general educational level of the students, and strove to improve it through increasing the proportion of general subjects in the curriculum. In 1914, a museum was founded in the school, housing old patterns, students' sketches, drawings and workbooks. During the years of 1943 to 1975, the curriculum required each student to conduct systematic collection of textile samples from the student's home region or elsewhere. As a result of this work and the continuous flow of donations, the museum's collections now contain samples from the whole of Finland and number more than 150,000. The collections are in fre
quent use by both students and others, for purposes of research and product design.

Construction Period

The period of the next headmistress, Helena Brander (1919-1940), meant primarily a significant expansion of the school premises. During her time, five different construction projects were undertaken. The building bought by Fredrika received a third storey and a wing. The dyeing shop was housed in a separate building in 1927; today, it produces yarn in more than 600 shades. In the 1930s, an annex was constructed, which contained rooms for residential use as well as the dining-hall and auditorium; this is at present used for weaving and product design. Helena Brander also renewed the curriculum by introducing stylistic, mercantile and materials studies. In 1930, the Act on Craft Teaching decreed that the teacher training should take three years.

Many famous Finnish textile artist of the 1920s and 1930s studied at Wetterhoff's. Often they had initially been trained as painters, but wanted to take up textile work instead. One of them was Laila Karttunen, who later worked in the school for several decades, teaching drawing, pattern design and weaving. Thanks to her work, a unique and rich collection of textile patterns was created at Wetterhoff's.

Lean Years and Fat

During the Second World War, the school premises were used as a soldiers' hospital, and teaching was given in cramped quarters about town. The production of all manner of decorative textiles and luxury fabrics was forbidden, for the scant raw materials were needed for clothing. Study times were cut down because of national agricultural service, etc. After the war ended, teaching gradually resumed its previous proportions and the new Business Department of the school started.

The 1950s were a flourishing time for the Finnish design. In textile art, the double weave took up a place alongside the rya rugs and gobelins. The master of the Finnish double weave was Laila Karttunen, whose work, as both a textile artist and a teacher, shows the influence of the rich heritage of Finnish embroidery combined with superb technical and creative skill in weaving.

New Winds in the 1960s and 1970s

By the year 1960, a total of 4,630 students had studied at Wetterhoff's. 1,220 of them had been graduated as teachers, and the rest had completed the two-year Craft School or shorter courses offered by the school. Sewing instruction began to develop from the late 50s onwards, concentrating on garment making. The teaching of patterning was improved and new working methods were developed. Garment-making instruction was housed in a new building constructed on the school plot in 1963; this nowadays functions as the computer room and library. Ever since 1947, the garment-making students have served their internships in the Wetterhoff Atelier, famous throughout Finland. Towards the late 1970s, computers were widely adopted in craft education, and the trend is continuing, thus renewing the methods of work and instruction.

Educational Reforms

The past few decades have seen a number of thorough-going educational reforms. In the early 1980s, the teacher training was made into a separate degree building on the college examination and concentrating on pedagogical studies. The college-level artenom (artisan designer) examination contains a significant amount of design studies and is directed towards fields other than education. With this change, the Institute has been able to establish lively and varied contacts with businesses. Internships and work produced on commission from companies make it possible for the students to familiarize themselves with their future work.

On the school level, the three-year artisan's examination gives the students the basic theoretical and practical knowledge required in practicing a craft. Here, too, changes have been introduced first by the 1985 secondary education reform and the 1993 experiment on polytechnic secondary schools.

At the moment, the Wetterhoff Institute of Craft, Design and Teacher Training is part of the Häme Polytechnic, which took in its first artenom students in the autumn on 1991. During the mid-80s, the total number of students in the Institute was 230; ten years later, it has more than doubled. The new Main Building, adjacent to the existing
school buildings and completed in 1993, brings the school facilities more than up to date. During its entire life, the Wetterhoff Institute of Craft, Design and Teacher Education has closely followed stylistic trends, but instead of copying them slavishly has combined them with the abundant heritage the school can draw on. Regardless of fashions, the students have always had to learn the basic skills of handicraft.

Teaching has always amalgamated the craft skills handed down from previous generations with the unprejudiced application of modern product design and technology to meet the needs of each area. Ever since Fredrika's day, the goal has been to teach students the whole process of craft production: from the design and planning stages to the finished product and its marketing.