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Tove Jansson Falls in Love

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The Moomin Creator on Five Decades of Life with Tuulikki Pietilä

Meeting engraver and artist Tuulikki Pietilä proved a turning point in Tove Jansson’s life. They found one another at the Artists’ Guild Christmas party in Helsinki in 1955, at the gramophone where the two of them were looking after the music, and their relationship gradually developed in the course of the following spring. “At last I’ve found my way to the one I want to be with,” Tove Jansson wrote in one of her first letters to Tuulikki Pietilä in the summer of 1956.

They had spent a few days on Bredskär and their love was deepening. I feel like a garden that’s finally been watered, so my flowers can bloom, Tove Jansson confided to her beloved, who had gone to teach at an “artists’ colony” in Korpilahti for a few weeks. Tove Jansson was left alone on the island, but she felt calm and full of confidence. 

The letters to Tuulikki Pietilä contain a succession of love metaphors about blossoming and abundance, imagery that also recurs later on, in a poem to “Tooti” in 1985. Here she is likened to an orange tree. 

I would compare you to this sturdy tree
lovely to live with in all its finery
and all the fruits that its branches do adorn
are your desires for projects yet unborn! 

In the summer of 1956, Tove Jansson drew a picture of “a new little creature” in one of her letters and Tuulikki was transformed in the name of love to “My Too-tikki”. In the sixth Moomin book Trollvinter (1957, Moominland Midwinter), the name took on its Moominesque form of Too-ticki. Large parts of the book were written during the winter she spent with Tuulikki Pietilä at the latter’s studio on Nordenskiöldsgatan in Helsinki. Privately and within their close circle of friends, Tuulikki Pietilä was known as Tooti. She and Tove Jansson lived together for 45 years. 

They had already encountered one another a few times in their earlier lives. Both were studying at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts (Ateneum) in 1938, and in 1951 their paths crossed at the famous Monocle nightclub in Paris. Tuulikki Pietilä had been living in the city for a few years and Tove Jansson was on her way home from travels in Italy and North Africa. Paris assumed a special significance for the couple; it was the city they loved above all others.

Tuulikki Pietilä (1917–2009) was born in Seattle but moved back to Finland (Åbo) at the age of four. She was the daughter of Frans and Ida Pietilä (née Lehtinen). Her brother Reima Pietilä (1923–93) became one of Finland’s best-known architects. Tuulikki Pietilä herself attended the Åbo Academy of Fine Arts (1933–36) and then went to Helsinki to study at the Ateneum (1936–40). In the war years she was in East Karelia and later worked in Sweden, looking after child evacuees from Finland (1944).

After the war she lived in Stockholm while she trained in etching at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (1945–49). On moving to Paris she took tuition at various establishments including Académie Fernand Léger and studied with the eminent engraver Louis Calevaert-Brun. She also taught for a time. She did not return to Helsinki until 1954, after almost a decade abroad. She went on to teach engraving at the Academy of Arts (1945–60), and wrote a textbook on metal engraving. Her exhibitions can be numbered in the hundreds. Tuulikki Pietilä was awarded a professorship in 1982. 

In Tuulikki Pietilä, Tove Jansson found a traveller, seeker and freedom-lover just like herself. This was something new. In her youth she had travelled alone, later with Ham (and with Faffan a few times), and occasionally with friends. But now she had a travelling companion on equal terms. “Tooti is fantastic, of course, she always is—but a Travelling Tooti is something exceptional”, Tove Jansson wrote to Maya Vanni from Vienna (April 23rd, 1982).

The short-story collection she published five years later, Resa med lätt baggage (Travelling Light) was dedicated “To Tooti” (1987). Interviewed at some length by Helen Svensson for the book Resa med Tove (2002, Travels with Tove), Tuulikki Pietilä talked about life on their many trips. They journeyed as the fancy took them, never booking hotels in advance. On their first trip together, in 1959, they visited Greece and Paris. they also travelled separately, and Tove Jansson would write to Tuulikki Pietilä. Sometimes she would be on the island while Tuulikki Pietilä was in the city and sometimes the other way round. In later years there was no need for them to write to one another. As they grew older, they increasingly both lived in Tuulikki Pietilä’s studio flat at Kaserngatan 26C.It is another Tove Jansson we encounter in the letters to Tuulikki Pietilä, open and sharp yet also trusting.

The letters to Tuulikki Pietilä are all about love and work, recent and present, but a shared future is in their sights from the outset: “I love you as if bewitched, yet at the same time with profound calm, and I’m not afraid of anything life has in store for us” (June 26th, 1956). As the years passed, the narrative of their lives seen unfolding in the letters changed and evolved, but its basic premise remained the same. On the island they lived together (often in a tent), but in town they lived their own separate lives, albeit under the same roof.

In the early 1960s, Tuulikki Pietilä moved to a flat in the same building as Tove Jansson’s studio—the building was on a corner—and they simply walked across the attic to see one another. The letters reveal their life on Bredskär, increasingly preoccupied with family and friends as time passes, and subsequently on Klovharun—their island—once Bredskär grows overcrowded and starts to feel claustrophobic. They quite literally built their life, piecing it together with work and love, but the process was not painless.

Anyone who lived with Tove Jansson also had to live with her family. After Viktor Jansson’s death, Signe Hammarsten moved to Lars Jansson’s, but she spent the weekends with Tove Jansson. Relations were distinctly strained at times and, in a letter to Vivica Bandler in the summer of 1964, Tove Jansson wrote of the need for a break. Tuulikki Pietilä would install her new lithography equipment at Kaserngatan and then go to Venice to supervise an exhibition; “she needs her own surroundings and the stimulation that a new working technique can provide”, wrote Tove Jansson, citing “the old Ham friction” that was bound to set in again before long. 

It is another Tove Jansson we encounter in the letters to Tuulikki Pietilä, open and sharp yet also trusting. Tuulikki Pietilä also receives some unusually frank comments from Tove Jansson about her Moomin work—everything from merchandise to texts and illustrations—sometimes including hilarious accounts of her growing fame and everything that goes with it, book tours, public appearances, trips and huge numbers of encounters with people of many different kinds. 

“All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured”, says Too-ticki in Trollvinter (Moominland Midwinter). Life with Tove Jansson brought changes for Tuulikki Pietilä as an artist, too. The letters clearly show that collaborating on projects played an important role in their lives. They worked on the world of the Moomins, constructing Moominhouses and tableaux with their friend Pentti Eistola; they mounted a joint exhibition (Jyväskylä, 1969); and they published a book in words and pictures about their life on Klovharun, Anteckningar från en ö (Notes from an Island) in 1996. 

Quite a number of Tove Jansson’s literary works can be traced back to her life with Tuulikki Pietilä, from Trollvinter (Moominland Midwinter) to the novella Rent spel (1989, Fair Play), a portrayal of two women’s life together. One is an artist, the other an artist and writer. In the final chapter, “The Letter”, the artist has been awarded a scholarship to go to Paris, yet is hesitant about leaving her partner and making the trip alone. But, for someone who is “blessed with love”, as the final words of the story have it, solitude presents its own opportunities. 

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