The Savonian boat of the National Museum is 4.9 m long and 98.5 cm wide at its widest point. The boat has two pairs of rowlocks. The boat’s equipment includes three oars and a wide paddle for coxing. Photo: Johnny Korkman, Museokuva.

Savonian boat

Object of the Month - September 2018

The summer of 1876 was an exciting time in Helsinki. Finland’s first public exhibition of art and industry was being built in Kaivopuisto Park. Never before had Finnish art and industry been presented at the same fair.

Early in the year, regional students’ associations of the University of Helsinki had been asked to contribute to the exhibition by presenting typical objects from their home regions. The project was received with enthusiasm, and the students’ associations started making special collection trips in order to add to their existing collections of artefacts. The Savonian-Karelian Students’ Association was tasked with presenting objects that shed light on the life and customs of the people of Savonia and Karelia. The aim was to exhibit the interior of a Savonian cottage along with “peasant costumes, portraits and implements used in the household”. At the beginning of June, masters F. J. Färling and Yrjö Kiljander along with Bachelor of Medicine R. Fabritius set out on a collection trip. By Midsummer, their trip to Maaninka, Pielavesi, Iisalmi parish and Nilsiä had resulted in approximately 200 artefacts.

In Pielavesi, the travellers’ attention was caught by the elegant local boat design. They were so charmed by the design, which is known as the Savonian boat, that the decision was made to order a similar boat from Pielavesi for the collections of the association. This meant abandoning the original idea of presenting the interior of a Savonian cottage at the Exhibition of Art and Industry. It would be replaced with a Savonian boat bay with rowers setting out to make hay. The pond in Kaivopuisto Park and its surroundings would make an ideal place to put the tableau. To go with the boat, two mannequins were ordered from sculptor K. A. Söderman in Stockholm, and so the boat, once completed, was sent to Stockholm to serve as a model.

The Exhibition of Art and Industry opened in Kaivopuisto Park on 1 July and remained open until mid-September. After the exhibition was dismantled, the students’ associations jointly rented an apartment at Aleksanterinkatu 15, re-erected their regional interiors and opened them to the public. In this way, the exhibits led to the creation of the Ethnographic Museum of the Students’ Associations. Today, its collections constitute a significant share of the collections of the National Museum of Finland.

It has been calculated that there used to be up to 11 different types of peasant boat designs used in Finland. Peasant lake boats were rowing boats, although a small sail could also be raised in case of fair winds. The most popular boat design was in fact the Savonian boat, which was used throughout the Lake Saimaa water area. Light-weight, round-bottomed and well-bearing, the boat was ideal for the Savonian waters, which were dotted with islands. A boat needed to be stable and easy to steer. Speed was a bonus but not the most important property of a boat. Boats served as a means of transport in the pathless wilderness and suited many purposes; they were used to transport people and animals, and above all they were vital for fishing.

In 1883, student P. Hartikainen described the building of a Savonian boat as follows:

“Along the bottom of the boat, there runs a keel thicker than the board planks. Continued with the stem and stern posts, it forms the boat’s foundation. Above the keel on both sides run similarly shaped planks, which are curved either way. These planks, which are referred to as the boards of the boat, are fastened to the stem post at one end and stern post at the other end. Before the boards are fixed to the boat, two arch-shaped planks are placed at each end of the keel to provide support. Once the boards are in place, the boat is fitted with similar planks or frames. Once the boat has been completed this far, there are still gunwales to put on top of the topmost boards. Now that the boat itself is complete, we must see to the needs and comfort of its users. The boat master has ensured user comfort during the building by adding a stern thwart for the navigator and a prow thwart and other thwarts or seats for the rowers.”

The Savonian boat of the National Museum of Finland will be on display at the Man – Matter – Metamorphosis – 10,000 Years of Design exhibition. The exhibition will be open at the National Museum of Finland from 12 October 2018 to 24 February 2019.

Raila Kataja


Hartikainen, P. 1883. Savolainen vene. Luettelo Suomen ylioppilas-osakuntien kansatieteellisistä kokoelmista, ensimmäinen vihko. Helsinki.

Itkonen, T. 1926. Suomen kansanomaiset veneet. Suomen Museo XXXIII, Helsinki.

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The boat group of the Savonian-Karelian Students’ Association at the Ethnographic Museum of the Students’ Associations.
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