One of the many things that I love about London is how green it is. The city is home to some 3,000 parks of varying shapes and sizes spread out across the capital. It’s also home to three wetlands reserves including the wonderful Walthamstow Wetlands, the largest urban wetland nature reserve in Europe.
Located just 15 minutes from Central London to the east of the city, the Walthamstow Wetlands are home to 10 reservoirs, eight islands and London’s biggest heronry, Heron Island. For this summer, it is also home to a wonderful new exhibition, The Woman Who Fell in Love With an Island.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Walthamstow Wetlands for the purpose of this review. Please see my disclosure policy for more details.
“The island is alive Moominpappa thought. My island is just as much alive as the trees and the sea. Everything is alive”
Moominpappa and the Sea
This new exhibition celebrates the life and works of the Finnish author, novelist, painter and illustrator Tove Jansson. Tove Jansson started writing at a young age – she wrote her first story ‘Sara and Pelle and the Water Sprites’s Octopuses’ when she was just 14 years old – and later wrote novels and short stories for adults. However, she is best known for creating the loveable, magical Moomin characters.
Her first Moomin book for children, The Moomins and the Great Flood, was published in 1945. In 1946 Comet in Moominland was published in 1946 and Finn Family Moomintroll was published in 1948. In all, nine books were published in the Moomin series along with four picture books and a comic strip.
The white, hippo-like Moomin characters were a hit as soon as they were introduced in Finland and quickly became famous worldwide. In fact, they seem to have increased in popularity with the death of Jansson in 2001. It’s not only children that adore the loveable Moomin characters, adults enjoy and appreciate some of the issues that Jansson explores in the books including, care for the natural world, forbidden love and artistic freedom.
I didn’t grow up with the Moomins but we fell in love with them on a road trip in Finland where we visited magical Moominworld. Ever since then we’ve become big fans of the Moomin family and have a number of Tove Jansson’s books on our shelves at home.
Even if you don’t know the Moomins, however, the exhibition at the Walthamstow Wetlands is well worth a visit. Inspired by similarities between the landscapes depicted in Jansson’s The Summer Book and the landscape of the Wetlands, the exhibition celebrates the life and works of Tove Jansson.
The Engine Room
The main exhibition is held upstairs in the Engine Room and includes photos, videos and text detailing the life of Tove Jansson. There are pictures from when she was a child and as an adult. There is also a wonderful video showing the island of Klovharun in the Gulf of Finland, where Jansson spent every summer for 30 years in a back-to basics hut along with her partner Tuulikki Pietilä.
Once you’ve explore the exhibition it’s time to take to the Moomintrail around the Wetlands. A map is available to guide you with some fun activities for kids to complete. We passed a Hemulen, a Moomin character that loves collection plants and insects. We also saw Too-Ticky, who was inspired by Tove Jansson’s long-term life partner Tuulikki Pietila.
The trail is a wonderful way to engage children in exploring the Wetlands. The landscape of the wetlands very much resembles that of a story book anyway with shimmering reservoirs dotted with tufts of islands filled with wildlife and wildflowers.
An audio composition is also available for guests to download that features an audio composition from multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper and a recording of Jansson’s essay ‘The Island’, spoken by her niece Sophia Jansson.
The Woman Who Fell in Love with an Island
The exhibition runs until September 23rd 2021. A second exhibition celebrating Tove Jansson will open at the William Morris Gallery in 2022.
The exhibition at the Wetlands is free although a suggested £1.00 donation is appreciated.