Walthamstow Wetlands

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Things to do


Date of travel

August, 2021

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The Moomins were a mystery to me until we visited a temporary exhibition, “The woman who fell in love with an island”, at Walthamstow Wetlands. Located in the Engine Room, the small exhibition centres on the life of Tove Jansson, the Finnish author and illustrator, who created the Moomins and magical Moominvalley.

For those unfamiliar with the Moomins, the family of white, round, hippo-like characters with large snouts, appeared in nine books, four picture books and a comic strip between 1954 and 1975.

The exhibition contains photographs and window etchings of Tove and her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, and the island they lived on during the summer in the Gulf of Finland. A film told of their solitary life on the tiny remote island. At one point a gale blew and waves lashed as they donned bright yellow oilskins, before battening down their home: protecting plants, taking down the flag and anything else that could move. They explained they were often on the island for up to a month, with no electricity or running water, and the only form of contact being a crackly two-way radio. When asked about provisions, their number one priority was cigarettes (unsurprising as in all the images taken of Tove drawing, she was accompanied by a cigarette), followed by coffee, vodka and food. Almost as an afterthought Tove said “I suppose we better have some soap in there as well”.

We then followed the Moomin trail around the reservoirs which took about an hour as we kept stopping to photograph the cutout figures and learn about Hattifatterners, Snufkin, Too-Ticky, as well as Fillyjonk, Moominpappa and Moominmama.

Due to Covid, tickets have to be pre-booked for the free exhibition: for a copy of the printed trail map, a donation of £3 was suggested. This contained details of the various Moomin traits and space for four activities where children could draw the birds, insects, flowers and footprints spotted on the trail.

The exhibition will be supplemented by a further exhibition at the Walthamstow William Morris gallery in summer 2022.

Helen Jackson

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