Baroness Lena Rewell-Gripenberg
An artist makes everything transform into art – even the entrepreneurship as we will see.
At the age of fourteen she moved away from Helsinki residential area of Kulosaari (Brändö), where she had gone to a swedish speaking school, to a finnish-speaking school in Hyvinkää (Hyvinge).
Her father was a director at the Yhdistyneet Villatehtaat (De Förenade Yllefabrikerna) which literally means – the united wool factories – as there were one in Helsinki and the other – a bigger one – in Hyvinkää. One could almost say that she nourished herself in the atmosphere of the creative world of wool and all its aspects to the final product. Actually, it was in some ways granted for her, certainly something her father contributed, since he took her around the factory quite often. In other words she didn’t get the wool -spinning influences in her mother’s milk, instead the swedisness and wallonian features came from her mother and a sense of style. Also, her brother was a textile professor as she puts it.
She is a snob and sometimes has a hard time hiding it in a more subtle level. On the other hand it is a privilege, something to be born with – when we are dealing with the genuine snobbism. Needless to say, she is pretty much straight forward. The kind of woman who would rather buy the flowers herself. There are no gray aeries in her world except when it comes to nature and its seasonal beauty. That is where she draws her strength and listens to her soul. When it comes to her hospitality she is a generous hostess who loves to spoil her quests and a loyal friend.
Lena knew very early on that she will go to an art school and she did. She graduated from Ateneum as a textile designer in 1960. Having an artistic and independent mind , she was also determined to get herself a family and consequently married the judge Erkki Rewell. With her husband she shared the interest in arts and sailing – whenever it was possible to take off from one’s responsibilities.
Her life had returned to Helsinki. The family grew with three children, two sons and one daughter. However, the family life wouldn’t stop her to persuade her own artistic ambitions. Already during her studies she had taken orders from near and far to create lovely woolly designs which she then sold. It was more than natural to go on from that. Her life as the designer and entrepreneur had taken off from the day after after the graduation.
Despite of the modernism which was in vogue at the time, in design, architecture, fashion etc., she started to turn her head towards the old, traditional, peasant style, chinese antique furniture before it was fashionable. Antique shops and auctions were to feed her growing passions on the newly focused area. One of the great artworks is actually her home. There isn’t an other person (at least in near vicinity) that has so successfully mixed styles and times into the finest detail to make her home a work of art where nothing disturbs one’s eye. One becomes a member of that extraordinary ambience without any difficulty. There are no “things” but something like a wonderful jigsaw puzzle that has the magic melting into something a bigger picture, a great calm full of treasures that open only to one who has the eyes to see, or to make the connection. Also, there is in her the profound detachment which makes it even more poetic.
To make a portrait of the Lady is not an easy task. There is nothing linear or chronological about her. She is, if one may put it that way “holographic” as when one thing changes it colors everything. One has to move back and forth to capture the contours and the layers.
Lena Rewell lived and created in Kruunuhaka (Kronhagen) at Vironkatu house where she had dressmaker’s shop, weaving mill and a shop or boutique for her design products. She had a bigger wool weaving mill in Tampere. She had a boutique in the hotel lobby of the Intercontinental. Something which strikes the observer immediately is her obvious joy in what she does – to this day – as she is not the retiring kind. I am watching her as she talks on the phone with the lady who weaves her most precious blankets and cannot help admiring the enthusiasm and energy coming from her direction. She is all smiles thinking about the colour combinations.
Looking at her in action one notices immediately the pragmatic discipline. She says that to have lived in the society where everybody’s eyes are on you from early on, one becomes like that because it is all about the discipline and being an example. You can only demand from the other if you demand first from yourself.
Her business rans like a well constructed thought – fluently. Apart from her hand-woven signature designs she also used to design the printed cottons for the interior decoration in mind and towels(jacquard cotton) for Finlayson. Actually, she was the first artist to do so. She was well rewarded and received three medals from Finlayson in Finland but also from Italy (Italian Triennaale) and California (The great seal of the state of California). Also, she designed for the swedish company Tidstrand AB. The role of the finnish industry in the context of the small industry was very constructive at the time. The foreign trade export department was very supportive, which gave the wings for the export. The young artists were in good hands. Lena feels today a touch of sadness for the young as the world has no such a concerns any longer or so it seems.
Baroness Rewell-Gripenberg had always had the export in her mind as the main outlet for her designs. The same remains to be true to this day. However, her life had taken a turn to even more independent and ambitious directions. The divorce became apparent. After the divorce she felt it was possible to tailor her own independence according to her very own private ways and values. The undeniably selfish thoughts and actions nonetheless carried her surprisingly far and finally to the happy harbor of the newly found love with Baron Thomas Gripenberg. The relationship was very much based on the common interests, starting from their education in arts, their love of music, literature and theatre. Baron Gripenberg was a stage designer and a painter. The choice and its significance in terms of the relationship demonstrate in the beauty of serene harmonies. Lena’s children had learned to love Thomas. In some ways life itself became a work of art. Needless to say, they were culturally inclined. Twenty years moved on and suddenly one day Thomas passed away.
Since the baroness doesn’t waste time on the thoughts of retiring she returns to nature to nurture her hungry soul and regains her strength to go on. And she does. She lives right on the pulse of life. When asked her secrets about the good life she simply states that the curiosity about new things, good night’s sleep, some yoga, swimming and good food to enjoy. A long walk whenever it is a lovely weather to see around. All this in reasonable amounts on the top of her work.
When asked about the business, she states that the art and economy must be in balance and emphasizes the importance of the budget. But from the outsider’s point of view one may add that the acute sense of reality in her own terms and the sense of humor are great contributors to her innate intuitive character. She does have an ethical God, religion for her is rather cultural matter than anything else – though our Baroness is looking for the spiritual calm with the smile when her time comes. It hasn’t yet and obviously will be slow in coming because this lady is busy.
The contemporary situation in her textile studio is tailored to her likings and she exports her hand-woven mohair blankets to Japan, France and USA. We call them “angeliques” because they are divinely soft and protective ornaments on the travel, around neck and shoulders or head . There is the sense of style about them.
Mirja von Knorring