Episode 100

100. The Archipelago Museum


November 28th, 2022

11 mins 23 secs

Your Hosts

About this Episode

In the early days of this podcast, every time I searched for Museum Archipelago on the internet, the top result would be a small museum in rural Finland called the Archipelago Museum.

As my podcast continued to grow and my search rankings improved, I didn’t forget about the Archipelago Museum. Instead, I wondered what they were up to. What were the exhibits about? Did they ever come across my podcast? Were they annoyed by my similar name?

And while the museum had a website and a map, there was no way to directly contact them. Years went by as the realization sank in—the only way to reach the museum was to physically show up at the museum. No planned appointment, no scheduled interview.

So, for this very special 100th episode, I went to Finland and and visited the Rönnäs
Archipelago Museum.

Topics and Notes

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 00:15 Why is Ian in Finland?
  • 00:45 Museum Archipelago's Early Days
  • 01:30 Same Name
  • 03:14 Arriving at the Archipelago Museum
  • 04:05 Naomi Nordstedti
  • 04:30 Life on the Archipelago
  • 06:04 Opening the Museum
  • 06:54 Boats
  • 07:55 The Archipelago During Prohibition
  • 08:28 Thoughts About 100 Episodes
  • 10:40 Thanks For Listening
  • 10:54 Outro | Join Club Archipelago 🏖

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Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 100. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above.

Welcome to Museum Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum Archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

This is episode 100 of Museum Archipelago, and I’m in a rental car 80 kilometers outside of Helsinki, Finland looking for a museum.

Field Audio - GPS: “In 400 meters, turn left onto the ramp”.

Field Audio - Ian: “I think… I can feel we are close to the Gulf of Finland”

But not just any museum. I’m deep in rural Finland because of the name of this podcast: Museum Archipelago.

Field Audio - Ian: “You know, I hope the museum has a bathroom…”

When I was starting this project and choosing a name, I hoped to create an audio lens to look at museums as a medium, and to critically examine museums as a whole. If no museum was an island, I reasoned, why not name the show after another geographic feature – a collection of islands?

And I enjoyed the symmetry with Gulag Archipelago – just a slight sinister undertone that this won’t be a fluffy museum podcast. And when I came across the quote by philosopher Édouard Glissant, “I imagine the museum as an archipelago”, the name stuck.

Museum Archipelago was snappy and a great name for a podcast – there was just one problem: the Archipelago Museum, located somewhere in Finland.

Field Audio - Ian: “Ah, I see a sign for the museum, but I can't pronounce it – ”

Field Audio - GPS: “Turn left”

For the first 20 or so episodes of the show, every time you searched the words Museum Archipelago on the internet, the top results would be about the Archipelago Museum in Finland, instead of my podcast.

It didn’t really bother me – well maybe a little – but no, it didn’t really bother me. Archipelago is a great word, and the museum was all the way in Finland, and it certainly was around for longer.

But as my podcast continued to grow and my search rankings improved, I didn’t forget about the Archipelago Museum. I would wonder what they were up to. I wondered if they had heard of my podcast. Maybe they came across it one day? Maybe I was annoying them with my similar name. Every few months, I would think to contact the museum, to highlight the similarity and hopefully make a new friend – only to remember that they didn’t have an email address. An old email address, from an archived version of their website, bounced back with an undeliverable error.

The more I thought about it, the more it sank in: the only way to reach the museum was to physically show up at the museum. No planned appointment, no scheduled interview.

A few years later, with help from those of you who have supported the show through Club Archipelago, visiting the museum finally became possible.

I decided to hop on two planes, book a rental car, spend a night in an airport hotel in Helsinki, drive down the coast, and visit the Archipelago Museum in person.

Even if there was nobody there willing to talk to me, it would still make for an interesting 100th episode.

Field Audio - GPS: “Turn left. Then your destination will be on the right.”

Field Audio - Ian: All right. This is the Archipelago Museum.

Field Audio - GPS: “Your destination is on the right.”

Field Audio - Ian: “ Wow. I think it's open and I see a WC sign! Okay, I'm gonna park where it says parking.

The Archipelago Museum is a long, old stone barn on the Gulf of Finland that’s packed full of boats.

Field Audio - Ian : *walking over stones”

Field Audio - Ian: “How are you?”

Field Audio - Naomi: I'm fine, thank you. How are you? Welcome.

Field Audio - Ian: “I’m very good, thank you! I would love to visit the museum. One ticket, please.”

Field Audio - Naomi: Yes, you are welcome. That’s 5 euros. With card or cash?

This is Naomi.

Naomi Nordstedt: “Hi, my name is Naomi and I work at the Skärgårdsmuseet Rönnäs [Rönnäs Archipelago Museum]. So as the cashier, guide, whatever.”

Naomi told me that the museum usually gets one or two visitors from the US every summer.

Naomi Nordstedti: How did you find us? Or like how did you, how did you come to Finland of all places?

Field Audio - Ian: “Well, to visit this museum!”

Naomi Nordstedti: Oh wow!

The Archipelago Museum tells the human story of life on the archipelago off the coast of Finland. The main area of the exhibition underscores the centrality of surviving among the remote islands by fishing, seal hunting, and cattle breeding. The main idea is

Naomi Nordstedti: To see how people lived within the archipelago and like how the archipelago has sustained the people, while the people sustain the archipelago. The sea is very important. That's the most important thing. And it, since it's very like the people who live here live very scattered cuz it's a bit remote. We have couple neighbors, but then to one side there's nothing but forest for like kilometers. So you become closer with the people who live close by. Sometimes you have to go a bit further to meet. And that becomes also part of like, you meet up with bigger groups of people a couple times a year because you know, you might not see them that much otherwise.

And also just as a side point, most people here have a boat. Most people sail. That's just a thing. You do that here.

People have been making this part of the archipelago their home for 500 years, and the reasons always come back to geography.

Naomi Nordstedti: We know there's been a medieval village here since the 13th century. Over here, there used to be an inland lake. This is all, there's no water over here now. And so like the water line is over here. Which means that there used to be back in 1414 or 1421, there have been records that people used to live here and this used to be like a bigger, for that time, bigger town, because this made it possible for commerce to happen way more since this led to the sea.

The medieval village disappeared and over the centuries, various families lived in the area, surviving, using boats, and building barns. By the mid 1970s, the stone barn we’re in now sat abandoned.

Naomi Nordstedti: This building was left and it was like, nobody owns it. Nobody was like, just kind of living in it. It's a beautiful building. So then it was just decided that a lot of people like around here were like, well, what should we do with this building? It's a beautiful building. It's a shame to just let it go to waste. So this is the guy who was like, hey, should we start a museum? Cuz he made boats. And they were like, yeah. There was a lot of, support from the local community and from the other people. 1985 is when we opened. There's a lot of beautiful things there and so much history that isn't really known about.It's only known about like from families and within families, and they tell the stories. So it's nice that other people get to see too.

As the museum’s brochure says, “the boat occupies the central position in being the prime tool of the population.”

Naomi Nordstedti: There is information about how to build boats, how boats have been built throughout the centuries, and our collection of the working boats that have been used here in the archipelago.

Most of the stories that the local community tells about the archipelago are indeed told through boats – school boats, the differences between the boats that year-rounders used compared with the people who built summer cottages, the engine development and design through the 20th century, and the way that boats were used to used to smuggle alcohol during the period of Finish prohibition 1919 to 1932.

Naomi Nordstedti: People in Finland have never drunk as much alcohol as they did during the prohibition. So it did not work, but it was interesting. This is how they smuggled alcohol. They filled these canisters with pure alcohol. Most of them from Estonia or some from Germany as well. You can fit about 10 liters in one of those. Then they filled those canisters, this whole thing, filled them up like that and then they took the rope, attached it to the boat, and then went, and then if they got caught by the authorities. Like you can see over there on that picture they'd cut the rope and then this thing would fall to the bottom. And then they have this little thing. So this is a buoy. It's attached to , a bag of salt or sugar, which means that they would go to to bottom. And then the sugar or salt would dissolve in a couple days. So jump up again and they could recover. Yeah, they had a lot of clever ideas.

The Archipelago Museum is only about 500 meters from the coast, so I ended my long journey by walking over to see the archipelago for myself.

Field Audio - Ian: *walking over stones”

Field Audio - Ian: So here I am on the Gulf of Finland, overlooking the archipelago overlooking some islands. Extending out into the distance, some boats and people in them, some islands that are not much more than just rocks… it’s a good place to think about 100 episodes.

Doing museum archipelago has helped me expand my understanding of museums – far more than I expected when I started work on episode one. It allowed me to have conversations with people at tiny museums – museums so small they haven’t been built yet – and giant museums where change seems impossible. It enabled a new relationship with guides, exhibit designers, and the visiting public.

Walking through almost 100 museums for this project, it’s still tempting to see each museum as an island – every episode, it’s easy to focus on just one museum, to examine their unique collection or an updated exhibit.

But zooming out helps too and is useful in its own way. Anyone’s local museum can be a beloved fixture, but museums as an institution have a centuries-long history undergirding white supremacist, colonialist, and racist ideologies and helping them flourish. Interrogating museums as a whole hopefully allows us to better recognize colonial structures embedded within an individual one.

We can’t forget the power that museums hold. And by examining the larger forces acting on this rocky landscape of museums, we have the chance, if we’re careful, to wield that power for better uses than the ones that created museums in the first place.

Thanks for joining me on the journey so far. I’m so excited for where we get to voyage to next.

Thanks for listening to 100 episodes of Museum Archipelago!