Graduates 2018: Wendy Fraser: History of Art and Design
My dissertation focuses on the Moomins – a family of anthropomorphic cartoon creatures which were created by the Finnish artist and writer Tove Jansson in 1945 and became the central characters in a series of children’s books and a daily cartoon for adult readership in London’s Evening News from 1954.
I didn’t know the origins of the Moomins and presumed they were from Japan when I first encountered merchandise featuring them alongside Japanese kawaii products in a Brighton shop around the Millennium. My dissertation traces the commodification of the Moomins beginning within a few years of the first publication with products designed for children made in Finland by some of the country’s leading manufacturers to their worldwide dissemination through globally broadcast animations and the boom of products that began in the 1990s and are now manufactured worldwide. I consider issues of branding, globalisation and nationalism linked to the manufacture of the products and use readings on nostalgia to account for the recent phenomenon of Moomin-branded luxury fashion and homewares marketed towards women.
My research took me to Finland; to the Moomin museum in Tampere and to the significant sites of Tove Jansson’s life and work in Helsinki including the Design Museum and Helsinki Art Museum which has a gallery dedicated to Jansson. As 2017 was the centenary of Finland’s independence there were a number of events featuring the Moomins included within the Nordic Matters festival at the Southbank Centre and the Dulwich Picture Gallery held the first solo show of Jansson’s paintings, satirical cartoons, illustrations for the Moomins books and cartoon strips and other commercial work.
How did you find your course?
I have loved my time on the course and am so sad it is coming to an end. I am a mature student and it took me a long time to make up my mind to return to education (I dropped out of a English Lit/History of Art degree course at Edinburgh University when I was young) and it’s been the best decision I could have made. For me, the ‘design’ part of the course has been key – my favourite modules have centred on architecture, textiles, the domestic interior and dress and I have become more interested in the material culture of everyday life through the programme.
The teaching staff have been incredibly encouraging and through their lectures I have encountered so many works of art and new concepts. The other aspect that has helped to grow my interests and confidence has been volunteering which we were encouraged to do in first year. I spent two years as a room guide at Charleston which was thrilling and in the last few months I’ve been helping out at Brighton Museum and Gallery -both experiences have helped to confirm that I am moving in the right direction.
What are your plans after graduating?
I want to carry on studying and am in the process of applying for the MA History of Design and Material Cultureat the University of Brighton which I plan to do part-time so that I can juggle parenting, volunteering and working part-time. I am not sure as yet where I am heading in terms of a career but I want to improve my writing skills during the Masters and continue to enjoy being immersed in the world of ‘things’.