Playing with paper – paper dolls collected by three generations
The Playing with paper exhibition features paper dolls of three generations, from the 1940s until the 1990s, from the collection of Iris Virtanen, who lives in Kaarina.
Paper dolls originally had an important role presenting the latest fashions, and the first known paper dolls hail from the 17th century. In the 19th century, the paper theatre came to nurseries as children of the gentry began to play with table top theatres with paper puppets. Drama pieces with plots were played using movable paper puppet characters. The theatre, the characters and their clothes were home made. As printing developed, paper dolls began to be printed and sold on sheets, postcards, craft packaging and newspaper attachments.
Finnish magazines started publishing sheets of paper dolls in the 1930s. With the developments in offset printing technologies in the 1950s, many women’s and children’s magazines offered paper dolls to their young readers. These magazines included Uusi Maailma, Kotiliesi, Seura, Me Naiset, Anna and Hymy, though the best-known paper dolls were the ones that depicted celebrities of the day published in Apu magazine from 1968 until the late 1990s.
This collection started as a hobby of Iris Virtanen’s mother, Sirkka Lundgren (1927–2008), who was into drawing and making paper dolls. Sirkka Lundgren was born in Terijoki, Karelia, and had to be evacuated with her family to escape the Winter War in 1939. The family settled in Turku. Lundgren became interested in drawing during the war and drew pictures of cartoon characters and film stars and wrote song lyrics in a notebook and dreamed. Lundgren was inspired by female characters in cartoons published in magazines such as Valpuri, Helena, Narda, Cora and Eve.
Lundgren’s daughter Iris was born in 1954, and her mother’s enthusiasm for drawing and paper dolls continued as Iris was given paper dolls to play with. Iris Virtanen also collected paper dolls published in magazines. Four of Lundgren’s siblings had been evacuated to Sweden as children; as a result, the paper doll collection also features Swedish and international celebrities such as Efva Attling, Ingrid Bergman and Shirley Temple, as the Swedish foster families – and later also relatives who had settled in Sweden – sent copies of Allers and Året Runt magazines over to Finland.
Virtanen and her friends and cousins used paper dolls especially to play beauty contests, which were at the peak of their popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. They also drew new clothes for their paper dolls, and fashion magazines and mail-order catalogues sometimes had pictures of suitable, fashionable clothes that could be cut out for dolls.
Iris Virtanen gave the paper dolls collected and drawn between the 1940s and 1970s to her own daughters, Henna-Riina (b. 1979) and Helena (b. 1981), who drew and collected new paper dolls and continued to play with them in the 1980s and 1990s. Iris Virtanen has carefully kept the collection of paper dolls, which has survived being played with by three generations, for almost 60 years.