It was a few years ago I happened upon a kangaroo, made out of teak and leather parts in a thrift shop in Tammisaari, Finland. Seeing I have written about virtually all teak manufacturers in both Finland and Sweden, I was puzzled that I had stumbled upon something new. The figure was marked but I couldn’t quite make out the name. It clearly said Made in Finland but was it Design K. Möller or R. Mailer? Even Google couldn’t tell me.
At first I thought it might be a licensed product from Denmark, as the Danes were and are quite keen on making animals out of wood, the most well known manufacturers and artists being Kay Bojesen and Hans Bolling. I asked around but no one seemed to know anything about it, in fact I stumbled upon others with the same kangaroo who also wanted to know where it came from.
I’ll backpedal a bit – the magazine Kotivinkki wrote an article on my collection of teak items and when it was published this week, a lady called me after having seen the kangaroo on the first page. She enthusiastically told me that it was her uncle who had made them back in the early 1960s. And then I got in touch with the artist’s daughter.
Richard Bertil Müller was born in 1934 in Helsinki, Finland and he is perhaps best known for his long service at the ministry for foreign affairs and as an ambassador. He finished high school in 1952 and started studying law at Helsinki University shortly thereafter.
It was during his studies that he starting making the wooden animals to support himself and his family, with whom he lived in the Katajanokka district of Helsinki. Müller’s father was a captain who was away at sea for long periods of time, and thus he had spent a lot of time with a carpenter close to the family, learning the needed skills.
Worked long into the night
Together with his friend Bo “Bobi” Långhjelm, Müller set up shop in a basement space in Munkkiniemi in 1956. Mr Müller designed the kangaroo as well as other items such as candle holders and earring clips in the shape of mice while Mr Långhjelm apart from candle holders designed different mice and ants. They quite often worked long into the night putting the animals together using leather, rope, metal and teak parts that were shaped and turned by a local carpenter.
The kangaroo exists in two heights, with some slight differences in the legs and some are marked while others are not. It might be that only the ones that were exported to the US were stamped (Made in Finland, Design R. Müller or the signatures RM, B.L. or even LB), to highlight the fact that they came from Finland. The items were mainly sold at the large department store Stockmann as well as in other smaller stores around Helsinki.
Appointed ambassador in Washington
Straight after Mr Müller finished his studies in 1961, he got a job as an intern at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and climbed the ranks during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1977 he was appointed ambassador in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Maputo in Mozambique, where he stayed until 1980. In 1983 he was appointed ambassador in Washington and he served there until 1986.
Mr Müller currently resides in the US.
Mr Långhjelm passed away in the late 2000s.