Several guests who had known Alvar Aalto attended the fund-raising gala for the Viipuri Library, hosted by Finnish ambassador Pertti Salolainen and his wife Anya last week. Sandy Wilson made a rousing address, and Brian Henderson, whose erstwhile partner F R S Yorke was one of Aalto's first English friends, recalled eagerly anticipating a visit to Aalto's famous summer house, only to find Leslie Martin in residence and calling Aalto 'maitre', rather inhibiting the master's natural bonhomie. Mary Stirling and Elspeth Howe recalled their father Morton Shand, who organised Aalto's first visit to Britain in 1933, having met him earlier that year at the famous CIAM conference that produced the Charter of Athens.
Trevor Dannatt and Wilson outbid Artek's David Begg for the pair of Gaetano Pesce maquettes generously donated by the artist to raise funds and brought from Finland by Maija Kairamo, who is closely involved with the restoration project. Andrey Pritsepov, senior counsellor at the Russian Embassy, and Count Andrey Tolstoy reminded guests of the library's Russian connection:
it lies in territory ceded by Finland to the Soviet Union in 1944 and remains the city of Viborg's main cultural institution. During ambassador Salolainen's eightyear tenure in London, he has made his residence a beacon for modern culture, having hosted parties for the Snow Show, and taken a vital role in establishing the Viipuri Library Trust, chaired by Norman Foster with support from Michael Spens, Harry Charrington, Jeremy Melvin and other Aalto fans. He returns to Finland at the end of the year and London will miss him, but at least, he can take some money with him to go towards the restoration of the library's magnificent lecture room in time for its 70th birthday next year.