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Contemporary Finnish-American Artist Series 20th Year Retrospective Exhibition

Eric Aho, First February Night, 2009. Oil on linen, 24 x 22 inches

HANCOCK, MI – The year 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the Contemporary Finnish-American Artist Series at the Finlandia University Gallery.

The only art exhibition of its kind in the U.S.A., the annual series showcases the work of prominent Finnish-American artists and designers.

The work of each of the 19 artists featured in the exhibit series is on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, in the Finnish American Heritage Center, from  December 1, 2011, to January 14, 2012.

A combined opening reception and Finnish Independence Day celebration will take place at the Finnish American Heritage Center on Thursday, December 1, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

At the event, honored guest Anneli Halonen, cultural counselor of the Embassy of Finland, Washington D.C., will present a talk titled, “Cultural Identity and Finnish Art.” Several artists whose work is featured in the Retrospective exhibit will speak about the influence of their Finnish American heritage on their artwork.

The Independence Day program will also include musical performances, announcement of the 2012 Hankooki Heikki awardee, followed by a reception and gallery viewing.

Bruce Niemi, Protected, Bronze, 2005, 15" x 21" x  12"Artwork by each of the 19 artists featured in the annual Finlandia University Gallery Finnish-American Artists Series exhibit will be on display. (A 10 year retrospective exhibit was held in 2002.)

Artists exhibiting work are Tarmo Watia (series artist in1991), Joyce Koskenmaki (1992), Kathleen Oettinger (1993), Peder Kitti (1994), Yeshe Linda Helander (1995), Gerald Immonen (1996), Elsa Bekkala (1997),  Marlene Ekola Gerberick (1998), Rudy Autio (1999), Gladys Koski Holmes (2000), Arno Rafael Minkkinen (2001), Eric Aho (2003), Petri Flint (2004), Vaino Kola (2005), David Salmela (2006), John Lundeen (2007), Desiree Koslin (2008), Bruce A. Niemi (2009), Dina Kantor (2010).

“Inspiration found in their ancestry often plays a strong role in the work of these Finnish-American artists,” says Carrie Flaspohler, director of the Finlandia University Gallery. “Some draw from stories of Finland heard in their youth, while others incorporate life lessons from their immigrant grandparents. Some summon the strong connection to nature so prominent in Finland, and others are influenced by the strength of contemporary Finnish art and culture.”

Rudy Autio, Twisted Tree, Digital Print of Acrylic Painting,  1997, Collection of Finlandia UniversityIn turn, these talented artists have inspired Finlandia University students and faculty. Early in his tenure as university president (1991-2007), Dr. Robert Ubbelohde envisioned the annual exhibition. He saw it as both an occasion to highlight the work of contemporary Finnish-American artists and an opportunity to enhance student learning, particularly for students in the university’s International School of Art & Design.

“I think that having these artists and their work on campus provided role models for younger Finnish Americans, both Finlandia students and area young people,” Ubbelohde explains. “Their visits also became important sources for student inspiration and encouragement, which gave me great joy. While I did not think in terms of how long into the future the shows would continue, it was one of my favorite projects while at Finlandia. I am so pleased that 20 years later it still continues at the institution.”

Finlandia University Gallery has published a 48-page exhibition catalog that includes full-color reproductions of each of the artworks included in the Retrospective exhibit, along with biographical information about each artist. The catalog will be available for purchase at the reception/Independence Day Celebration and at North Winds Books.

In his introductory essay to the exhibit catalog, Chicago-based art writer and journalist Jeff Huebner writes, that the exhibit series “embraces a group of people whose work represents not only the range and diversity of Finnish-American cultural expression-from abstracted landscapes to ceramic vessels, from realistic paintings to photographic portraits, from stainless-steel sculptures to fiber art-but also the wide-ranging heterogeneity of the American art experience itself.”

Huebner stresses, however, that, “While these artists and their appealing works are part of our American heritage, they also reveal varying levels of engagement with their ethnic identity, or nationality. Some directly explore themes and images related to their Finnish-ness (suomalaisuus), Finnish-American-ness, or Sámi heritage … other artists show a more tenuous connection to their ancestry, their work more concerned with formal issues … [and] some of these artists mine veins of magical realism, psychological realism, or surrealism.”

“Though justly proud of their heritage, I’d venture to say that most of the artists in this exhibition would prefer not to be classified by such limiting, hyphenated labels. They are all exceptional American artists, period.” Huebner concludes, adding that, “Except sometimes through the surname, you wouldn’t necessarily know these folks were Finns.”

“The Finlandia University Gallery gratefully acknowledges each of the 19 artists who have been part of the Finnish-American Artists Series,” says gallery director Carrie Flaspohler. “It is their commitment that has made it a success. They are an inspiring, professional, and generous group of artists.”

The exhibition and exhibition catalog are supported in part by Finlandia Foundation® National, Finn Spark, Inc., Patricia Van Pelt, and a gift in memory of The Hon. Dr. Gloria Jackson.

“20 years of Contemporary Finnish-American Art” is on display at the Finlandia University Gallery through January 14th, 2012. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturday 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., or by appointment.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Please call 906-487-7500 for more information.

Photo cutlines:

Eric Aho, First February Night, 2009. Oil on linen, 24 x 22 inches

Bruce Niemi, Protected, Bronze, 2005, 15″ x 21″ x  12″

Rudy Autio, Twisted Tree, Digital Print of Acrylic Painting,  1997, Collection of Finlandia University