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30th Annual Contemporary Finnish American Artist Series Exhibition

Karen Stewart: SISU

Exhibit Dates:

November 6, 2020 to January 5, 2021

Zoom reception with artist: Nov 19th at 7pm,

Meeting ID: 979 1147 7664

Passcode: 115574

HANCOCK, MI €“ Finlandia University Gallery will present the 30th Annual Contemporary Finnish American Artist Series Exhibition featuring the artwork of Karen Stewart at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC), Hancock from November 6  to January 5, 2021.  Appointments for a private viewing of the exhibit can be made with Gallery Director Carrie Flaspohler at (906) 487-7500 or by email at

A Zoom reception with the artist will take place on November 19th at 7pm.

Meeting ID: 979 1147 7664

Passcode: 115574

The artist Karen Stewart

Karen Stewart€™s realistic portraiture seeks to embody her subject€™s sisu, a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness in the face of adversity. Combining art historical references with the personal stories of her subjects, Stewart€™s portraits of women chronicle the struggles as well as the joys inherent in life.  Her work is deeply personal, with her warmth and respect for her subjects evident in her meticulous attention to detail and the authenticity of her expression.  Her technical talents are evident, but what leaves a lasting impression is the individuality and compassion with which she renders each of her subjects.

Cancer’s Not for Chickens, 32″ x 24″, Mixed Media on Paper, 2018

Stewart€™s Finnish mother grew up on a farm outside Hurley, Wisconsin. Her parents and paternal grandparents had emigrated from Finland in hopes of a better life. However, the iron mines of the Gogebic Range and farming in Iron County, Wisconsin, proved to be a very difficult life. €œThe Hurley of my youth was a scary place for a child and I dreaded our visits,€ remembers Stewart. €œ The €œlower block€ was filled with things only discussed in hushed, €œpidgin€ Finnish by my mother and her seven sisters over cocktails. It wasn€™t until years later that I began to feel compassion and pride in my Finnish heritage.€

Stewart pays homage to her mother, grandmother and seven aunts in the title piece of the show, a large 3-panel painting titled Sisu.

Sisu, 72″ x 144€ (3 panels each 72″ x 48″), Mixed Media, 2019

In Sisu, Stewart collaged  pages from the  books Our Bodies Ourselves, Peyton Place, Hints from Heloise, Make Yours A Happy Marriage and The Mother Book by Liz Smith, referencing the cultural touchstones of their time. Stewart substitutes Dorothy Gale€™s home from the Wizard of Oz  for the family homestead as no pictures of the actual farmhouse exist. Pablo Picasso€™s painting Les Demoiselle sd€™Avignon is referenced in the foreground of the painting, alluding to the fact that many women have to €œprostitute€ themselves in many different ways to survive.

€œMy aunts experienced marriage, motherhood, loss, abuse, divorce, alcoholism, low-paying jobs, disappointment, love, happiness, and a lot of joy. Some married well, some did not. They didn€™t have many options but they did the best they could,€ says Stewart. €œThey have all passed and I have so many questions that will never be answered but I am able to address these questions in my work and come to acceptable resolutions.€

Other works in her exhibit depict the chaotic times we live in, whether political or personal.  Many of the pieces are statements about the things women have been forced to do to survive in the world they have inherited. They record the people and places that Stewart has seen over the course of her life.

Depression, 32€ x 24€, Ink on Paper, 2017


Elation, 32€ x 24€, Ink on Paper, 2017

€œNone of the people in my work are just models, I know or have a connection with every one of them,€ says Stewart.  The painting Agiya Doga Uhusti – The Cherokee Storyteller depicts Weeya, an artist, teacher and friend of Stewart from Green Bay. The African Queen depicts Stewart€™s first mother-in-law, and Stewart€™s daughter modelled for Aphrodite.  €œI move beyond reality to the soul of my models and focus on the stories that lay buried beneath the surface,€ reflects Stewart. €œ These stories are an integral part of my motivation and creative process. I  feel a sense of pride in all of these women. They were and are the epitome of Sisu and, in my experience, the same could be said for most women around the world and throughout time.€

The 30th Annual Contemporary Finnish American Artist Series Exhibition Sisu will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery through January 5, 2021.

The Finlandia University Gallery is located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock.  Gallery viewing is by appointment. Please call 906-487-7500 or email to arrange a private viewing.