Thursday, January 19, 2017

Joyce Koskenmaki: Retrospective opens Jan. 19 at Finlandia University Gallery

Art by Hancock Finnish American artist Joyce Koskenmaki is now on exhibit, through Feb. 18, 2017, in the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, Jan. 19. (Photos courtesy Finlandia University)

HANCOCK -- Finlandia University Gallery presents Joyce Koskenmaki: Retrospective, an exhibit of paintings, drawings, and mixed media work spanning Koskenmaki’s lifetime career in the arts.  Koskenmaki’s work will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, from Jan. 19 to Feb. 18, 2017.

An opening reception at the gallery will take place from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. TONIGHT, Thursday, Jan. 19, with an artist talk beginning at 7:15 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Finnish American artist Joyce Koskenmaki has a special place in the hearts of Copper Country residents as an artist who has contributed greatly to the art culture of the Keweenaw. Her reverence for her Finnish heritage and its expression in her artwork, her internationally recognized art career, her teaching at Finlandia University International School of Art and Design and her dedication to the Copper Country Community Art Center are just a few activities that have left a lasting legacy for the community.

Koskenmaki moved back to the Copper Country in 1998 to teach at the International School of Art and Design at Finlandia University; however, her ties to the Upper Peninsula began in her childhood. Koskenmaki was born in Herman, Michigan, to second generation Finnish American parents. Her grandparents arrived in Michigan directly from Finland in 1904. It was her grandmother Sanna who would play a significant role in the young girl’s connection to her Finnish Heritage. She grew up hearing Finnish spoken in her grandparents' home, helping to cut rags to create traditional Finnish rag rugs and digging up potatoes on her grandparents' farm.

"Both my grandmother and my mother were very religious, although there wasn’t a church in Herman. Their spirituality was more mystical than religious. My father, on the other hand, rebelled against formal religion. He sought spirituality in the woods, where he earned a living as a trapper and guide for hunters and fisherman."

It was these early formative experiences, along with a deep devotion to nature fostered by her Upper Peninsula childhood, that would later inform her artwork.

Leaving Home, Quilt, 28" x 34" 1996, by Joyce Koskenmaki.

"My work is grounded in my background as a poor child in a Finnish immigrant community, which formed my deepest values as a person," notes Koskenmaki. "My subject matter reflects my connection to nature: water, rocks, trees, wild animals, and my concern for their preservation and safety. They also serve as metaphors for my own life and the life around me."

A compassionate impulse is at the center of Koskenmaki’s work. Her artwork acknowledges the significance of the human spirit and the natural world along with their need to be respected and nurtured.

"I think this is what Finnish people believe also: that sense of reverence for nature, the oneness of everything, the equality of people, and the mysticism -- the relation also to what’s hidden," she notes. "That’s what I want to be able to say in my work."

Koskenmaki receive a Bachelor of Arts from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and a Master of Fine Arts in painting from University of Iowa. Koskenmaki’s strongest influences were the painters who taught her abstract expressionism and the process of composing, and a printmaking teacher from Argentina named Mauricio Lasansky, who taught her the importance of making art from her heart and her life.

Elegy for my Dog, Crayon on paper 28" x 28" by Joyce Koskenmaki.

Her love of learning in the arts continued as she independently researched Native American art forms including ancient petroglyphs, travelled to northern Finland to study Sami culture and visited Africa -- which resulted in a series of paintings of African animals.

"I always felt drawn to folk art, early Medieval church art, early Greek Minoan art, outsider art, the traditional art of women and also very early Chinese landscape painting," remarks Koskenmaki. "I have never been inspired by European Renaissance art and the academic process that grew out from it, maybe because the lives that created and supported that work were those of the elite and powerful, including the monarchy and the church."

Koskenmaki’s work is in the collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.; the Nelimarkka Museum in Alajärvi, Finland; and the Voyageurs National Park, among others. She was recently honored to have her work included in the collection of the American Embassy in Helsinki, Finland.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 906-487-7500.

Inset photo: Artist Joyce Koskenmaki. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University.)

Editor's Note: See more of Joyce Koskenmaki's work on her Web site.  

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