Students in field

In the Land of the Finndians and Tradition Bearers

May 24, 2019

Finlandia University Gallery will present In the Land of the Finndians, an exhibit of photographs documenting the descendants of Finnish immigrants and Native Americans from the book by Katja Kettu, Meeri Koutaniemi, and Maria Seppälä. Also on display, Tradition Bearers, a collection of materials created during the Finnish American Folk School. This two-part exhibit will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, from June 6 to July 25, 2019.

Photograph by Meeri Koutaniemi from the book In the Land of the Finndians

Photograph by Meeri Koutaniemi from the book In the Land of the Finndians by Katja Kettu, Meeri Koutaniemi, and Maria Seppälä.

An opening reception for the public will take place at the gallery on Thursday, June 6, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

In the Land of the Finndians and Tradition Bearers Exhibit Details

  • June 6 to July 25, 2019
  • Finlandia University Gallery inside of Finnish American Heritage Center
  • Opening Reception: Thursday, June 6th, 7:00-8:30 p.m.

This exhibition of photographs was born from the project book, In the Land of the Finndians — a unique collaboration of Katja Kettu, a best-selling author, Meeri Koutaniemi, a top photographer, and Maria Seppälä, a seasoned documentary filmmaker.

Meeri Koutaniemi’s photographs document the descendants of Finnish immigrants and Native Americans in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Arriving at the turn of the 20th century, Finnish immigrants settled in this region to work in the mines and forests of the Upper Midwest, where they gradually forged bonds with members of the Ojibwe tribe. The two groups shared an intimacy with nature and a similar view of the world.

“There are many reasons for the common understanding forged by Finns and Native Americans, but above all they were united by their intimate relationship with the forest,” noted journalist Silja Massa. “Just like the Ojibwa, Finns hunted, fished and foraged. The locals also valued Finns’ handiwork skills: the ability to build a boat or carve skis. Finns learned how to cultivate maize and use medicinal herbs, among other things. In return they lent their expertise in building log cabins and weaving shoes out of birch bark.”

Photograph by Meeri Koutaniemi from the book In the Land of the Finndians

Photograph by Meeri Koutaniemi from the book In the Land of the Finndians by Katja Kettu, Meeri Koutaniemi, and Maria Seppälä

Meeri Koutaniemi, a Finnish photographer and journalist, was born in Lapland and lives currently in Helsinki. Koutaniemi’s work extends to more than 50 countries where she has photographed and documented people with compelling stories of struggle and resilience. Her work stems from the question and definition of identity. Koutaniemi has focused on the humanitarian side of conflicts, displacement and discrimination. At the core of her work lies a universal ability for empowerment and resistance. In 2012 and 2013 Koutaniemi was selected as the Photographer of the Year in Finland and has won numerous international awards.

Concurrently on display, “Tradition Bearers” featuring works inspired by or created during Finnish American Folk School courses.

Including examples of Finnish-American folk traditions such as hand-crafted musical instruments, birchbark weavings and foodways that were learned during Folk School courses, the exhibit is supplemented by informational graphic panels that explain the mission and vision of the Finnish American Folk School, which is hosted and managed by the Heritage Center. Since its launch in 2017, the Folk School has educated several dozen people, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that Finnish folk traditions don’t fade into history.

The exhibit’s opening comes less than a week before Finnish musical instrument maker Minna Hokka arrives from Finland to lead a series of Folk School workshops on the art of crafting musical instruments from materials found in nature. Hokka will be in the Copper Country through June 22, with her visit culminating at the annual Juhannus kokko (bonfire) at Agate Beach in Toivola.

In the Land of the Finndians & Tradition Bearers will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery through July 25, 2019.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call (906) 487-7500.

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