Erkki Känkänen

Forssa (1927–2022)

Erkki Känkänen was seven when he left Muolaa in the Karelian Isthmus as an evacuee. His family returned to Ylä-Kuusaa to rebuild their home village, which burnt down during the Continuation War, but had to leave their home again soon after. The family settled in “the little Muolaa” in Forssa, a close-knit Karelian community in the middle of the Häme. The community also helped the family to grow roots in the soil of southwestern Häme: their farming business developed into a successful vegetable farm, which is now run by the fourth generation.

The Känkänen family’s summer cottage is located just across the provincial border in Salkola, Somero, and is called Rajaranta. Its garden is the home of the Park of Memories, a tribute to the Karelian people and the parishes in the ceded Karelia, and especially to Känkänen’s home parish of Muolaa.

Memories of fishing trips to the shores of Lake Äyräpäänjärvi and the huge numbers of birds there came back to Känkänen when he was building the cottage. Surplus materials began to take the form not only of birds but also of images and stories, which soon expanded their expression from personal and intimate to general and shared. The Park of Memories is a breath-taking monument to the Karelian evacuees; it is full of art, emotion and information. Känkänen built a miniature model of the Muolaa church as its centrepiece. The original was destroyed in the Winter War, and the model can comfortably seat a couple of dozen people. The enormous Karelian cuckoo sculpture holds the coats of arms of the ceded parishes; the sleigh with the evacuees and the horses pulling it are a memorial to one journey of evacuation. The walls of the outdoor buildings are mainly covered by paintings made from skilfully cut plywood; they depict the artist’s childhood, life in the Karelian Isthmus and historical events.

Erkki Känkänen and his wife Hilkka, who is also from Muolaa, have been able to visit the parish of their childhood hundreds of times. They have a warm and active relationship with the village’s current residents.

The Park of Memories in Rajaranta has attracted busloads of admirers over the decades, and it has offered a touching peer experience for many people who miss their homes. Fewer visitors are allowed to the park now that the artist is getting older.

Text: Paula Susitaival. Images: Juho Haavisto.