The manor hill in Myrskylä village basks in the early August sun and lush greenery. Here, among woodlands and gardens in her childhood home, lives gardener and keeper of animals, skilful drawer, illustrator, silk painter and cartoonist, Anne Streng.
Streng has always travelled long distances in the countryside – including a commute to work of over ten kilometres – by bicycle. She has created numerous drawings, colour illustrations, ex-libris, cartoons and fascinating silk paintings. Streng’s silk paintings are full of sparkling light, incredible craftsmanship of colour and line, imaginative logic of the forest, lichen, moss and garden flora. The pictures made on silk look spectacular against a white wall, but are also translucent when they flap in the light.
Anne Streng was born in Sysmä, and she was her parents’ fifth child. The family moved to Myrskylä when Streng was two years old, and another little sister was born there. The family kept cows and a horse, but the poor clay soil of the fields did not produce much of a harvest, so Streng’s father and mother had to find employment elsewhere. Streng used to play with her older sister, who had a minor intellectual disability, and her autistic younger sibling; she was also always ready to help her siblings, and they even developed their own language. She has warm memories of her childhood, of copying images from Donald Duck comic books through wax paper, reading Superman, Pecos Bill and Tex Willer, her markers, watercolours, ex-libris drawn by her father, trips to the library and playing out in the fields.
Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, light, optimism, warmth, beauty and sensitivity come through the darkness and difficulties, through loss like lace, like a light shining through a veil of leaves under the trees in Streng’s story and works about her family. Streng’s parents were avid readers, and her mother was a prominent figure in local politics. Her father was also a phenomenal drawer but worked at Saseka’s brick and concrete plant all his life.
Anne Streng’s elementary school teacher noticed her talent and encouraged her throughout her school years, all the way to Savonlinna senior secondary school of art, where Streng only stayed for a month before returning home. She swapped arts for horticultural and livestock studies, but her notebooks were filled with drawings. Her older siblings, however, went boldly out into the big wide world. Pekka Streng (1948-1975), moved to Helsinki and became a distinguished musician but died of cancer at a very young age. Her sister, the recently deceased artist Sonja Lehto, made naïve paintings.
Yet Streng enjoyed her studies and life in the gardens, schools of horticulture and rose gardens, among old wooden houses, apple trees, tomatoes, night-time bike rides and adventures in Paimio, Hamina, Lepaa and Valkeala in Kouvola. She continued to study visual arts techniques, oil painting, charcoal drawing, drawing from a live model, and she moved from place to place and lived as a treasure hunter of experiences.
Streng ended up returning to Myrskylä to live on the family farm with her sister. She missed a great job opportunity working in a garden because she did not have a driver’s license, but while she was unemployed, she was finally able to fully focus on making art, and she was very productive during this time. However, the job centre expected her to earn a living, so Streng worked at a pig farm until she retired. Streng self-published a touching and engaging comic book entitled Siniturkki about her experiences there.
To this day, the media-shy Anne Streng does not have a driver’s license, or a smartphone for that matter, and wants nothing to do with social media. She has never even offered her works, her voluble and original manuscripts or her illustrated stories to publishers or for them to be displayed in public. Drawing is part of her and a way of life in a house in the shade of big trees, in the middle of fields, and it grows out of Streng like the leaves and branches of a tree. Anne Streng is happy just to be there, in the shade of the trees – as long as she can draw.
Text: Heini Heikkilä. Images: Heini Heikkilä.