Elena Maaskola

Helsinki (1925–2002)

ITE artist Elena Maaskola made her art based on her passion for collecting. We have all picked up and kept an interesting stone or shell found on the beach, perhaps displayed it in a cabinet. Elena stored a motley collection of found materials in her home in Neitsytpolku, Helsinki. She did not stop there but also worked on these stones, bits of wood and rusty tin junk. She mixed them and glued them together to compile fantastic collages, turned them into creatures and gave them names.

In her small apartment, she created poetry of objects and works of art that found their place on the bookshelves and transformed her home into a unique ‘museum’. A twisted piece of metal became a worn out handbag, and there is also an entire series of handbags made of stones. Sticks, weathered by the sea, can be material for beautiful-sounding wind chimes, and dry seaweed turns into elegant pearls.

Elena’s works are very humorous; for example, there are ladies at the Royal Ascot, made of small decorative stones and wearing odd-looking hats, and Elena even recorded a satirical ‘radio programme’ about the event. The religious themes in some of her pieces refer to her orthodox background.

Elena Maaskola’s art is joyful and innovative, and her ‘hobby’ expanded to a visionary scale; it is a busy dialogue between various elements. A typical ITE artist, Elena produced her art secretly; only her family and friends knew what she worked on. The ITE art exhibition held at the Helsinki City Art Museum in 2001 prompted Elena’s family to contact the Union for Rural Education and Culture to inform the organisation of Elena and her work.

An incurable illness took Elena away before she could see her art exhibited in public. Fortunately the family understood the value of Elena’s art and donated the entire collection to the ITE Museum, and Elena’s art can keep inspiring other people to see objects in a different light. The ITE Museum in Kaustinen arranged a commemorative exhibition in summer 2002, and her art was subsequently displayed at the Mexico Gallery in London in 2004, at the Stone Centre in Juuka, Finland in 2006, and at the ITE Museum exhibition of artists’ interiors in Kokkola in 2015.

Elena Maaskola’s story is a reminder for us of how fragile and private ITE art is. It is often only created for the pleasure of the artists themselves, and if their families do not appreciate it, the works may be lost forever. Luckily this was not the case with Elena’s art.

Text: Erkki Pirtola. Photos: Tuula Vehanen & Raija Kallioinen.