Bark is birch skin, the dead and corky tissue of the cortex. Its viscosity, water-resistance and durability make it a versatile material. Bark culture expresses the environmental attitudes and aesthetics of the Finnish, their close relationship to nature and their creative mind. Items made of flexible bark have for centuries attested to the Finnish people’s practical character and their sense of beauty. One innovator of our long tradition of bark culture is Erkki Pekkarinen of Asikkala. In his able and creative hands bark has claimed its place in the abundance of various goods of the 21st century.
Pekkarinen has bent bark to make both the largest birch bark shoes in the world (2.7 metres) and the smallest (3.8 millimetres). He is, however, best known for his all-bark “forest-folk national costume”, which became the emblem of the 2001 ITE exhibition at Meilahti Art Museum in Helsinki. Pekkarinen has given his unfeigned performance in the same suit at many an ITE exhibition opening, wearing bark shoes, bark Stetson and carrying a bark briefcase. He always brings along a collection of smaller bark shoes in a tiny portable showcase.
Text: Minna Haveri. Translation: Kirsti Nurmela-Knox. Photos: Veli Granö, Minna Haveri, Raija Kallioinen.