After WWII, the inhabitants of Karelia, more than 10% of Finland’s population, resettled across the country. People from many Karelian parishes were relocated in Häme, and Lahti quickly became the city with the largest number of Vyborgians in Finland. As a memorial to the evacuees, the Päijät-Häme coat of arms still features Vellamo, the goddess of water, holding a cuckoo in her hand.
Johannes Ivakko was also one of the evacuees, originally from the Salmi parish in Karelia, near the border. He was overwhelmed by a longing for the home he lost, and this inspired him to create a collection of unique works, which preserved many kinds of information and emotions related to Karelia, now a dream-like concept.
Ivakko had an unparalleled sense of form, and he wrote his reminiscences of Karelia on wood. His expressive statuettes depict the customs, jobs, livelihoods and events in houses, woods, logging sites and fishing grounds of his childhood Lunkulansaari with folkloristic reverence. The statuettes were accompanied by the wonderful illustrated memoir Kui ennen elettih’ Salmis (‘The way we used to live in Salmi’) by Ivakko’s cousin, Niilo Kuikka, which describes Karelian customs and vocabulary in great detail.
Ivakko was a skilled man and did not settle for sculpting miniature statues but also made life-sized concrete sculptures in his garden. These sculptures of domestic and wild animals and of elderly men and women offer a glimpse of life in rural and forest settings in Karelia in a more monumental way.
Ivakko held on to his Karelian identity, language and culture, the disappearance of which he witnessed during his lifetime as an evacuee. It is clear that art for him was not merely a means to store his personal memories, but also a way to tell other people about the lost, rich reality, the fishing waters of Lake Ladoga and the beautiful wilderness; a place that he had to leave forever, and a people who were scattered across Finland.
Johannes Ivakko’s sculptures are in the Lahti Museum collections. Visitors can admire the concrete sculptures in the Radio and TV Museum Mastola courtyard during the museum’s opening hours.
Text: Paula Susitaival. Images: Veli Granö, Juho Haavisto.