Kauko Alt

Suonenjoki (1941)

Kauko Alt found his enthusiasm for matchstick works more than 50 years ago. Having seen wooden boxes made in the Naarajärvi prison for sale at the petrol station, he didn’t hesitate to buy dozens of match boxes right away. 

Alt worked as a woodworker in Pieksämäki in those days. When he had to quit his job because of back problems, creating matchstick works became almost a full time job, and he even had a workshop in a 12-metre railway carriage. 

Alt now lives in a flat in Suonenjoki. He has used about a million matches in his works so far. He tried sculpting when he was younger, but when what was supposed to be a cat turned out to be more like a bear, he gave up. 

The materials and equipment that Alt uses most are matchsticks, pliers and drills of various sizes, Eri Keeper adhesive and furniture varnish for finishing. 

Alt places the sticks so that the seams overlap and glues them together. This ensures that the works are sturdy. He gives them their finishing touches with a knife and by sanding. When drilling holes in beads, the bit must be very thin. 

When the Vaajakoski matchstick factory closed down in the mid-1990s, Alt hoarded boxes of matches, but now he buys matches, without the sulphur heads, from a craft shop. 

If he works with real matches, Alt burns the sulphur off and wipes the end with a wet rag. The burnt head can be useful in surface patterns. The artist is fascinated by curved surfaces and small details. The wires for lighting run in cables made of matches. Alt is not interested in smooth surfaces, but he likes a challenge. 

Some of the works are entirely made of matches, but Alt upholsters some objects, such as pieces of furniture. He makes the frames for the furniture himself. 

Matches have also turned into clothes and accessories: belts, hats, bags, shoes and dresses. Making a three-piece suit requires space, time and preferably someone to help with putting it on. A wooden suit is not the best for sitting down, not to mention for dancing. 

The artist and his peculiar technique are now well-known, and there’s a market for Alt’s mirrors, dishes, jewellery, furniture, accessories, decorative objects and scale models. Alt does not design his works in advance, they just “pop up in his head”. He draws a rough sketch on paper, and then the work takes over. 

Alt worked on his ‘approximate model’ of Kerimäki church on the side for about a year. He used photographs of the church as the model. One ridge is missing, the windows are almost where they should be and the churchyard shows all signs of artistic freedom. 

If you lift the roof off, you can see an illuminated church hall. The details have been carefully crafted, even the hymns for the service are visible. The ceiling was the fiddliest part to work on as it has about 7,000 shingles. All in all, Alt has made three cathedrals. 

Text and images: Irene Pakkanen.


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