“Well, how much time have you got?” asks Mauno Suonpää in front of his Burl Paradise, leaning on his walking stick. The speech comes in an uninterrupted stream: “There’s a girl exercising with her bottom up, there’s an elephant, there are brains and bends, the current road map, this is a line of men, women are there, that’s what happens when a man is feels ashamed.” The tour continues, and there are more wonders to behold, even though the brain has not managed to process the previous works: otters, an anteater, an Indian’s face, a pterosaur, the American president, a totem pole, a boxer dog’s face, ET. There are more than 4,500 objects in the Burl Paradise, only a fraction of which are catalogued.
Suonpää started collecting the wonders of nature at a young age when he was tending cows in the forest. He bought his first tractor in 1956, and that’s when he started working in the forest. He saw ancient forests being felled, and asymmetrical formations that had grown undisturbed for hundreds of years were revealed beneath the surface. Suonpää jumped off the forest machine, took out his chainsaw and then lifted the treasure into safety with the grapple. In autumn and winter, he would bring huge root systems home to keep them under a tarpaulin, the spring sun dried them, and then the continuous peeling started, going on day and night.
The collection gradually grew into the Burl Paradise, and visitors found the site. Six guest books – each with 300 pages – have been filled over the decades, and newspaper clippings stick out of scrapbooks. A cowshed, left empty twenty years ago, was turned into a café, which now welcomes three bus-loads of guests simultaneously on the busiest of days. TV crews have visited the site, and Suonpää has also received recognition for his work. Numerous researchers from Finland and abroad have visited the site to marvel at the super-rare curly fir and curly pine. At the time of writing, the guided tours that he runs keep the 88-year-old owner of the collection active.
Many ITE artists consider art that is shaped by nature to be its highest form. “I haven’t made any art, nature made these; some see different figures than others, that’s how they come life,” explains Suonpää.
Text: Elina Vuorimies. Editor: Lauri Oino. Images: Veli Granö. A longer artist bio has been published in the book ITE Satakunnassa.