Väinö Ylén

Rauma (1908–2000)

Väinö and Hilma Ylén’s home museum, maintained by the Kodisjoki Art Association, is located near the village Kodisjoki. The house opened to the public immediately after the artist’s death in summer 2001. The exhibition is one of the most significant ITE art entities in Finland.

When Väinö Ylén was only four years old, his father died. Väinö was sent to a big farm at the age of seven to work as a farmhand, and he received no education other than stints at a circulating school. Yet everyone’s first impression of him was of a smart child who kept up with the times. The poor boy acquired an old mill and became a village miller until the war broke out, at which time he had to stop working for five years. Väinö did not want to join the Continuation War, having returned home alive once. He was said to have been hiding in the forests in Laitila for a while – a deserter, he was called.

Ylén was an energetic and inventive man, and in addition to having been a miller, an apple grower and a farmer, he also ran a combine harvester and dryer contracting company and worked as a church caretaker and, above all, a bricklayer. His speed as a bricklayer was legendary.

When he retired, Ylén turned his barn into a gallery and began creating his sculptures. He worked hard and made more than 500 concrete works over two decades. In order to be able to spend any time with her husband, Ylén’s wife Hilma also decided to start making concrete sculptures and made a dozen works herself.

The subjects of the works are inspired by their everyday life, and they subtly convey Väinö and Hilma’s life story. A little boy, newly orphaned, sits with his siblings in a sled pushed by their sad-looking mother. And soon there’s Väinö, meeting his future wife for the first time: the young Hilma stands in her winter clothes, slim and shy. Their wedding is depicted in great detail, and each guest is immortalised in an individual sculpture. A doctor bends down to tend to a soldier mutilated by a grenade, while the soldier’s comrades support their wounded friend.

Life does not always go as planned. The Yléns were never blessed with a child. The most touching series of works in the barn starts with sculptures of pregnant women, continues with a couple with twins returning from the maternity ward, and soon the little ones are playing in the sandbox. The description of the miracle of children growing continues with them at school, at leisure, and during family celebrations.

Text: Veli Granö. Editor: Lauri Oino. Images: Veli Granö.

A longer artist bio has been published in the book ITE Satakunnassa.