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Home    Happenings    July 2007 Happenings

Happenings in the Keweenaw Peninsula

July 26, 2007

Finlandia Gallery to exhibit "In/of Nature," by Cherie Sampson, July 26-Sept. 5

HANCOCK -- The Finlandia University Gallery, Hancock, continues a summer exhibition schedule of Finnish-American artists with "In/of Nature" by Cherie Sampson July 26 through Sept. 5, 2007. An opening reception for the artist will take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 26, 2007, in the gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center. At the reception, the artist will present a brief talk about her work. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

In June 2004, Sampson traveled to Tampere, Finland, to participate in an exhibition of outdoor sculpture and other works in a park adjacent to the site of an international conference called "Wise Use of Peatlands." The exhibit, "Spirit of Mires," featured works made with materials from the mire by Sampson and a handful of other artists from Finland and Germany.

"Peat Shrine," Sampson’s sculpture for the "Spirit of Mires" exhibit, was constructed of tree roots dug out of a Finnish mire north of Tampere and peat briquettes made in and shipped from Estonia. Photographs documenting the creation of the "Peat Shrine" sculpture, along with other work by Sampson, will be exhibited at the Finlandia University Gallery exhibit.

"Peat Shrine," by Cherie Sampson, was part of the Spirit of Mires exhibition of environmental sculpture and performance in Sorsapuisto Park, Tampere, Finland, in 2004. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)
"Peat Shrine," by Cherie Sampson, was part of the Spirit of Mires exhibition of environmental sculpture and performance in Sorsapuisto Park, Tampere, Finland, in 2004. It was made of tree roots, peat, birch wood, iron oxide pigment and twine (3/4 view of main structure). (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)

Sampson has received numerous grants to work in Finland. In both Finland and the United States, she has created environmental, performance and video art pieces, as well as sculpture and photography.

A Fulbright fellowship in 1997-98 allowed her to research and explore the traditions of skilled, self-taught woodworkers in Finland, and to participate in several exhibitions, performances, educational events and conferences focused on the culture, history and geography of her ancestral Finnish home.

Sampson explains that this experience, completed while she was a fine arts graduate student at the University of Iowa, led to a significant shift in her work from primarily two-dimensional drawing to environmental sculpture made with locally  found wood.

Sampson’s current work continues to be rooted in Finnish culture and encompasses environmental sculpture, performance art, and digital and video art. She notes that she often works in the natural environment creating site-specific works with wood and other local materials in wild, public and rural locations. Indigenous wood signifies the spirit of place for Sampson, she says, and is the primary media for these outdoor works.

Artist Cherie Sampson often works outdoors -- in wild, public and rural locations. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)
Artist Cherie Sampson often works outdoors -- in wild, public and rural locations. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)

"My work within the landscape comes from a desire to connect with the raw forces of nature and its cycles of generation, decay and renewal," Sampson explains. "I seek to 're-member' through my art a primal link between human life, culture and nature, being aware of all aspects of an environment from sensory and elemental to historical."

Her personal identification with Finnish ethnicity and culture was ultimately a twofold process, Sampson says: one of "nurture" in her formative years by family members whose own immersion in Finnish life could not help but influence her, and one of self-discovery. Her journey toward acknowledging and then celebrating her Finnish-American roots has culminated in artistic explorations that include the mythologies and folk traditions of Finland, as well as contemporary directions of Finnish and American art.

Captivated by the visual beauty of the creation story and by Ilmatar, the Water/Air Mother in the first canto of The Kalevala, in the 1980s and 1990s Sampson began to incorporate Finnish themes into her artwork.

"In 1991, this depiction of Ilmatar floating in the sea was the first artwork I made with an intentionally Finnish content. It marked the beginning of a journey for me that culminated in an integration of my personal (biographical), artistic and spiritual life -- a great deal of which has continued to this day to remain connected to Finnish and Finnish-American culture," she explains.

All of her maternal great-grandparents came from Finland, and Sampson feels fortunate to have known two of them: her grandmother’s parents Emma and Akseli Hautamaki, from Ikaalinen and Kurikka respectively.

"The rare times spent with my great-grandfather who spoke a strange language I couldn’t understand on the rural Minnesota farmstead he built without electricity or indoor plumbing, transported me into a world sometimes comforting, other times unsettling, that was vastly different than the one I usually lived in," Sampson notes.

"On Koli Rock," a series of photographic self-portraits and video-performances by Cherie Sampson. Koli Mountain, Finland, 1998. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)
"On Koli Rock" is a series of photographic self-portraits and video-performances by Cherie Sampson. Koli Mountain, Finland, 1998. (Photo courtesy Finlandia University)

Cherie Sampson completed an MA and MFA at the University of Iowa in intermedia art and sculpture. She received a BFA in drawing from Maharishi International University, Fairfield, Iowa. Her work has been exhibited in Finland, Norway, The Netherlands, Chicago and many locations in the upper Midwest. She is a full-time assistant professor of art, digital media, at the Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa.

The Finlandia University Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., or by appointment. Please call 906-487-7500 for more information.

Editor's Note: Visit Keweenaw Now's new blog, www.keweenawnow.blogspot.com,  to comment on this article or on the exhibit.


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