Inspiration, imagination

HANCOCK – Though Finnish heritige may have been the commonality that brought their art together, Helen Leppanen Rogak and Oliver Koski have another key commonality – the ability to look around them and see art.

Works from both artists are currently on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, in an exhibit entitled “Finn Art x2” that will remain open through July 17.

Rogak, whose series of paintings of Ironwood Township is currently on display, said she’s always had an interest in art.

“As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an artist,” she said.

In her formative years, she said, she poured over photographs and even comics to soak in the images. She went on to get a degree at the University of Michigan, and has been painting regularly for years.

“I’ve been painting almost every day for about 35 years,” she said.

Rogak said she doesn’t have a particular process, but simply goes into the studio and sees what comes to her.

“Some days I don’t know what I’m going to do, but sooner or later, I’ll pick up a pencil or a brush and I’ll start getting something – I’m a self-starter, let’s put it that way,” she said. “I need to do it.”

Koski, a retired engineer whose display is primarily a colorful colleciton of bird, waterfowl and fish carvings, is newer to the art world, though he said his mother and sister had artistic abilities.

“I think I kind of gained it from them.”

Though he took art classes in high school and college, Koski said he didn’t get into carving until seeing pieces at a carving exhibit. According to his biography, he began carving in 1990, and he said he was largely self-taught.

“I got hooked. I bought some supplies, some carving knives, and some patterns, and I got into it that way,” he said.

Koski said he didn’t do much with the art until after retirement, and he doesn’t create his art on a structrued schedule.

“I don’t do it on a regular schedule,” he said “I don’t want it to be a 9-5 job; I want it to be something ?I enjoy.”

Koski said seeing a bird fly by can be enough to start a carving.

“The world is full of ideas,” Rogak said.

“The older I get, the more ideas I have tumbling around inside my head.”

“You appreciate it,” Koski said.

Rogak worked from photographs for the paintings on display at Finlandia, but said she’s worked in more abstract mediums as well.

“I reserve the right to change anything,” she said. “The photograph is the beginning.”

Koski said wildfowl and fish books, as well as the internet serve as resources for him to re-create the colors and shapes he sees in nature.

“They’re all a little different – you say duck, but there are so many varieties of ducks, and they all have their distinct features, and it’s interesting to see that and help bring it out in the carving,” he said.

Of course, Koski and Rogak’s Finnish heritige has an influence on their work as well.

Rogak said she’s “always appreciated” her Finnish heritige. Koski added that Finland’s abundance of natural settings are perhaps an underlying factor in his appreciation for nature.

“There’s a natural beauty there,” he said.

“(It was) maybe inherent that I’d inherit and appreciate that here, because in my carvings I try to replicate it as close as possible.”

Koski said inspiration can strike in mulitple places at once, which can lead to juggling multiple projects at a time.

“You know, often I’ll start a carving, and I’ll be halfway through it, but while I’m doing it, I might see something else and say ‘that’s going to be the next thing,’ and I’ll start a second project.”

Inspiration can be a challenge and a surprise, Rogak said, but creating art keeps her “healthy and sane.”

“The point is for it to be a challenge. You can’t predict what you’re going to do,” she said. “You go in there, and the next thing you know your hands are doing something.”

“It comes out of you and your body without thinking … it’s like being in free-fall.”

“It keeps the mind occupied,” Koski added.

“Finn Art x2” can be viewed at the Finlandia Gallery through July 17.

The gallery is located at 435 Quincy Street in Downtown Hancock, and summer hours are

8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 487-7500.