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COVID continues to interfere with CLK classes

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Displays used during a past Finn Fest contain illustrations, examples and details on traditional construction of Old-World Finnish log saunas, showing examples of all aspects, including hardware, of sauna-building.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP — While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to curtail international travel, it also continues to obstruct technology classes at Calumet High School, said Industrial Technology teachers Rob Bolshen and Corey Soumis.

Two Finnish cultural projects have been repeatedly put on hold, both men said.

“In 2008, we constructed the Finnish rowboat and since then,” Bolshen said, “we’ve been trying to continue with projects related to Finnish heritage and the second project on the list was a Finnish-style log sauna.”

Originally, he said, the project called for two individuals to come from Finland to instruct the students, along with community members, on constructing a sauna, but those plans are still on hold because of the pandemic, problems with international travel and work visas.

“We’re not exactly sure how that’s going to play out at this point,” he added.

In the Calumet Public Library is a large display that used Finn Fest a number of years ago, which features illustrations and details relating to Finnish-style log construction, from a full homestead, to individual buildings, and different styles of buildings, and what they were used for on the homestead.

The Sauna has been a significant element of Upper Peninsula Finnish culture since it was introduced in the region by them in the 1860s.

“In the New World, the Finns brought the sauna with them to America,” Emily S. Zisman wrote in her “Finnish Sauna and the Finnish Folk Healer. “So central a place did the sauna occupy that whenever Finns immigrated, the first building erected was usually the sauna.” That was usually the case on Copper Country homesteads, as well.

The second aspect of the project, related to the sauna, involves blacksmithing, said Soumis, but like the sauna project, COVID is also interfering with this aspect. The plan is for students to manufacture the hardware for the sauna, such as hinges, door pulls, and similar needed items.

“I’ve been working with a local blacksmith, Chris Sutherland, who came in about a year ago,” Soumis said. “He came in this past October, and worked with a class of mine. We’re going to get him back in to work with us on all of that.”

Suomis said the blacksmithing will not start at the very beginning, using iron blooms, but rather will start with bar stock.

“A lot of what we started with last time was recycled garage door springs, actually, and we unwound them and reused them.”

Suomis said the funding is from a grant he wrote through the Finnish-American Heritage Center, a large amount of which came from the Cargill Foundation. The grant was for several-thousand dollar grant to get the equipment set up and ready to go, “but now, we’re just waiting for COVID to allow us to do it, and get Chris back in to work with my kids.”

Suomis said another part of the grant includes his going to Finland to work with a master bladesmith. Soumis said he will spend a week with Pekka Tuominen, at his homestead in Tossavanlahti, experiencing the culture, and learning to make a puukko (Finnish for knife), then conduct a semester, or at least a nine-week quarter, class teaching students to make a puokko.

Pekka Tuominen one of only11 puukkoseppamestari, or “master bladesmiths” certified by the Finnish Ministry of Education. The students, he said, are anxious for that class, but liability issues still need to be resolved. Meanwhile, students are anxious for the classes, but are, understandably, frustrated by the COVID-19-related delays.

“I was supposed to go to Finland last August,” said Soumis, “but I couldn’t, because of travel restrictions, so now I’m supposed to go this coming summer, hopefully in August, then do the puukku thing next year.”

Regardless of the aspect of the class, Soumis said he and his students will definitely still conduct blacksmithing lessons this spring.

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