Fashionable finale

Finlandia Art Night celebrates students, faculty

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Lindsey Heiden, a visiting assistant professor at Finlandia University, talks with Finlandia art and design students during Finlandia Art Night at the Finnish American Heritage Center Thursday. Her interactive installation “Nesting” invites the audience to participate by adding their interpretation of the word nesting.

HANCOCK — As Finlandia University nears the end of its final semester, the university celebrated its art program with an evening combining student and faculty exhibits.

The Finlandia Art Night began at the Jutila Center with a reception and awards presentation for the Student Juried Art Exhibit, and continued at the Finnish American Heritage Center with the 2023 Faculty Exhibit and a cardboard fashion show by Finlandia art and design students.

For the annual fashion show, students were given about a week to prepare.

Briana Gitchell, a sophomore majoring in graphic design, made an octopus skirt. She was inspired by the octopus in “Finding Nemo,” one of her favorite childhood movies.

It took about 10 hours, she said, taking up three class periods as well as some of her own time.

“It was well thought out colorwise, and how sparkly it is,” she said. “It wasn’t my original idea, but I like it the way it is.”

Finlandia has been a special experience for Gitchell, letting her be part of one of the better arts programs in the area. For next year, she’s planning on transferring to another school with a well-regarded graphic design program, Olivet College.

Being with her community Thursday was bittersweet, Gitchell said.

“It’s kind of hard, the realization of school closing and not being able to come back, watching everybody’s art collectively,” she said. “But it feels good to be a part of it.”

After the fashion show, gallery director Carrie Flaspohler introduced the faculty artists, including herself, and talked about the themes of their art.

Denise Vandeville spent 17 years as the dean of Finlandia’s International School of Art and Design. She returned for the faculty exhibit.

Thursday’s event let her see wonderful work from both the students and the faculty, she said. She’d gotten to exhibit alongside Joyce Koskenmaki, who’d been Vandeville’s professor when she was a student at what was then Suomi College. And she loved seeing the creativity students brought to the fashion show.

“One of the things artists are great at is using what they have, using what’s there,” she said.

Standing next to her work Thursday night, she remembered the many discussions from previous exhibits — the variety, the scandals, the art that challenged ideas.

“I think the art program at Finlandia has served the community more than any other school at Finlandia, so it’s really sad to see that leaving,” she said. “So I really hope the Finnish American Heritage Center itself can survive… art is such a way to bring the community together — all ages, all ideologies.”

The art gallery has come back before. Finlandia had planned to close the gallery in a cost-cutting move last fall before an anonymous donation kept it open.

Despite the university’s closing, there is still hope the gallery can continue.

The Finlandia Foundation, a non-profit focused on promoting Finnish culture in America, is trying to preserve the gallery along with other cultural institutions of Finlandia, including the Finnish American Heritage Center and North Wind Books.

The faculty exhibit runs until April 13. Next month, a Finnish artist will have an exhibit at the gallery, Flaspohler said. And the school will hopefully have a show during the summer, Flaspohler said.

“We’re plugging along,” she said.

Mounted on a west wall of the gallery was Vandeville’s ink drawing of the rebuilding of the Notre Dame cathedral, which was damaged by a fire in 2019.

As an art history teacher, Vandeville told her students about “the light of God” coming through the stained glass. Now, as in her drawing, it’s coming through scaffolding.

The drawing took about 20 hours off and on, as she stepped away and came back.

“It’s fun, meditative,” she said. “I thought a lot about how resilient art is, and it survives.”


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