Art’s Corner: Koskenmaki’s work on display in ‘Forest Spirits’ show

Courtesy of Joyce Koskenmaki Waterfall Silver River, ink on paper by Joyce Koskenmaki

“Forest Spirits,” a show by Joyce Koskenmaki at the Copper Country Community Arts Center (CCCAC), will open May 7 with a reception on Thursday, May 9, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and there will be an artist talk in the Gallery. The exhibition will feature new works created in the last year and a half. It includes small ink on paper drawings, acrylic on wood paintings of trees and waterfalls, as well as small sculptures of imaginary animal spirits that live in the woods.

“The paintings are studies in composition and color, as well as trees, and the drawings are all about Silver River in Baraga County.” Joyce grew up, third generation Finnish, on a farm in the Finnish Community of Herman in Baraga County. Her first language was Finnish, which she spoke at home when she was very young, and with her grandparents. She loved the waterfalls along the Silver River, which runs from Herman out to Huron Bay. Living in that area as a young person, and returning to it often, has generated memories and photographs, which are inspirational for many of her paintings and drawings.

“When I was a child, my mother told me there were spirits living in the woods,” Joyce recalled. From early childhood, Joyce has always made spirit dolls to protect the woods. Her mother made rag dolls, and Joyce made dolls with her children when they were little. This eventually developed into a really cool series of Animal Sculptures made of acrylic painted clay, sticks, and repurposed fabric. Lindsey and Kenyon fire the ceramic heads in their Dollar Bay studio, and Joyce adds cloth bodies and sticks for arms and legs. These can be found in the CCCAC as well as the Gallery on 5th in Calumet. Children will enjoy them, but they’re not meant for child’s play, but rather as gently placed spirits to protect your home or sacred spot.

On the first Monday morning of each month, Cynthia Cote, director of the CCCAC, has been hosting a Field Sketching. Joyce has been attending that and especially enjoyed sessions in nature, like in the Calumet Cemetery. Studying the shapes of trees has been a focus of that work for Joyce, achieving a balance between abstraction and realism. This small group has visited mining sites, Hungarian Falls and a favorite spot in the Keweenaw Coffeeworks when it’s too cold to be outside.

Koskenmaki received her master’s in fine arts from the University of Iowa and taught at six different colleges. She was retiring from her position as a fine art professor at the University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse, when she met Phyllis Fredendall, who encouraged her to join the faculty at the Finlandia International School for Art and Design. She taught there for four years and mentored many successful students, including Randy Wakeham, Kenyon Hansen and Kayo Miwa, who was one of several visiting students from Japan. Lately, Joyce has enjoyed taking classes in Finnish culture at the Finnish American Folk School, centered at the Finnish American Heritage Center and studios at the Jutila Center. Mostly, however, she’s been preparing for “Forest Spirits” at the CCCAC coming up next Thursday, May 9, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and another show in August at Bay College’s Besse Gallery in the Escanaba Campus.

Spring is also a good time to visit Calumet. On Saturday, May 4, the Copper Country Associated Artists on 5th Street will be having their grand reopening with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. There will be art demonstrations in clay and watercolor, along with their famous home-baked treats and door prizes.

On Saturday, May 11, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Calumet Art Center is offering a Dessert Plate Fundraiser. You can buy a beautiful plate and a dessert for $20. There will be art demos in painting, spinning and meditation stitching.

Lastly, I would like to take a moment to recognize George Robinson, who was a great supporter of the arts, a talented pianist, birdwatcher, professor of geology at Michigan Tech and curator of the Seaman Mineral Museum from 1996 till his retirement in 2013. He actually had a mineral, georgerobinsonite, named for him. He and his wife Susan, were active members of the Copper Country Rock and Mineral Club, and he was an advisor when Susan wrote and illustrated the book “Is this an Agate?,” available at Copper World. Susan’s paintings of local rocks, plants and animals are available at the Gallery on 5th in Calumet.

George passed away on April 14, 2024.


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