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Gaining steam: Sauna Week grows

Courtesy of Jim Kurtti People can view some notable sauna of the Keweenaw on Sunday’s tour as part of Sauna Week.

HANCOCK — It takes more than heat to make a proper sauna, said Jim Kurtti.

There are other elements to consider: a place to relax, good ventilation and a proper steam.

Spreading awareness of the fundamentals of a sauna is one of the reasons behind the Finlandia Foundation National’s annual Sauna Week, which it launched two years ago.

Also, it’s a “very iconic part of Finnish culture,” and one growing in popularity, said Kurtti, head of the local Finnish Theme Committee.

This is the first Sauna Week since the foundation’s purchase of several cultural resources from the former Finlandia University.

“This year they really kind of upped their game,” Kurtti said. “They really kind of encouraged all the chapters to have programming. The Finnish Theme Committee is a chapter of Finlandia Foundation, so we took it to heart, and planned these events.”

The local Sauna Week events are mostly concentrated at the Finnish American Heritage Center, one of the buildings the foundation purchased, as well as the adjoining Quincy Green.

“Anyone who’s considering putting in a sauna, certainly remodeling a sauna, will get ideas,” Kurtti said. “Anyone who appreciates a sauna, it’s a good time to tell their story.”

Sauna Week exhibits will be on display from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Saturday at the Finnish American Heritage Center. The poster exhibit includes Calumet artist Debbie Paver’s entry, which was chosen as the national Sauna Week poster. People can also see a Finnish Log Building exhibit and stories about sauna culture and history.

Also displayed at the center are Sauna Week projects by Copper Island Academy third graders, who interviewed grandparents and elders about sauna traditions.

People can contribute memorable sauna experiences of their own as part of a Finnish Theme Committee oral history project. People will do the reminiscing inside a sauna on Quincy Green, with 2nd Sandbar Productions recording. They can choose between video or audio-only.

The recordings will be part of a public archive at the Finnish American Heritage Center. Some will also be shown at Saturday’s Sauna Expo.

People can sign up for a slot via on online form available at visitkeweenaw.com/event/national-sauna-week-events-|-hancock-mi/4682.

As of Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen people had signed up to share their stories, Kurtti said. So far, people have been having fun.

“It’s a project that is going to be ongoing,” he said. “And they’re still signing up people.”

The Sauna Expo will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday on Quincy Green. People will be able to see six saunas built by local sauna manufacturers and high school shop classes. If they have any questions, they can ask the builders themselves, who will be on hand to give answers and show them the saunas.

One sauna, built by students at the Career Center in Baraga, will be for sale. The U.P. Sauna Company, from Engadine, has pledged a $100 donation to the Finnish Theme Committee if they make any sales in Hancock during Sauna Week.

Also Saturday, there will be a forum to discuss the possibility of a public sauna in the area. The forum, which starts at 10 a.m. at the Finnish American Heritage Center. It is hosted by the Finnish Theme Committee of Hancock and the Upper Peninsula chapter of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce.

The idea of public saunas has come up in various local groups over the past 10 years, Kurtti said. Saturday’s forum will bring them together to talk about the pros and cons.

In Finland, where the public saunas had almost died off, they’ve seen a resurrection recently.

“They tend to be owned by municipalities, and they tend to be outstanding as far as architecture,” he said. “They’re designed to be gathering places. It’s where people get together, and they can have meetings and hang out. Finland’s ahead of the game when it comes to us in the states when it comes to getting people to just relax and be together.”

Sauna Week concludes on Sunday with the Copper Country Sauna tour from 1 to 5 p.m. The self-guided tour includes stops at some of the most distinctive saunas in the area.

“Each sauna has its own story, and the owners of the sauna will be describing the details of the sauna, how they were built, and some of the integral pieces of them,” Kurtti said.

One sauna dates back to 1900; it’s where the present owner was born. Another is a log sauna, where the owner built the sauna first, in the traditional Finnish style, and then the home.

“He’s quite a clever person, so there’s a lot of his design in the entire building,” Kurtti said.

Tickets to the tour are $10 and available at North Wind Books, or at the Sauna Forum and Expo. The tickets come with a guide and map. For more information on tickets, call 906-487-7549.

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