The legacy of a self-made man

29 October 2010 | This 'n' that

On camelback: in the exotic part of Veijo Rönkkönen’s concrete cosmos there are animals and palm trees, side by side with the living plants of the northerly latitudes. - Photo, left: Veijo Rönkkönen; photo, right: Veli Granö

Some of our readers may remember a story entitled ‘Self-made man’, published in Books from Finland in April 2009: Veijo Rönkkönen, who lived his entire life on a small, isolated farm in eastern Finland, built a garden inhabited by five hundred human and animal figures made of concrete.

Rönkkönen worked in a nearby pulp factory for 41 years. He lived in a small house in the middle of the garden, surrounded by his sculptures, which he had started making in the early 1960s.

Photographer and writer Veli Granö introduced the life and works of this self-made artist in his book Veijo Rönkkösen todellinen elämä / The real life of Veijo Rönkkönen (text in Finnish and English, Maahenki, 2007).

Contemporary folk art in Finland goes by the acronym ITE, from the words itse tehty elämä, ‘self-made life’. The French called it art brut; the English-language term is ‘outsider art’. The artists are ‘unschooled visionaries’ who make their art independent on any societal requirements or definitions.

The sculpture park became the most notable tourist attraction in Parikkala, visited by as many as 26,000 visitors every summer. Rönkkönen, however, refused to turn it into business. He never talked to visitors voluntarily either, but the park was open and free to all. He was awarded a state prize for artistic achievement, the Finland Prize, worth €30,000, in 2007, which he accepted.

Veijo Rönkkönen died last spring at the age of 66. The estate – Rönkkönen’s siblings, living elsewhere in Finland – offered the unique park to the county of Parikkala, which declined the offer because it’s upkeep was estimated to be too expensive.

In October businessman Reino Uusitalo bought the place for €140,000, with the intention of founding an administrative committee for the upkeep of the park. Rönkkönen’s extraordinary ‘total work of art’, will thus stay open – at least until nature –  lichen, moss, creepers – claims what it considers it own. 500 sculptures: a self-made man’s open-air art

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