Self-made life

2 April 2011 | This 'n' that

Art & nature: one of Veijo Rönkkönen's sculptures. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

You may perhaps remember an article entitled Self-made man, published on these pages in 2009: the sculptor Veijo Rönkkönen lived on a small, isolated farm in Parikkala, eastern Finland, where he spent his spare time building a garden of five hundred figures of concrete.

He lived in a cottage in the middle of his garden. Rönkkönen died a year ago, at the age of 66, and the future of his park, open and free to all, was unsolved for a while, as the Parikkala authorities were not willing to foot the bill for the upkeep the place –  despite the fact that more than 25,000 people visit the park each year.

Now, the problem of the upkeep of the statue park, a ‘total work of art’, has been solved, as a businessman has bought the garden from Rönkkönen’s estate. and a number of  institutions and individuals, among them friends of art and voluntary workers, have pledged keep the park open to visitors.

Yoga bare: Veijo Rönkkönen himself practised yoga. Photo: Soila Lehtonen

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 (Maahenki, 2007). Contemporary folk art goes by the acronym ITE, from the words itse tehty elämä, ‘self-made life’. The English-language term is ‘outsider art’.

The future of Rönkkönen’s cottage is undecided: it may become a park-keeper’s residence, or be used as an artist’s residence. Around it, the extraordinary legacy of this self-made artist – hundreds of statues, human and animal figures – will keep growing lichen and moss, ageing naturally.


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