The Sculpture Park and Garden of Veijo Rönkkönen
Nestled in remote Eastern Finland in Parikkala, near the Russian border, is a delight that spans history and culture. As you make your way down the driveway, you are greeted by figures flanking the road, an array of statues that have been likened to the cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” record, a frozen carnival that flourishes in the greenery of summer and stands tall in the cold, Finnish winters. Like many outdoor sculptures constructed in cold, seasonal climates, these are largely painted concrete, occasionally decked with embellishments. Painting the concrete helps to protect it from the elements.
Veijo Rönkkönen (1944- 2010) was 16 years old when he began a job as a press worker in a paper mill in Parikkala, a job he held for 41 years. With his first pay check, he purchased ten apple tree seedlings and a bag of concrete—the beginnings of an extensive sculpture park and garden he would build around his family home. He was known to be guarded in his younger years as he began his sculptural endeavor. After he completed his first statue in 1961 and the years wore on, his reputation as a hermit persisted even as his reserve dropped away to reveal and warm and humorous personality. This friendly demeanor is reflected in most, if not all, of his statues. As visual and performance artist and art critic Erkki Pirtola noted in Itse Tehty Elamam “Each figure has the same supernatural smile, enhanced by real false teeth, which also make the smile all the more biting.” This smile is seen in the parade of children led by a proud drummer boy, in the choir of Greek youths, and in the figures that inhabit the garden, reflecting archetypes of ethnic characteristics and exotic cultures.
In a move right out of Dorian Grey, Rönkkönen is perhaps known best for what he calls his “monument for the memory of is young body.” In the park of nearly 500 works, 255 are self-portrait-like characters in different yoga positions— each on the quest for unity and correct form. Some now gather moss in an act of ultimate meditation and dedication amidst torturing asanas. Far from Nek Chand’s yoga-familiar Rock Garden of Chandigarh in India, this ode from a self-taught yogi in Finland is surprising and unexpected. Considered to be the spiritual center of Rönkkönen’s endeavor, it certainly is a stunning climax.
On the occasions when he had been asked to show his work beyond the park, Veijo Rönkkönen always insisted to ask the statues first; however, they apparently never wanted to travel. The plan he shared before his death was to bury the park in sand and leave it in silence for one thousand years, like the terra-cotta armies of China. After he passed in 2010, his family, in an unusually amiable and constructive move, realized the importance of securing and saving the park’s work and future. Rather than covering it all in sand, the park was purchased by Finnish businessman and art lover Reijo Uusitalo in collaboration with Finland’s ITE Art Association, and is being protected and preserved for future generations.
See more here: Veijo Rönkkönen