Kaija Savinainen —A Brush with a Gifted Environmental Activist - theHumm February 2021
Kaija Savinainen —A Brush with a Gifted Environmental Activist - theHumm February 2021
By Sally Hansen
Art… and Soul
When theHumm first featured oil painter Kaija Savinainen Mountain (her married name) in 2007, she responded to my inevitable question as to why she created her art with this statement: “I have a terrible need to create. It chases me.” She has continued her race to the top of her creative powers, but she has raised the bar on her ambitions. Today her answer is: “Nature needs our respect and care more than ever these days, and I challenge us all to be mindful of this through my art.”
Savinainen’s powerful and glorious oil landscapes do that and more. They are a testament to her Finnish sisu — a concept she defines as a Finlander’s inner strength, tenacity and determination, something they rely on during times of difficulty. Kaija is Finnish at her roots and in her heart. She is determined to capture the essence — the basic, singular, and invariable nature — of each scene she paints.
Nature is her chosen subject, and she pursues its essence in each painting with her whole being. She has taught herself to look — how to see the soul of the scene before her. It bewilders her when she walks or runs or skis with others and her companions seem oblivious to the wonders that mesmerize her — the fantastic winter light, the colours in the snow, the stunning composition of the drooping sunflowers against the darkening sky… Savinainen has a special and carefully cultivated talent for portraying the essential being of her subjects, breathing life into what is usually perceived as inanimate.
In her blog she writes: “Less is more — had I forgotten that? No need to look for the grandeur and beauty when the small and insignificant is right under your nose. Yes, a good lesson in humbleness. Lesson learned that I had put into practice from my years of observing and painting horses. I paint the broken down, the aged, the ones who do not have perfect conformation. Artists such as Kathe Kollwitz, Franz Marc, Emily Carr to name a few, paint beyond the ‘surfaceness’ of a subject. They delve deeper to find its essence, the truth of what is. And so I painted these courageous little sunflowers.” Savinainen’s stunning paintings of this familiar subject showcase her ability to elevate the commonplace to the extraordinary.
Kaija paints in her studio at their country home at the edge of Almonte, where she lives with her supportive husband Jim, a variety of barnyard species, pets, and wildlife. Her ever-expanding gardens attract orioles, hummingbirds, butterflies and a constant stream of other grateful guests. Her love of horses is immediately apparent in her paintings. On her website at kaijasavinainen.com she writes: “…horses have been with me all my life. Caring for them and understanding their personalities has inspired my work no matter what the subject is.”
She tunes out the world with a background of classical music that stirs her emotions and focuses her attention. She frequently starts a painting by rendering a fast, spontaneous, intense sketch. She no longer uses black paint, preferring to create her own blacks, and recently began applying a reddish-orange gesso to her canvases before drawing in her basic shapes. Often her paintings are large.
Even her florals, celebrating her own lovingly tended plants that she describes as her “living palette,” can be four feet tall. To deliver the intensity of colour and the durability that her aesthetic and ethical standards dictate, she uses top-of-the-line oil paints. For years she forced herself to paint with her left hand to slow herself down and tap into the instinctive, subconscious, non-rational energies that supposedly emanate from the right brain.
Savinainen’s Finnish (Karelian) descent is central to her sense of herself and her art. Her grandfather had to flee to Sweden with his family just after WW2. He was wanted by Stalin for his resistance and espionage for Finland when Russia tried to take over this small resilient country. Her family moved to Canada when she was twelve years old, and she spent her adolescent years as a new immigrant in Thunder Bay. Art became her specialty and mainstay as she adapted to her new environment — so much so that she garnered the President’s Gold Medal as top student when she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Lethbridge. After her move to the Ottawa Valley in the late 1980s, she completed a B.Ed. at the University of Ottawa and has taught art and art history to students of all ages.
She credits a life marked by geographic displacement as the origin of her strong connectedness to nature. “Being uprooted, I so very much value what surrounds me. From these feelings, I am driven to make art that reflects the layers of nature, and the spirit of the places I am immersed into.” In 2016 Kaija visited her daughter Lara in Yellowknife and participated in the 50K Frostbite Ski Race, racing the last half on her own. The experience stays with her and illuminates her mesmerizing winter scenes. She spoke to me of the northern light, the crispness of the air, the connection to Finland: “bloody cold, but nobody complains because of the raw, intense beauty.”
In 2017 a trip back to Finland with Lara revitalized her connection to her roots. Savinainen is a founding member of the Valley’s prestigious The Ten Collective, and on her blog of Dec. 29, 2019, at thetencollective.com , she introduces the body of Finnish art that so influenced Canada’s revered Group of Seven artists. She writes: “The winter landscapes from the turn of the last century painted by Eero Järnefelt moved me deeply. The colours, shapes, forms describing a rugged land was another revelation.” Other paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kalella and Pekka Halonen leave no doubt that Canadian landscape art owes a debt to their Nordic sensibilities. Somehow Kaija manages to both honour and extend these rich artistic inheritances with her energetic, exuberant interpretations of our Canadian Nature.
Like the eponymous activist in The Lorax (Dr. Seuss’s favourite among his 60+ books), Savinainen speaks for the environment. Her recent reconnections with ancestral origins in Sweden and Finland, and visits to previous lives in Lake Superior country and the Northwest Territories, have “reinforced my drive to show nature’s vulnerability, her beauty, her complexities and subtleties through my paintings.” She succeeds admirably in adding her powerful artistic voice to the Lorax’s plea: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
By Sally Hansen
Art… and Soul
When theHumm first featured oil painter Kaija Savinainen Mountain (her married name) in 2007, she responded to my inevitable question as to why she created her art with this statement: “I have a terrible need to create. It chases me.” She has continued her race to the top of her creative powers, but she has raised the bar on her ambitions. Today her answer is: “Nature needs our respect and care more than ever these days, and I challenge us all to be mindful of......
In the December issue of theHumm we issued an “invitation to write” by the name of Winterwords — asking readers to contribute up to 1000 words on the theme of “Back to Better in the Valley” and to contact us if they were interested in facilitating a writing workshop of some kind. The response has been warm and wonderful, and we are delighted to launch the 2021 Winterwords schedule of online events. All are free (or by donation to facilitators), and there is room for additional workshops should mo......
Artistic Excellence in our Area - theHumm February 2021
By Miss Cellaneous
Mary Pfaff: Companions
From February 17 to March 26, Sivarulrasa Gallery in Almonte is pleased to present Mary Pfaff: Companions, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Almonte-based artist Mary Pfaff. The Gallery is thrilled that this exhibition will include, in addition to new smaller works, four new 60-inch canvasses entitled Beyond, Home, Uncertainty, and Conversing with the Trees.
Mary Pfaff earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts (with distinction) fro......
Build a Birdhouse! - theHumm February 2021
By Glenda Jones
The birdhouse auction in support of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists is only three months away, and crafters are scouring their treasures for the makings of a unique creation to tempt bidders. While a classic wooden house will suffice, a dwelling that once was a watering can or a toy could up the interest. Turn children loose with a box of odds and ends, and their imaginations are limitless. An old key will become a perch; an assortment of bottle caps will become shingles; a milk carton will......
By Kris Riendeau
Just before Christmas, I picked up a copy of Vickie Walsh’s Guide to Hiking Trails in Ottawa and Region. As I perused the pages and learned about many trails with which I had not yet become acquainted, it occurred to me that Vickie’s insights would be a wonderful addition to theHumm. Imagine my delight when she responded to my enquiry to say that she had just moved to Almonte and was interested in collaborating! Her background is varied and fascinating, and her dedication to promoti......
By Emily Pearlman
“I am inspired by empowered young people coming to realize our place in the world as the last generation to challenge Climate Change and environmental injustices,” says Ahlena Sultana-McGarry, one of the facilitators of Climate Network Lanark’s Youth for Climate Action group. She speaks with a quiet confidence which seems the right note to strike with the twelve young people from across Lanark who recently assembled as strangers for the group’s first meeting.
Sultana-McGarry, a graduate in Cro......
By Susie Osler
I ride a friend’s beautiful big black horse Izzy out into the fields on a farm east of Perth. It is a gloriously eerie afternoon in late November. A wet snow has fallen on not-yet-frozen ground and now a thick, vaporous veil of fog has gathered over the land.
Izzy is a game companion and I anticipate the adventure we have ahead of us. When the curtain of fog closes around us, separating us from buildings and barns, suddenly I am transported into the pages of childhood books — a girl on a pony, ve......
Finding Joy in Lockdown - theHumm February 2021
By Sarah Kerr
I had a bit of the “blue Monday” feels as I sat down to write this month’s Little Humm column. But the whole point of this column is to add some joy and encouragement to all my parenting peeps in the Valley. So in an effort to find inspiration for February, which is currently forecasting a continued lockdown and possibly a polar vortex, I decided to survey the kids of the Ottawa Valley to see how they think we should handle this situation. And it turns out, they’re not as upset about lockdown in wint......
Back to Better in the Valley - theHumm February 2021
By Jeanne d’Arc Labelle
Jeanne d’Arc Labelle sent in this thoughtful note and hopeful poem in response to our Winterwords invitation to write. She says: “I see the turbulence of the pandemic posturing on the unknown, all the while… its isolation being spun into hope, and gratefulness; and in small and big ways, all around me. I wondered, could such a context be captured in ‘Tritina Poetry’? Tritina poetry is choosing three words (1,2,3), to be used in rotation, at the end of three sentences, using ......
Dear Little One - theHumm February 2021
By Jaaron Hamilton
Jaaron Hamilton sent in this letter to her young son (as well as the photo) as her contribution to theHumm’s Winterwords invitation to write:
By the time that you’ll be reading this, all of this will be a distant memory. Maybe you’ll be reading about it in your history textbook, or watching a documentary about it on Netflix. In any case, there is one thing that is absolutely certain: this was not the year that we imagined. I don’t know what we expected, but this definitely wasn’t it.......
By Nick McCabe
Nick McCabe sent in this gently insightful contribution to theHumm’s Winterwords invitation to write. Artist Catherine Orfald allowed us to use her painting Ontario Farm Remains to accompany it.
This past summer, while tying up our tomatoes in the garden for what felt like the 100th time, my wife noticed our son Theo, in flight, speeding past the garden with a rusted-old-broken-thingamajig in hand toward the woodshed. She, boldly, remarked as to whether he had gotten around to co......
We and Covid - theHumm February 2021
By Frank Hirst
Frank Hirst is the author of A View from the Forest — a non-fiction collection of stories about his life. Born in England in 1939, Frank came to the Ottawa Valley in 1948. He taught for two years each in Ottawa, Northern Ontario and Dawson City, spent four years at Queen’s and retired from high school teaching in 1990, returning to his farm. Frank lived off the land for the most part in the Ottawa Valley, in a log cabin he built in the bush with his wife and kids. Frank’s adventures, captur......
By Jill McCubbin
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Or as my son said: “We are blessed to live in these times and we are cursed to live in these times.”
And so, in these times, libraries have ......
What is a Certified Feline Master Groomer and how can one help you and your cat? For Cassandra Prince, co-owner of The Cat’s Meow, the answer is multifold. Regular cat grooming can help owners wh......
Feb 17 - Mar 26 Exhibition: Mary Pfaff's paintings
Mar 10 - Apr 16 Exhibition: Jim Hake's Sculptures
- Kaija Savinainen —A Brush with a Gifted Environmental Activist
- Interested in Writing? Check Out Winterwords Online Events!
- Artistic Excellence in our Area
- Build a Birdhouse!
- Happy Hiking: an Interview with Vickie Walsh
- The Last Generation: to Act on Climate Change
- Hedgerow (where the domestic and the wild mix and mingle)
- Finding Joy in Lockdown
- Back to Better in the Valley
- Dear Little One