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Finn Art x2: Helen Leppanen Rogak and Oliver Koski

Finn Art x2: Helen Leppanen Rogak & Oliver Koski, an exhibit of artwork by two Finnish-American artists is featured at the Finlandia University Gallery from June 4 through July 17, 2015.

A reception for the artists will take place at the gallery on Thursday, June 4, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., with an artist talk beginning at 7:15 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

A passion for creating lies at the core of these two Finnish American artists, each working countless hours perfecting their craft. Together, their artwork represents both the historical charm of smalltown life and the beauty of nature so familiar to the residents of the Upper Peninsula.

Meet Helen Leppanen Rogak

Helen Leppanen Rogak, born in Ironwood Township, Michigan has lived in North Saanich, British Columbia, Canada for the past 47 years. Rogak regularly returns to the Upper Peninsula for inspiration, ultimately creating this series of paintings featuring the historic buildings in the Ironwood area.

“The Ironwood paintings were inspired by a walk around downtown Ironwood on the Fourth of July, 2013 with my niece and her husband,” says Rogak. “The town was deserted (most people in the area travel to nearby Bessemer for the parade and fireworks). It was a beautiful evening, the bright sky, the long shadows. I was looking for a new series, and there it was. I love the fact that the place was so empty - no parked cars, no pedestrians.”

Rogak’s youth in Ironwood was formative.

“We lived in a small house built by my father," said Rogak, who had three younger brothers. "We had a cow, which my mother milked, chickens for eggs and meat, a large vegetable garden, a pasture with stumps, a potato field and a sauna.”

She grew up surrounded by family and developed her interest in art at a young age, thanks in part to the encouragement of a high school art teacher. She attended the University of Michigan, received a Bachelor of Art Education, and worked for a time as a medical illustrator.

Painting and drawing had been an important part of her life journey.

“I find that the longer I have been painting the more roads to follow there are, and that is what it is always about, exploring new territory,” notes Rogak.

Her work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Victoria and Calgary, and is in many private and governmental collections across Canada, the United States and Europe.

Meet Oliver Koski

Oliver Koski, a retired engineer who worked for General Motors Corporation in manufacturing, design and engineering, began woodcarving in 1990. He has since created hundreds of sculptures of birds, waterfowl and fish.

“My interest in decoy carving began with my visit to a woodcarving show and exhibit in the 1980s,” notes Koski. “This show served as an introduction to decoy art for me. I was hooked, and I proceeded to purchase a supply of material, a set of carving tools and some duck patterns.”

Koski started by carving miniature ducks, but soon moved on to full-sized carvings and as his skills improved he took on more challenging projects. He now carves primarily in basswood, a soft fine-grained wood that is easy to carve and acrylic paint.

“I am fascinated with the variety of wildfowl, fish and songbirds available in nature to serve as subjects to recreate in decoy form,” says Koski. “Each carving is a personal challenge to improve all aspects of my work. I plan to continue with this art form as I enjoy it very much and hopefully improve my carving in the future.”

His work has been featured at the “Scandinavian Bazaar” held in the Finnish Cultural Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. His work has also received many awards at the Clare County Fair in Harrison, Michigan.

Finn Art x2: Helen Leppanen Rogak and Oliver Koski will be on display June 4 through July 17, 2015.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy St., downtown Hancock. For more information, contact the Finlandia University Gallery at 906-487-7500.

More Example Artwork

  • Top Photo: Oliver Koski, Loon, Decoy Carving

  • Oliver Koski, Blue Gill, Decoy Carving

  • Helen Leppanen Rogak, Ironwood Theatre Complex, 40’ x 60" Oil on canvas, 2014

  • Helen Leppanen Rogak, Hollywood Grill, Hurley, Wisconsin, 48” x 42”, Oil on canvas, 2014.