FinnFest art project focuses on saunas

MARQUETTE – People from across the Upper Peninsula are banding together this summer to help create a community art project dedicated to a long-standing Finnish tradition – the sauna.

“The Sauna: Fantastical to Practical” is the name of the project, which is being coordinated by Hancock artist Mary Wright. It will feature the hand-built saunas during FinnFest USA 2013, which takes place in the Copper Country from June 19 through 23.

FinnFest, which is held in a different location each year, is an annual celebration of Finnish heritage. The celebration offers its participants a variety of lectures, workshops, panel discussions and exhibits, all of which revolve around Finnish culture. The festival will also include a tori, or market, of Finnish goods as well as concerts for people to attend.

Wright, who has organized a number of community projects throughout the Upper Peninsula, said she chose saunas for FinnFest’s community art project because of its deep history in Finnish culture.

“The custom is really strong,” Wright said. “When people came from Finland, they often built a sauna and lived there, the first building, because purification through the sweating of steam was crucial. Women gave birth in saunas, bodies were prepared for burial in saunas. It’s really from, shall we say, the beginning of life to the end of life. Saunas are absolutely an essential tradition in Finland.”

An example of a small sauna, built by Minnesota Mel Seeger of Bergland, is on display outside the Children’s Museum on Baraga Avenue in Marquette. It will be there for several weeks before being transported to Hancock for FinnFest.

Wright said she is still looking for volunteers to build saunas for the project. Saunas built from recycled materials or old, salvaged saunas are encouraged. Anyone interested in building a sauna can contact Wright at 361-5548.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.