August 05, 2022

Erkki Känkänen, Muistojen puisto / Park of Memories

except the picture of the church in Muolaa, all images are 
published here in accordance with Juho Haavisto, Association 
for Rural Culture and Education

The art environment Park of Memories, located in the south of Finland, includes numerous scenes that evoke memories of the time when the Karelian Peninsula was still part of Finland and of the experiences of all those people who lived there and had to evacuate because of the wars that started at the end of 1939.

Above pictured decorated wall, for example, refers to a war waging from 1939-1940, in Finland called the Winter War. It started at the end of November 1939, when Russia wanted to conquer the Karelian Peninsula, located in south-western Finland, bordering Russia. In March 1940 the combat actions ended in an armistice. 

However, on June 22, 1941, Germany launched an attack on the Soviet Union, which also led to Finland's war with Russia continuing on June 25, 1941, the so-called Continuation War. This war ended in a ceasefire in September 1944.

Peace negotiations started that resulted in a treaty in 1944, in which Finland had to cede large parts of its territory in he Karelian Peninsula to Russia and 440,000 Finns had to leave their homes.

Life and works

Among them was 16-year-old Erkki Känkänen (25-7-1927/7-7-2022), born in and living with his parents in Muolaa, a former Finnish municipality on the Karelian Peninsula in South Karelia. It was the second time the family was evacuated, because already in the 1930s, when the threat of war had increased, the Finnish government had ordered them to leave their residence.

After the first armistice in March 1940 the family, like many other.inhabitants, returned to Muolaa with the intention of resuming their former life and repairing the damage.Times were tough because of the Continuation War, with food shortages and rationing.The plan to restore the church of Muolaa, which was completely destroyed during the Winter War, came to nothing. 

In 1944 the inhabitants of Muolaa definitively had to leave their home and start a new life elsewhere in Finland. They first stayed in Sääksmäki, a village in Western Finland, but in 1948 moved to Forssa

the church in Muolaa before the Winter War
picture licensed under Wikimedia Commons

So it happened that in Forssa, a town of currently some 16.500 inhabitants in the Kanta-Häme region in the south of Finland, some 960 residents of Muolaa, the Känkänen family included, ended up and formed a close-knit community, currently still referred to as Pikku Muolaa (Small Muolaa).

In Forssa, the young Erkki Känkänen developed into a successful vegetable farmer. who introduced modern technology, such as cold stores. The farm was initially run by Känkänen and his wife Hilkka, also from Muolaa,  then his son Jari and his wife were in charge and now (2022) the third generation is at the head, Jari's son Essamati.

Känkänen was actively involved in the development of the local society, especially with regard to the position of the Karelian community

He was a member of Forssa's city council for 16 years, supported and did a lot of work for candidates for parliamentary elections and was active in the Karelian community, collecting stories and books about earlier times in Karelia.

In 1964 Känkänen was asked to organize a nationwide competition of a traditional Karelian outdoor game in the sphere of skittles (a game called kyykka), which would take place for more than 50 years.

From 1973, he was closely involved with Forssa's local Museum, which set up a particular space dedicated to Muolaa, including a large portion of rescued artifacts from Muoola's ruined church.

And then, in the early 1990s, when he was in his mid sixties, Känkänen decided to create a memory park in relation with his early years in Muolaa and the history and culture of Karelia.

Creating an art environment

Känkänen created his Park of Memories, an art environment full of artistic creations, emotion and information, on the site of his summer residence named Rajaranta, located in the community of Salkola near the Lake Salkolanjärvi, some 28 km south-west of Forssa in the Varsinais-Suomi region.

The images at the beginning of this article show a number of bungalow-style buildings. 

The art environment includes six of these structures, which were common in the Karelia of Känkänen's childhood. They are richly decorated with colorful scenes, offering a reminder of the former living environment to residents who had to evacuate.

replica of the former church in Muolaa

Among the first buildings Erkki Känkänen made for the memorial park is the iconic miniature version of the church in Muolaa, built from 1849-1852 and completely destroyed in the Winter War.

When constructing this replica, a project that took a year and a half, Känkänen flawlessly respected the proportions of the original. 

Twenty people can enter the replica of the church a the same time. Inside they can view photos of the ruins of the original church and other documentation, such as the sermons of Toivo Rapeli, the preacher attached to the church during Finland's war with Russia.

The images above and below show a horse and carriage in a stable. This ensemble symbolizes the journey the evacuees had to undertake, leaving their home and living environment behind, on their way to an uncertain future.

In the photo above there is also a kind of signpost on the right, indicating the distance from the site to towns and villages that were involved in the war in one way or another, such as the distance to Muolaa which is 371 km.

The horse pulling the wagon, as depicted above, was made by Kankänen himself and has a very realistic impression, which fits well with this scene depicting the journey of the evacuees.

This applies just as much to the person on the box, above left, who steers the horse and it certainly applies to the little luggage that could be carried, as in the image above right 

The red colored character in the image above is  a stylized Karelian cuckoo. 

Protected by an open wood and glass enclosure, the bird bears the coats of arms of all the municipalities that were part of Karelia ceded to Russia. It was quite a quest to find all those coats of arms, Känkänen is reported to have said.

The above image in all probability represents a memory of the Karelian lake Äyräpäänjärvi, because of the many birds that almost completely fill the sky above the lake. There are also numerous fish, swans and other animals present.

The lake, known for its rich bird life, borders the community of Muolaa where Känkänen was born.


Above picture portrays Känkänen seated on a bench in his Memory Park during in open day in July 2020.

Erkki Känkänen passed away on July 7, 2022, at age 94.


* Article by Paula Susitaval, with images by Juho Haavisto. on the website ITE-art in memory of Erkki Känkänen
Article (November 2009) on the page of Finnish broadcasting company Yle about Känkänen's first visit to his former home in Karelia
* Article (July 2022) on the Facebook-page of ITE-taide in memory of Erkki Känkänen
* Article (July 2020) on the Facebook-page of ITE-taide about an open day in July 2020 at the Memory Park, with a large series of pictures 
* Website Vihannestila Känkänen Oy of the vegetable farming business of the Känkänen family
Article by Eeva Suojanan (July 2007) in newspaper Turum Sanomat
Känkänen has written several books, mostly related to Karelia, such as: Karelianism the source of strength (2011), but also about his art environment: Rajaranta is the Karelia of Memories (2012)

Erkki Känkänen
Park of Memories
Salkola, region Varsinais-Suomi, Finland
pending further notice about opening after Känkänen's death

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