September 01, 2023

Esa Pajuhlahti, Luvattu maa / The promised land

all photos by Juho Haavisto, published here in accordance
with Maaseudun Sivistysliitto (Rural Cultural Association)

In an outlying area with a lot of forest and heathland in the municipality of Padasjoki in southern Finland (about 2700 inhabitants, early 2023), an art environment has emerged in the past decade. The site is known as the Promised Land, a referral to Adam and Eve's Paradise.

Life and works

This art environment is a creation of Esa Pajuhlahti, born in 1949, who became a carpenter by profession.

Remarkable records of his years as a carpenter are  that he twice walked the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and that he is said to have read all of the Old Testament of the Bible, which may indicate a more than usual religious deepening.

This is further emphasized by the fact that the art environment he created, comprises three churches or chapels.

Esa Pajulahti on the veranda of his summer house on the site
in the front of him there is a well 

In 2008, about six years before he retired around 2014, Pajuhlahti started the construction of the promised land, currently a collection of about twenty structures in the landscape area Päijät Häme-metsä outside the center of Padasjoki. 

One of those structures is Pajulahti's summer house, depicted above, which also has a sauna. The site includes a variety of scenes with skillfully executed constructions, depicting biblical items or political situations. This article details some of the site's features, particularly those that are covered in more detail in the available documentation.

The chapel on the hill


Pajulahti's religious feelings are expressed in the three chapels that are situated in this art environment. 

The image above left gives an impression of the chapel on a hill just outside the site. The gabled roof of the chapel is equipped with a small bell tower. 

The unpainted wooden interior is beautiful to look at and has some decorations, including reminders of the two pilgrimages Pajulahti made to Santiago de Compostela.

The saloon

The saloon as shown above is based on the concept that exists in the United States of places where people come to have a drink and/or something to eat. 

In the image above we see a musician behind a piano playing some melody and in the back at the bar some visitors are talking to each other. 

The way of depicting the people in the saloon in particular is fairly realistic, such as the posture of the pianist and the depiction of the two ladies with red shoes.

Adam and Eve in the Paradise

The image above depicts sculptures of a man and a woman amidst a very large tree stump, which could represent Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat the fruit of this tree and when they did, they were expelled from the paradise.

The tree has a luxuriant set of roots through which two snakes wriggle and on top is a very large apple, from which a bite has been taken.

Two bears carrying a stretcher

The image above depicts two bears carrying a stretcher on which lies an apparently injured stork. 

This scene is a paraphrase on a painting made in 1903 by Hugo Simberg (1873-1917), a well-known painter in Finland. In that painting he depicts a wounded angel being carried on a stretcher by two men. A copy of this painting hangs at the rear of the scene with the two bears.

In a 2006 vote organized by a Finnish museum, this painting was chosen as Finland's national painting. In a similar poll organized in 2013 by a Finnish company that sells medals and coins to collectors, the painting was chosen as the second most important.

There is no documentation available that says why Pajulahti depicted the scene in Simberg's painting in his art environment in his own way.

A referral to COVID-19 in 2020

In the last months of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns in most countries,
Pajulahti made the creation as pictured above.

The curved piece of wood at the bottom reads: Forest opera Covid-19 sisters.This description of what is depicted may mean that this is a chorus of nurses, singing during a lockdown. The members of the choir wear mouth masks above their wide open mouths and it seems that they loudly express their bewilderment at what's going on.

The Square of Heavenly Peace 

The last scene of the art environment Promised Land is the Square of Heavenly Peace, a place in the middle of several structures, that raises some aspects of contemporary international politics.

In the scene above we see the White House in the USA. Former president Trump stands in the middle. On the left is a group of Mexicans behind a wall and on the right there are representatives of the United Nations. 

In the next scene there is a cabin indicated with the abbreviation DPRK, which stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

In front of the counter is a red and blue colored rocket with the inscription peacemaker, behind the counter is at the right a uniformed person referred to as General Kim-pong-pan, at the left is Mr Universum Kim Jong-un and the clock in the middle is at five to twelve..... 

To conclude

In her article about the site referred to in the documentation, Paula Susitaival very well summarizes what Pajulahti's creations are all about, when she says: they are carnivalised expressions of the absurdities of the modern world, but beneath the surface there is deep concern about the environment and the world's future.

* Article by Paula Susitaival on the website ITE-art of Maaseudun Sivistysliiton (MSL),with a series of photos
* Entry (October 2020) on the Facebook account of ITE Hämeessä

Esa Pajulahti
Promised land
Romontie 25, Padasjoki
Padasjoki, Päijät-Häme, region Southern Finland, Finland
visitors welcome

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