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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wäinö Aaltonen

Musica, 1926, Waino Aaltonen. The surface-treated metal
plating is in gold over the original carving of teakwood.
I have written from time to time about handicapped artists. I don't do so very often because in many cases, neither the artists nor their art would stand apart from that of their peers were they not handicapped. As much as they might be admired for overcoming some type of physical disability in producing their art, simply highlighting them because of their disability seems to me to be demeaning. Their are exceptions of course. Chuck Close comes to mind; but then his disability came well after he had been a longtime successful artists. Today I came upon a very similar artist who was notable not because of his physical handicap, but in spite of it. He has long been listed as the most important sculptor in the early years of Finland's independence. He died in 1966. His name was Waino Aaltonen.
If you have no teacher, teach yourself.
Born in 1894, at some point in his early childhood, Waino Aaltonen became deaf. I know, a loss of hearing, as compared to other senses or disabilities does not sound all that severe. However in the case of Aaltonen, he decided to become an artist because of his deafness. As a result, the young boy became interested in art. He attended the School of Drawing of the Turku Art Association from the age of sixteen.

Kulosaari, 1948, Waino Aaltonen
Aaltonen spent many of the early years at this school studying painting before deciding he really wanted to be a sculptor. Kulosaari (above) was painted decades later in 1948, but gives us a peak at the artist's early talent as a painter. Aaltonen was mainly self-taught as a sculptor. He learned to carve marble from his relative, Aarre Aaltonen, and later by working as a trainee stone mason in Hirvensalo. Sculptor, Felix Nylund, was a substitute teacher in the art school in Turku for just one semester, but his work was inspiration enough for the young would-be sculptor.

Finland's Parliament is a virtual art museum showcasing
the art of important Finnish artists including that of Aaltonen.
Turun Liljaa,
Wäinö Aaltonen
During the 1920s, Aaltonen went to Italy, which opened his eyes to Cubism and Futurist art. These elements can primarily be seen in his paintings. Later in life, when his career in sculpture began to blossom, Aaltonen made several public sculptures of great national value, including the figures in the House of Parliament during the 1930's (above). The cityscape of Turku is embel-lished with a total of eleven outdoor sculp-tures by the artist. In Runeberg Park stands Turun Lilja (Lily of Turku, right). Below is Paavo Nurmen Patsas (Statue of Paavo Nurmi). Aaltonen was a romantic artist whose paintings and sculptures often were of idea-lized nature and included Cubist features. His portrait pro-duction clearly shows the respect he had for the personalities of the people who modelled for him (above, left).

Aaltonen's bronze statue of Finland's Olympic runner,
Paavo Nurmi, is probably his most famous piece.

Jakuten,  1932, Waino Aaltonen
With the rise of the Republic of Finland, and the First World War, Aaltonen sculpted War Memorials. He soon became a nationalist icon, the exemplar Finn, establishing an exhibition in Stockholm in 1927. His nationalistic sculpture is noted for monumental figures and busts portraying citizens of Finland. The Paavo Nurmi sculpture is just one of many such figures. Besides being noted as a deaf sculptor and national treasure Aaltonen was married four times. His first wife was singer Aino Alisa Pietikäinen from 1920. His second wife was actress Elsa Emilia Ranta-lainen whom he married in 1931. Then in 1942, Aaltonen married wife number three, the owner of Galerie Artek, Elvi Elisabet Hernell. It was a short mar-riage. That same year, he took a fourth wife, a medical doctor, named Marie Elisabeth Maasik from year 1961.
 His son Matti Aaltonen became an architect, who designed the Wäinö Aaltonen museum in Turku, dedicated to preserving his father's paintings and sculptures, both large and small, but also his extensive collection of books, numbering more than 8,000.

Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, Turku, Finland.
Established in 1967, the museum's collection consists of contemporary Finnish art as well as Wäinö Aaltonen's sculptures, paintings, graphics, and drawings. The museum is also responsible for the general art collection of the City of Turku. Wäinö Aaltonen collected an extensive library of approximately 8000 volumes. Besides art, the committed bibliophile was interested in Finnish and foreign fiction and non-fiction. The oldest book of the library is a doctoral thesis from the 16th century, which says much of the uniqueness of the collection and the artist himself.

Waino Aaltonen died in May, 1966.

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