From Finland to Fort Bragg

Artist: Lauren Sinnott

The new history mural by Lauren Sinnott illustrates the rich heritage of the many Finnish immigrants to this coastal northern California town.

The mural contains portraits of real people, past and present, and images of the functional and often beautiful structures built by the Finnish families to house their activities and make it easy to get work done and have fun.

For example, the Finns built a huge hall (7,500 sq. ft.) in order to put on concerts, throw parties, present lectures and stage plays. Its name was Toveri Tupa, or Comrades’ Hall. But tupa translates as “cottage” so it meant something more like the Comrades’ cozy living room. After all, nobody had an actual living room that could receive several hundred guests.

The Finns were the biggest immigrant group coming to and creating Fort Bragg. There was a large “Finn Town” in the eastern part of the city, as well as settlements on Pudding Creek, Tunnel Hill, and Noyo Hill. Also in Comptche, a bit farther away. These communities built their own halls and schools, often reached by crossing a walking bridge suspended over rivers.

Immigrants from Finland during the late 1800s and early 1900s formed the largest national group to create the bustling town of Fort Bragg on the northern California coast. The Finns valued cooperation, equality, and a state of mind called sisu, meaning personal determination in the face of adversity. They worked together for the common good and brought the cleansing sauna, which turns bathing into a party!The new history mural by Lauren Sinnott illustrates this rich heritage. Located downtown, it was sponsored by the City of Fort Bragg and local dentist/art patron Alan Limbird.

Lauren found her true calling as she painted the block-long narrative history mural in Ukiah: telling the story of a place through a tapestry of real events and portraits of local people.

Lauren Sinnott is an artist, historian, seamstress and former Mayor. Her route to this part of California where populations are dwarfed by the ridged landscape and pounding ocean, led first through Europe and Texas. Lauren was raised in Wisconsin’s dairyland by a working artist mother and poet father. She spent her senior year as an AFS exchange student in Belgium, speaking only French and discovering the art of conversation, four-hundred year old houses, good coffee and great beer. At Rice University in happily hot Houston, she earned a BA in Art and French, a BFA in painting, and an MA in Art History.

In 1999 Lauren and her two young sons left city life, heading west in a school bus outfitted with beds and a wood stove. They lived in the bus on a south coast ridge for a year. After moving into Point Arena, Lauren paid her new mortgage with jobs ranging from business signs to ornate murals, from tombstone design to painting a high school mascot on the basketball court floor. She sewed a life-size torso with female reproductive parts for a doctor and created the Velvet Vulva line of purses for feminists, therapists and brides. She painted curbs and hemmed pants. Her career crown jewel is the huge historical narrative mural on the north wall of the Ukiah Valley Conference Center. It is a public work for everyone and about everyone. The mural contains over two-hundred portraits, and tells many stories past and present. Lauren’s style combines realism with decorative pattern, portraiture with symbolism and inscription, subtle color with giant curlicues!

Lauren’s new mural is called “From Finland to Fort Bragg” and continues her love of detailed historical illustration as a way to honor the subject and keep memory alive.See much more at www.historymural.comSee Lauren’s job site updates on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/lauren.sinnott.16and Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/laurenartgoddess/   and see  www.artgoddess.com for other elements of her creative work.

When your studio/living room is a downtown sidewalk, you meet people and hear about their lives. They bring you scones and sushi. You paint and ask questions and listen. The planned subject matter for an ambitious depiction of history starting before human habitation and marching into the future grows even bigger and very much better. The project is now a collaboration, not of brushwork, but of content. To all this, Lauren brings her life-drawing skill, knowledge of art history, symbolism and delight in pattern. Alan Limbird saw the Ukiah mural in progress and said, “Come do your next one in Fort Bragg! I have just the building.”

Contemplating what part of Fort Bragg history to paint, Lauren sought something inspirational and neglected. What was an important story that deserved a new spotlight? She read a mention of the early Consumer Co-operative being founded by immigrants from Finland. Further research revealed how many Finnish immigrants had come here, bringing strong traditions of equality and cooperation in the service of building a self-sufficient community. The mural concept started to take shape!.

  • IMAGE 10 of the wall from the left, in progress
BuildingsThe mural is populated by the functional and often beautiful structures the Finns built to house their activities and have fun.
  • IMAGE 11 Toveri Tupa MASTER
  • IMAGE 12 Toveri Tupa front
For example, they constructed a huge hall (7,500 sq. ft.) in order to put on concerts, throw parties, present lectures and stage plays. Its name was Toveri Tupa, or Comrades’ Hall. But tupa translates as “cottage” so it meant something more like the Comrades’ cozy living room. After all, nobody had an actual living room that could receive several hundred guests.
  • IMAGE 13 Temperance Society/Kalevala Hall in the mural
  • IMAGE 14 Photo of Temperance Society in front of their hall
The Finnish Temperance Society built a hall at 430 Redwood Avenue in 1895. They put on concerts, staged plays, presented poetry and prose recitations, and had a library/reading room. The Society also established a boarding house for laborers who wanted something other than a life of extreme manual labor in the timber industry during the day and getting drunk in a saloon at night.
  • IMAGE 15 David Maki showing the Fort Bragg Kalevala Brotherhood charter of 1897
  • IMAGE 16 Kalevala Hall – closer detail

The Finnish Kalevala lodges were formed to enhance community cohesion and prosperity and to keep Finnish culture alive. The Kalevala Brotherhood and Sisterhood were chartered in Fort Bragg in 1897 and 1898. They bought the hall in 1920.

The Fort Bragg Cooperative store started in 1923.

  • IMAGE 17 Consumer Co-op in the mural
Its original ten board members were mostly Finnish workers and meeting minutes were recorded in Finnish well into the 1940s. But the store was open to the public and welcomed everyone in the community to join. It was a full service grocery, butcher, bakery, grain, feed, hay and hardware operation, and ran until 1974.
  • IMAGE 18 photo of the Co-op c. 1940
  • IMAGE 19 detail of the Co-op in the mural

There was a wave of cooperatives being established around 1900 across California and the nation. Associations of co-ops formed to gain strength in numbers. But excessively rapid growth led much of the network to crumble, and most co-ops were closed during the 1920s. By the time the US economy crashed in 1929, there were only 5 co-ops left in California, and Fort Bragg’s was one of them!

The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church was constructed by Finnish immigrants in 1889 at the corner of Redwood Avenue and Corry Street.

  • IMAGE 20 Lutheran Church

The beloved church was a central part of the Finnish community. Many of the immigrants also welcomed the fact that becoming a member of a church was a choice. They welcomed the American principle of freedom of religion, including the freedom to join no church at all.

See www.historymural.com/finn/halls/ for more.

  • IMAGE 21 top title
Symbols and Writing
Narrative murals can benefit from symbols and writing. Both are present here. I wrote the mural’s title at the top, using skills I learned in grade school, and painted the Finnish hannunvaakuna, symbol of good fortune, in the top corners.
  • IMAGE 22 need this
  • IMAGE 23 need this
The mural’s two geographic places are lettered: SUOMI, which means Finland in the Finnish language, and CALIFORNIA.
  • IMAGE 24 inscription detail
The inscription at the bottom of the mural even has footnotes. It reads:
“Finnish immigrants valued cooperation (footnote 1), social justice, & personal determination (footnote 2). They worked together for the common good & to build a self-sufficient town. Many supported unions and workers’ rights. And they brought the cleansing sauna, which makes bathing a social occasion.” 1. talkoot means work done as a group for the common good. 2. sisu is the very widely understood Finnish trait of calm determination in the face of adversity.
  • IMAGE 25 mural detail of the sauna
Friends and family took a sauna together, usually once or twice a week.
Saturday evening saunas were a chance to relax, talk, invite guests, and enjoy coffee and cake, or beer and sausage afterwards.
Grandmas did a lot of things, including catch salmon and serve coffee
In the mural, the lady serving coffee is Finnish descendant VoVo Cain’s beloved Grandma Katie. She was Katie Halonen before the name was “Americanized” to Hellen.
  • IMAGE 26 Grandma Katie
  • IMAGE 27 closer view of the sauna figures
  • IMAGE 28 Lauri Rissanen posing
Lauri Rissanen is a new friend who is a second-generation Finn and builds saunas. He advised me on their structure and his wife Carolyn made me pulla, Finnish braided bread. Lauri said after the sauna you’d go sit on a bench outside, legs crossed and enjoy the cool. With hot coffee, of course. So he had to be the model!
  • IMAGE 29 detail of Hilma Holmi Maki
  • PHOTO 30 of David Maki’s grandma Hilma Holmi Maki with her fish
I painted David Maki’s Grandma Hilma Holmi Maki salmon fishing, illustrating the self-sufficiency of the Finnish families.
  • IMAGE 31 Sointula group
These four couples were recent Finnish immigrants who pooled their resources in order to purchase 636 acres of logged land that they named Sointula, meaning “place of harmony.” Each family had a house, small barn, milk cow and vegetable garden. The big horse barn, the sauna, blacksmith shop, swimming hole and the land were held in common. It was all up and down, with just enough flat land to set a hat down.
  • IMAGE 32 mural central group
I painted the future daughter of Oscar Erickson, one of the boys in this group, holding hands with Eddie Mankinen, another grandchild of the founders (below Hilma’s salmon).
  • PHOTO 33 David Maki looking at his grandma’s portrait
  • PHOTO 34 Sylvia Erickson Bartley looking at her portrait
  • PHOTO 35 Paul Nylund with his portrait
Here is that little girl all grown up, Sylvia Bartley (who is a longtime member of the North Coast/Fort Bragg Historical Society) looking at her portrait on the right. David Maki points to his Grandma Hilma, and Paul Nylund poses in front of his portrait.
See more here www.historymural.com/finn/families/
The Process
After pressure washing and applying primer, the wall was ready. You start at the top, of course. Why? So you don’t drip on finished work below.
  • IMAGE 36 Lauren working on scaffolding
I use source photos for each element, but I sketch free-hand in paint, and do not use a projector. A yardstick, tape measure and level are essential, and sting as well, for the linear perspective of buildings.
  • IMAGE 37 Linear perspective!
The buildings are placed together in the manner of a collage, but each one is governed by linear perspective, where the lines of planes that exist in 3 dimensions converge on a single point in the 2-dimensional image. You can see these vanishing points here, and they are indicated in the mural by decorative diamonds.
  • IMAGE 38 left side w/string for achieving the linear perspective diagonals
  • IMAGE 39 buildings take shape, Adam points at the wall
Here are three shots of Kalevala Hall taking shape along with my portrayal of about fifty members of the Finnish Temperance Society:
  • IMAGE 40 perspective of the architecture
  • IMAGE 41 the building is almost complete, now for the figures…
  • IMAGE 42 the people are complete.
My premium latex house paint is perfect for these wall murals because of its opacity: initial rough sketches are refined by painting finer lines and shapes over what’s under. The next two photos show the twenty-seven portraits of the Sointula founding families:
  • IMAGE 43 Sointula figures
  • IMAGE 44 Sointula portraits complete
The next element completed is the sauna
  • IMAGE 45 whole wall
My rough sketches of the portraits and the tree appear on either side of the sauna.
The tree takes shape:
  • IMAGE 46 tree sketch
  • IMAGE 47 tree finished
The mural is complete!
  • IMAGE 48 the mural seen from the right.
I designed my mural to harmonize with Bojh Parker’s fabulous mural right next door. We each stand in front of our work.
  • IMAGE 49 the two murals meet