First published: Spring 2013
It was Easter 2010 when artist Veijo Rönkkönen did not wake up from his afternoon nap. He had started his day practising yoga, lit the fire in the oven, greeted the sculptures in his garden, had a swim in the public swimming pool nearby and felt tired again after returning home. It was an ordinary day. He was 66.
Rönkkönen left a remarkable collection of art works behind in Koitsanlahti, Parikkala. He had worked on his site, which was a little over an acre, for almost 50 years, and his hard work resulted in more than 500 concrete sculptures and a magnificent garden. The struggle to find a meaning for his life gave Rönkkönen’s art its agonised and personal character. His sculpture park does not pale in comparison to any other fantasy garden in the world.
Veijo Rönkkönen’s childhood home was poor, like the rest of Finland after the war had been lost. Everyone worked as hard as they could to contribute to their livelihood. The atmosphere in the Rönkkönen house was characterised not only by hard work but also by his mother’s harshness and discontent. The children did not seem to have any other value than being an unpaid workforce. His mother’s constant disparagement broke the boy’s self-esteem, and he turned into an almost pathologically shy and withdrawn youth.
Rönkkönen was 16 when he got a job at a nearby paper mill, where he was to work until his retirement. By the time he received his first payment, he had made the biggest decision of his life. He bought ten apple tree seedlings and set up an orchard in his garden. He would never leave this place.
In his adolescent anxiety, Rönkkönen found his way back to the lake where he used to go swimming as a child. He dug up some clay from the shore where he had spent his happiest times as a child, and moulded the clay into a small figure of a man. It was a sort of dreamlike self-portrait and the first step along the path to becoming an artist. His entire oeuvre can be seen as a continuation of this little figure. The sculpture park itself is an extended self-portrait and a story of how a soul in search of balance and joy developed. Its various sections and sculptures depict the artist’s life: dreams and fears when growing up and, eventually, the signs of growing old and giving up.