The Colourer of the World – Textile Artist Sirkka Könönen 21.12.2019–1.3.2020
The Colourer of the World – Textile Artist Sirkka Könönen
Exhibition in the Lobby Gallery of Craft Museum of Finland, 21.12.2019-1.3.2020
Known for her colourful animal and plant themed knits, textile artist Sirkka Könönen’s (1947-2018) production is on display in the Craft Museum of Finland’s Lobby Gallery 21.12.2019-1.3.2020, in The Colourer of the World – Textile Artist Sirkka Könönen exhibition. Her life was comprehensive as a textile artist, handicraft entrepreneur, and artist, and its abundance is brought out when we step into Sirkka’s colourful, fairy tale world.
Sirkka Könönen qualified as a textile artist from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 1979 after which the world of knits swept her up. Könönen’s unbelievable colour memory made it possible for her to colour the smallest details of Finnish nature into her knits and for all of us to see. Foxes, moose, reindeers, velvet scoters, pheasants, arctic foxes, willow grouses, and also gradually detailed botany, was recreated in her colourful patterns.
Könönen was a multi-talent who had a wide set of practical skills on top of her artistry. She mastered the whole design process of knits from draft to the final product, all the way to the finished knit and its maintenance. Because of the high quality, Könönen’s knits partly market themselves, internationally as well. The layout of colours and patterns, and the bold colour combinations for their time distinguish Könönen’s production from other producers. The knits continued the Finnish knitting heritage as well as reformed it because of the colours and patterns.
Sustainable development and environmental consciousness were part of the world view of Könönen long before they were mainstream knowledge. Her actions and production were strongly guided by responsibility over nature and environment. This same message can be seen in the knits designed by her and other textiles, in which the patterns inspired by nature and folk tales charm us. Könönen appreciated the wool of Finnish sheep among other things, making the sweaters knitted from it family heirlooms, that are passed on from generation to generation like the wall rugs, double cloths, and national dresses before them.
Sirkka Könönen received the Finnish Art Industry Award in 1992 and the next year, 1993, the title of the Textile Artist of the Year. The reasons given were that the skilful, lush, vernacular knits of Sirkka Könönen have been a role model and an initiatory force for our new knit designs. The Finnish landscape and nature with its plants and animals ripple in the knits of Sirkka Könönen as unique, succulent and varied patterns as well as picturesque and brilliant colour combinations.
The colourful sweaters, wall rugs and rugs known to many are on display in the Colourer of the World – Sirkka Könönen exhibition together with Könönen’s adventurous and occasionally sharply opinionated artistic production. Since year 2000 Könönen loosened the strings with more liberal art on top of her knits by arranging cakes from different ingredients. Her life’s work was created by the ecological way of life, flea marketing and dumpster diving, the friend of nature, animals and people, Könönen, delivers a slight sourness towards consumerism in her production in a sugar-coated form. The toys, building and packaging materials and household goods collected from flea markets over decades were built into grand cakes in which she baked sour notes of criticising female beauty standards as well as frolicking frills. Some cakes could be described as perfect kitsch.
The exhibition’s items are mostly from the museum’s collection that has acquired a wide spectrum of Könönen’s productions over the years.
Sirkka Könönen’s knitted world created work around Finland
The knits by Sirkka Könönen were a high-quality, many-sided export product of Finnishness and Finnish nature, and the knits were exported all around the world from the ski resorts of Lapland as well as the southern Finnish resellers. The knits were displayed over the decades in exhibitions for example in the Nordic countries, Central Europe and the United States. One of Sirkka’s most beloved exhibition and export countries was Japan. Sirkka’s sweaters were gifted to many state guests and celebrities as well. Amongst others United Kingdom’s Prince Charles received a warm fox sweater with a note asking to stop the cruel fox hunting practice which, for one, is another sign of Sirkka taking a stand against something.
Wool is a valuable material and deserves makers that are worth it. The first knits Könönen made herself, but after a while she transferred the production to the network that she created herself of at-home knitters and weavers who received the detailed patterns and colour samples from Könönen. The network of at-home craft makers of Könönen developed little by little when the word got out to friends, acquaintances and university friends that she needed knitters. The awards that she received in 1992 and 1993 made the demand even higher and knitters were recruited through newspaper ads as well. The model for the at-home knitter practice she possibly got from the operations of Pirkanmaan kotityö (At-home work of Pirkanmaa) whom she worked in close association with. Sirkka created her own colour scheme with their yarn manufacturers that made the world of knits blossom.
Könönen was in close contact with the at-home knitters. Patterns and yarns were sent out in packages and the ready-made knits were then returned to Könönen. The network of at-home knitters spanned over most of Finland and the knits came to Helsinki from Rovaniemi, Ostrobothnia, Tampere, Kainuu region, and South Karelia, to name a few. The division of work with the at-home knitters and weavers was functional, giving Könönen time to design knits. Könönen had the responsibility of all the other duties apart from the knitting itself.
Könönen kept her at-home workers in high regard because she knew that the designs of the patterns are challenging to knit, them being like art that you can wear. The trust in her workers can be seen in the instruction Sirkka sent out to all of her knitters: “Make your sweater beautiful, pliable, succulent, an artwork knitted with nice and easy tension of consistent quality.”