Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Gingerbread Kalevala


Kalevala.  Jugend Art. Cookie molds.

Three big subject brings together something essential for finnish folklore, adds new depth in European cookie mold craft and offers eyesight of unique art by Joseph Otto Alanen. 

Dear reader, this is first edition about "The Gingerbread Kalevala". With my limited english it might not be very professional or good text. I wish you could watch over my mistakes, and find little knowledge about theme important for me: cookie molds and Kalevala. Later, this text is improved and made better. But here is the first batch! 

With best regards,


Petrus from Turku Gingerbread

Elias Lönnrot.

Kalevala is national epic of Finland. It is based on finnish folklore, an oral tradition, gathered by Finnish Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884) during his several expeditions in Finland, Russian Karelia, the Kola Peninsula and Baltic countries. Some changes were made to have good story, which would raise Finland beside old European countries with famous epics. This is part from 19th century Finland.

Otto Joseph Alanen at Berlin, Germany during early 20th century.

Otto Joseph Alanen (1885 - 1920) was painter from Tampere, Finland. His studies as electrician did not please him, he wanted to dedicate his life for art. Studies at Stockholm, Sweden and Berlin, Germany offered him change to get familiar with new and old: Jugend art was common during early 20th century Germany, and Joseph Alanen found much interest towards ancient, simple decorative art of old cultures such as Babylonia and Egypt. Museums and libraries were his treasure rooms! Later he also found ancient finnish decorative style seen at iron- and bronze age items method to express Kalevala in his own Jugend art. This is part from 20th century Finland.

Our ancestors had brilliant, jewel-like oral tradition, much similar was their decorative style. In their art they did not try mimic  reality directly, but by forms and developing, so that by finally has a decorative shade. Natural presentation was the spirit of the time committed to their specific style, in which the plot is not able to break away. When, therefore, the exact naturalistic style was abandoned, we can understand the fantastic world of illustrator was facing.
  • Joseph Otto Alanen, 1910 review for magazine

About comment by Joseph Alanen. He did not follow same style as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, who was living during same age and secured more known place in art history after. Joseph Alanen found ancient finnish decorative style as pure form of finnish folk art, which would fit well to illustrate poems too.

Master himself is working with new molds.

Oldrich Kvapil (born in 1939) suggested during 2011 in email, that he could make cookie molds with unique theme such as Kalevala. It was too early then to make first steps for quest of Kalevala. But after art of Otto Joseph Alanen was found, some discussion was done between carver and customer, Petrus Hermanni Kurppa, Kalevala cookie mold serie was started in january 2013. This is how our story got started in 21th century Finland.

My blog article about The gingerbread Kalevala is not guidebook about Kalevala. It is small and short representation about how finnish folklore and jugend art was used as inspiration for cookie molds. I strongly encourage people to read whole Kalevala. It is interesting story with strong mother figures, mens with soul for adventure and allegory thoughts: even small man can become giant with might to shape whole world, as we see in 2th poem and 2th cookie mold.

About jugend art. This expression of art with strong curves, simplified structures from plants, animals transformed as decorative ornaments was more common during 19th century, and Joseph Alanen is rather out of his time choosing it still during early 20th century. Some art critics considered this as bad thing. But we all can judge his art by ourself. For me it was only good source for cookie molds, since too detail rich painting often suffers simplified appearance of cookie mold.

Notice: Roman number is about number of eight different cookie molds. Under title you can see from which poem of Kalevala each motif is from.

I Kalevala mold: Creation myth and born of Väinämöinen

First poem and first cookie mold is about very beginning: Finnish mythology creation myth, birth of the world is started when Ilmatar, virgin maiden of the Air descends from sky on the surface of the sea water. She gets pregnant by sea foam and wind, and becomes suffering from childbirth. In her womb she carries first person to be born: Väinämöinen. A bird is also related to this myth, other mother figure. Bird places eggs above Ilmatar, but they are shattered. From fragments moon, sun and stars are born.

Joseph Alanen had two different Kalevala era. Other was darker and other had more lighter colors. While earlier era was also stagnant, Ilmatar shows dynamic move. It is as if she would just any moment now raise other leg, scream more in agony and give form for new world. It is possible to see even power of the electricity in this painting. It is zigzag pattern decoration in the cloud streams. Early 19th century it was new, exotic phenomena and having studies as electrician, Alanen included it as part of Ilmatar painting. 

Cookie mold shape was decision of Oldrich Kvapil. I quite liked this oval surrounding essential theme of Kalevala: it gives impression that small moment captured here can only become larger, when read further about Kalevala. 

It was difficult to take only small fraction from Kalevala poems for cookie molds. But I wished to add something, if not exact poem, then give a name for mold. In this case it is about part of 1st poem. In Kalevala things are often explained in methods of oral tradition; with figuratively. So basically text tells about character seen in this cookie mold, virgin maiden of the Air. But in finnish it can be opened for quite longer details.

(a maiden,
Beauteous Daughter of the Ether)

Ilman tyttö means in finnish Virgin maiden of the Air. She is a spirit creature.

Kave means in finnish at finnish mythology specially female creature of Sky and Air. It can also mean noble, honoured as adjective.

Luonnotar means in finnish general term for spirit creature.

Korea is a finnish adjective meaning beautiful, decorative or colourful.

In other words, things are often repeated with just different words several times. 

II - III Kalevala molds: Cutting of the great oak tree and sowing of Väinämöinen

About choosing motifs from art of Joseph Alanen

Beatiful work of Joseph Alanen. Väinämöinen and Aino.
It should be noted that finding paintings by Joseph Alanen was not an easy job. Some of them were destroyed during civil war 1918 at Finland, some are gone for good and many survived paintings are held by private persons. So my main source was libraries, few collectors postcard I was able to find and old articles. It is said that Joseph Alanen finished about 100 painting about Kalevala. It was his dream to have whole Kalevala illustrated and have a book used with this material. Such dream never become reality, although some translated and finnish editions of Kalevala contains handful of paintings by Alanen. 

For this reason Kalevala cookie mold serie does not reflect whole Kalevala. It is more about giving little hint about overall plot and tales. One key character is Väinämöinen, man who was born from Ilmatar. He is part of almost every cookie mold, if not present, his actions often surrounds many other characters of Kalevala too. 

2th cookie mold 

Cutting of the great oak tree is one of paintings Joseph Alanen did more than once. Other version is black and white and other with colors. It is about big oak tree which raised after world creation. But it become too enormous, sun could not shine and nothing could grow without light. So somebody had to cut it down, but who? 

Väinämöinen was in charge to cultivate ground. You can read from 2th poem of Kalevala who, what and how it was done. Small man from the sea did not first impress Väinämöinen, but suddenly he become big giant. Then he was able to cut down great oak tree. 

These two paintings gives counterweight otherwise woman centered world creation. After two mother figure did initial task, it is duty of mens to fill world with fertile seeds and plants. Joseph Alanen added speed, humour and common jugend art curves on this painting. In painting we can see branches as decorative ornaments. They are giving nice contrast otherwise quite simple appearance of tree itself, ground and bearded axe-man.

This cookie mold has become symbol of whole Kalevala serie. Väinämöinen is in the end only small man in this picture, while men from the sea becomes one who is able to cut down problems and allows new era to start.
There are no actual poem from Kalevala. Text is same as painting was named, in finnish Suuren tammen kaato means The cutting down of the enormous oak tree.

Väinämöinen sowing 

Third cookie mold is about sowing of Väinämöinen. This painting is very full of interesting details and while some simple objects as Väinämöinen, barley seeds, growing barley can be easy to recognise, maybe some details could symbolise cycle of life, year and agriculture.

By now we have met two spirits of Kalevala. First was maiden of the air, other was men from the sea, who cutted down great oak tree. Third spirit is actually god in finnish mythology. Akka can be seen as face below Väinämöinen. She presents finnish mother earth character, which explains why Väinämöinen asks her to allow good growth for barley. And why is Väinämöinen growing barley? For the making of beer, of course!

(In finnish very first lines of Kalevala starts by question if person who sings Kalevala could have pint of beer, or if not, at least water).
Joseph Alanen was at Germany, Berlin during 1907, as student of Lovis Corinth. Here he found interest at local museums and collection of egyptian and babylonian art can be seen inspirational source for Sowing of the Väinämöinen mold. Composition is very tight and character is seen from side perspective. Joseph Alanen himself told in articles how he was interested in orient old ornaments and abstract nature of it's art.

Sowing of Wäinämöinen is with part of 2th poem. It was long time difficult to fully understand, because Kalevala is written in old poetry finnish. Everything else was clear but verb "kyyhätellä" took months of study.

(I the seeds of life am sowing)

Minä means in finnish me, the first-person singular nominative case personal pronoun.

Kylvän means sowing in finnish. Throwing seeds by hand is old agriculture before industrial era. 

Kyyhättelen is a verb, which means walking your back bent, like a old man. It might look quite different how Alanen painted Väinämöinen; this old man has his back straight and he is throwing seeds with steady hands.

IV Cookie mold: Fate of the Aino

It is quite fantastic how Kalevala cookie mold can make little impact on Finnish classical description as land of thousand lakes, forest and northern lights. Fourth cookie mold is all about view over troubled waters of the lake. It is also insight of finnish melancholy.

But first I must tell little about girl in trouble. Aino was sister of Joukahainen. Young man who lost spell competition with Väinämöinen, promised his sister as gift for Väinämöinen. It was good news for mother, who was happy to hear about getting famous, great man in his family. But it was all about despair and horror for Aino. To become wife of old, lusty man. 

Joseph Alanen painted Aino sitting on the rock at lake just moment before she would descent below surface and become of the maidens of the water.  In the distance we can see three maidens of the water going on the surface of water. Their straight forwarded movement is opposite towards Aino sitting his head between knees in despair. Lake seems like fishhook-like details, calling for Aino to dive in. Once again this detail follows common jugend style detail, curves. 

As a cookie mold we can see little forest too in distance. But this is all about standing at the shore or sea, or lake, and view is overwhelmed by water reaching all over horizon or by distant island.

Text for mold is from painting, it is not poem from Kalevala. It sounds beautiful in finnish and tells about how maidens are at the end of peak.

V cookie mold: Väinämöinen is seeking words from the Tuonela

Many poems of Kalevala are related to task given by Louhi, when Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen or Ilmarinen was asking her daughter and was given missions to finish. One task was about building boat without touching boat by hands at all. Only possible way to create boat would be magic. But Väinämöinen did not have magic words for building boat. He needed to search for them. One places he went was finnish underworld, Tuonela.

Tuonela is realm of the deads. It should not be mistaken with christian hell; it is not place for bad people only, but everyone who died ended up at Tuonela. It was in a way second life, since people were sleeping, eating and doing other task at Tuonela too. Of course we can see different aspects of culture, beer served for Väinämöinen was full of vipers and frogs. But who are we to judge hospitality of maiden of underworld!

Painting by Joseph Alanen shows Väinämöinen requesting ferry from daughter of Tuoni, maiden of underworld to pass river at Tuonela. This river with dark water can be seen in many paintings by Alanen. Often it is easy to recognise with familiar character of death in finnish mythology; the Swan of Tuonela.

There are many other interesting details too. Skulls guards this realm, as Oldrich Kvapil stated while studying painting for cookie mold motif. We see also dead people, with mitten of Tuonela in their hands. It might be detail how Alanen placed discussion between Tuonetar and Väinämöinen. Tuonetar asks Väinämöinen, how he had died. Only dead person are permitted to enter Tuonela, it is not place for living people. Väinämöinen lies several times, he drowned, he was burned and disease took his life. Colors of mittens in dead people's hands are blue, red and green-yellow. Maybe it is allegory for these different ways of dying ?

A raven is sitting above boat of Tuonetar. This is another "death bird" of finnish mythology. It is said that raven or crow appeared when person died. Influence by egyptian art might explain why there is obvious pyramid seen at the side of Tuonela. But it might be also play of the words. In Kalevala such building would be called "Manala's ancient castle". Pyramids are very ancient structures, also with simple appearance. 

Other interesting jugend style detail is plant seen at Tuonela. It was my pleasure to find it at Vanhalinna hill during spring time. Later from old articles I was able to ensure my find: Alanen placed growing fern,  brackens in Tuonela.

Cookie mold become unique as different form: there was too much details to shrink in oval shape. It underlines difference between seven other molds, as they are from world of livings, and this one is only eyesight to forbidden realm of Tuonela.
Text tells about Tuonetar, daughter of Tuoni. It is similar to Ilmatar mold, since same thing is repeated with different words. She is even called a good mistress (Hyvä emäntä), for offering beer for "as a sign of hospitality".

VI cookie mold:  Heroic acts of smith Ilmarinen

Three men of Kalevala are very masculine and strong persons. Smith Ilmarinen is behind many different task given by Louhi, although they seemed first unpossible to finish. One task was to capture pike of Tuonela, enormous fish. Smith Ilmarinen was very good making anything people desired or he needed. To catch a pike of Tuonela, he made big iron bird. We can see by small details, that once again we are at the shores of river Tuonela. Swans of Tuonela is in the background. Pike is struggling in the firm grip of eagle. This task is completed, but not accepted by Louhi: Bird eats almost whole fish and Ilmarinen can only bring it's head. Louhi was expecting whole fish!

Cookie mold gives strong highlight over pike and bird. Dark air of Tuonela is faded away as dust, allowing viewer to almost think as if he would be watching himself epic act of Kalevala.

Text is about eagle. It is poem from Kalevala. Often creatures and people are described with various adjectives, which might be good, insulting or just allow to reader use his imagination what is going on. This poem makes difference to other eagles mentioned in Kalevala, that it unnatural, artificial creation of smith. 

VII  Lemminkäinen as persona non grata for weddings of Pohjola

Lieto Lemminkäinen is hot blooded young man, sort of equal to casanova. He likes womens and not always think before he acts. And he gets easily angry! When weddings were held at Pohjola, Lemminkäinen did not receive an invitation. But party was so loud, that he could hear music to his home. It was his decision to go as uninvited guest, persona non grata or not.

This was not a good decision at all. His mother tried to warn about many dangers on the road to Pohjola. Lemminkäinen was not only good swordsman, but also capable magician, so he did not fear any threat. He would find a way to counter them.

Painting by Joseph Alanen gives portrait to dark woods covered with pine trees, night sky with Aurora Borealis or northern lights and Lemminkäinen with his horse. We can see one threat he faced: huge snake on the road blocking his way.

Horse seems frightened, but Lemminkäinen remains calm. He talks to snake and ask if it would move away. Kalevala poem is taken from this monologue, without no impact. Snake remains mute and hostile. It is magic of the origin words of the snakes which gives Lemminkäinen power to control snake and command it to move away.

Origin words are found in many poems of Kalevala. Väinämöinen needed them to build his magical boat; old man needed origin of iron to suppress bleeding; origin of the beer, naturally, is told to entertain wedding guest. Person who knows origin words of something specific has influence and control over it. For example witches know origin of fire, therefore they were not harmed by it.

We can see pattern over snake skin: it is a viper. I once met young viper in the forest. It's red eyes and dark skin easily can be terrifying. But I think this is part of beauty of nature too. Against beautiful creations something evil and dark must exist too.

Tuonenkarvallinen is one of those words which kept me curious for long time. What does it mean? In exact finnish it would be something like "hair of the Tuonela". Does not make sense! But I was able to find information: it means color of the Death, dark and black. Fits well with viper, don't you think.

VIII cookie mold: Protection of the Sampo

Last and final cookie mold is about war between Kaleva, home of Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen and Ilmarinen (basically the good guys) and Pohjola, Louhi and her one hundred mens. But why is this scene happening? Just moment go there were happy weddings held at Pohjola, where both villages celebrated together. What went wrong?

Despite mens of Kaleva often wished to marry daughters of Louhi, there were often place for jealousy, evil intention and other wicked games. It is true that Louhi asked from smith Ilmarinen to build sampo, source of richness and prosperity, for letting him to marry his daughter. But even good mens cannot always life rightfully. Mens of Kaleva decided to steal sampo from Louhi, because they wanted good rich life for them too. 

Sampo is captured and attempt to go with it to home is stopped by Louhi. Much magic is happened before swords are pulled out, scene what Joseph Alanen memorised. It is also maybe most classical sight of Kalevala by Akseli Gallen-Kallela too. Lieto Lemminkäinen is standing, shouting words of poem: Down with swords, down with mens! This is battle, and everything is done to ensure protection of sampo. But where is this magical mill of good life, you might ask? Nowhere to been seen. It is too small detail to show from less detail rich painting, compared to Gallen-Kallela. While it is about protecting sampo, main focus is about it's protectors.


Baking with Kalevala made me feel completed with my search for myself.

Kalevala cookie mold serie was carved as unique collection for my private hobby during 2013. As a finnish man it was not only reason to read finnish folk tales, Kalevala, books devoted research of the Kalevala, study my own nature relation as urban city person.  It was something what I wanted to share with my blog readers, facebook fans and such. Finland is small nation amongst many others in this world. Kalevala is maybe romantic way to tell about it during modern era, but it was way how I wanted to show about my own culture. My grandfather lived at region where Elias Lönnrot collected poems. It has been therefore also my search for my own roots. And it has only began, hopefully Gingerbread Kalevala is here to stay.

Oldrich Kvapil carved molds and also made documentation about carving process. How mold is born, what kind of decision must carver make between process of transferring motif on the surface of the wood. We could say this is often unheard voice of the cookie mold: the words of the master, hand which gave form for Kalevala tales on a pear tree. With agreement this material are only intended for magazine and exhibition purposes, not for internet.