Art History

The Finnish American Heritage Society celebrates its 35th anniversary | Pro Club Bd

Katrina Bousquet, member of the Finnish American Heritage Society in Canterbury with a table loom used to make sashes, belts, scarves and small table runners.

Robert Harmon, left, and his brother Richard Harmon continue a tradition of “relief carving.” During the Finnish Winter War (1939-40), soldiers carved scenes of their homes, farms and monuments onto wooden boards to while away the time in the trenches, said Katrina Bousquet, a member of the Finnish American Heritage Society in Canterbury.Jan Tormay photo

A chance tasting of pulla (a Finnish cardamom sweetbread) brought to a high school faculty event 20 years ago prompted questions and Patti Folsom joined the Finnish American Heritage Society (FAHS) at 76 North Canterbury Road ( Route 169) in Canterbury. Soon after, she signed up for FAHS’ annual trip to Finland.

“I think it’s important that people learn about other cultures. And there are many unique aspects to our culture and traditions,” said Folsom, a former librarian who is half-Finnish.

The FAHS, which bought the building from the Sampo Club (owned by Finns) 35 years ago in 1987, has one of the largest collections of Finnish and Finnish-American artifacts on the East Coast. The collection includes books, documents, photographs, traditional costumes, birch bark crafts, wood carvings, musical instruments, wall hangings and woven linens, she said.

Now, a $6,000 Connecticut Cultural Fund Operating Support Grant from Connecticut Humanities, a statewide, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has enabled FAHS to catalog and share items through the online database and “allocate the museum occupy and open and open archives to the public,” Folsom said.

The FAHS Museum is open every Wednesday and every second and fourth Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with no admission fee.

One aspect of Finnish culture can be described with the word “Sisu”, which can be defined as “bravery or perseverance in adverse circumstances or in the worst of circumstances, such as the Winter War of World War II (1939-40)” where Finns fought against Russians said Kristina Bousquet and Folsom, co-chairs of the Collections Administration Committee, as they finished their thoughts one June afternoon.

Folsom said she hopes to show the documentary, Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia, “to say that the Finns know what the Ukrainians are going through because the Finns have dealt with this whole problem too deals.”

During the Winter War, Finnish soldiers carved scenes of their homes, farms and monuments onto wooden boards to while away the time in the trenches, Bousquet said. To continue this “relief carving” tradition, a woodcarving group of members and non-members meets every Wednesday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the basement of the FAHS. Just bring tools and wood. There is no fee.

Built in 1925, the 4,000-square-foot FAHS building, which includes a kitchen and auditorium (seating about 100 people) with a stage known for its “great acoustics,” is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. About 1,000 square meters of the structure contains the museum, the lending library and the air-conditioned archive room.

“Everything in the museum has been donated,” said Bousquet from Norwich, who is half-Finnish. Their challenge is that they cannot keep everything they have been given. “So we started cleaning up our archives.”

“Our mission (established in 2021) is to promote and preserve Finnish-American heritage and history in the Northeast, which includes New York and Delaware, Connecticut, New England. It really helped us decide what to keep and what not.”

Another goal is to get back to using their 6 large looms, which the Finns use to make hand-woven towels, shawls, carpets and tapestries, Bousquet said.

FAHS, a nonprofit organization, also received a museum makeover grant from Conservation ConneCTion, “supported through a partnership with the Connecticut League of History Organizations and funded by a grant from the CT Cultural Fund,” Folsom explained in an email . “The CT Cultural Fund is managed by CT Humanities, with funding from the Connecticut State Department of Economic and Community Development/Connecticut Office of the Arts of the Connecticut State Legislature.

“FAHS has been assigned two visiting museum curators, Elysa Engelman, Director of Exhibits, Mystic Seaport, and Nicole Carpenter, Director of Programs and Collections, Westport Museum for History & Culture.”

Folsom said Engelman and Carpenter, who toured the museum in May, will work with members to create a new dynamic exhibit. “They commissioned the committee to survey FAHS members and visitors about what they hope to see in the museum and what stories they think the museum should tell in its two rooms.”

The committee will meet again with the curators to decide how to spend a $3,000 grant that is part of the Museum Makeover grant,” she said.

“With Museum Makeover (Grant) we are trying to make it a newly revamped, redesigned, dynamic exhibition that will tell a story to people coming off the street (with no) Finnish connections.”

“I was so amazed at how beautiful their (FAHS’) collection is and how wonderful the organization is in general,” said Lisa Joseph from Canterbury, who has a background in art history and museum studies. She joined a few months ago and was also hired as a cataloger with grant money. “So the more I work with them, the more I’m interested in Finnish culture.”

As she read a book of traditional Finnish stories based on ballads and folk tales called ‘Kalevala’, came to various events and ate the food, she said: ‘You’re going to be ‘finnstruck’.’

Although Joseph has lived near FAHS for 11 years and has seen the building and its sign out front, she said she didn’t know anyone could join – they didn’t have to be Finnish.

“Sometimes all they have to do is attend a fun event and they’ll get excited and want to get involved,” Bousquet said.

Although her parents were FAHS members, she said the organization never approached her until she attended a breakfast to coincide with the opening day of the fishery 20 years ago. “So I brought my kids when they were little and they loved it, so we kept coming.”

Her non-Finnish husband, Steve Bousquet, is now President of FAHS.

Kazimiera Kazlowski from Lebanon became an FAHS volunteer 5 years ago when she retired. She now helps “in every conceivable way”, including with her museum knowledge. “It’s an organization that’s welcoming, supportive and just about everything you could want in a volunteer position.”

She added: “I enjoy learning about another culture. It’s fun, but we’re still learning.”

Of its 300 FAHS members, about 40 are active and local, Bousquet said. They hope to attract new members, including younger people, to continue the society and the museum for future generations. Annual presentations of Finnish Culinary Delights to children and Pikku Joulu, meaning Little Christmas, are ways they appeal to youngsters.

In addition to annual trips to Finland, this year FAHS is celebrating its 30th FinnFun Weekend at The Inn at East Hill Farm in Troy, New Hampshire. “It’s a weekend full of Finnish fun (and) culture. We offer seminars and courses on various topics. A year from now, it could be genealogy, music, or cooking classes that you could attend on Saturdays and Sundays, which could include a craft or writing, “to promote Finnish culture,” Bousquet said.

Folsom emphasized, “You don’t have to be a Finn to have fun” or to join the organization. “Just an interest in Finnish culture is enough to engage you in our organization.”

The fee to join the FAHS is $20 for individuals and $35 per household. For more information about this non-profit organization and their upcoming Woodcarving Fest, Yard Sale and other events, visit or Facebook: Finnish American Heritage Society of Canterbury, CT. To inquire about renting the Heritage Hall and kitchen, message them on Facebook, email, or call (860) 546-6671.

Jan Tormay, a longtime resident of Norwich, now lives in Westerly.

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