In his rustic hut in the forests of southern Finland, 87-year-old Erkki Pekkarinen carves delicate strips of birch bark with a knife and intricately weaves them into beautiful objects.
“I started practicing at the age of 10. I can say that I have been tinkering with birch bark for 77 years,” says Pekkarinen.
Although wood is generally perceived as a strong, inflexible material, Pekkarinen argues that with the right technique, birch bark can be used to make “everything you can imagine.”
His art gallery in Ashikala displays countless objects made solely from woven strips of birch bark, without glue or nails.
Properly handled, the cardboard-like, honey-colored bark of black and white boreal trees can be easily cut and bent.
Pekka Linen has created everything from elaborate wooden jewelry and handbags to small duck toys and backpacks.
His piece de resistance is a full suit with hat, briefcase, and shoes.
They squeak and rustle when worn, but as Pekkarinen walks around his cabin filled with wooden artwork, they’re surprisingly flexible.
Pekkarinen, who was born in the town of Lieksa in eastern Finland, says his interest in tree bark dates back to his youth when he worked as a lumberjack.
“I loved spending time at the logging camp building all kinds of things. I had a lot of free time back then,” he says.
stone age traditions
He recalls birds chewing through his colleague’s cotton rucksack and stealing his lunch while he was cutting down trees, but keeping his own food safe inside his sturdy bark rucksack. It had been.
Suits made entirely from bark may have been rare in Scandinavian countries, but the age-old tradition of weaving birch bark into everyday items goes back much further.
Dating back to the Stone Age, birch bark has served a role similar to the modern use of plastic, from boxes for storing berries to small toys for children.
Because of its water resistance and insulation properties, early inhabitants of the Arctic region traversed snow-covered forests wearing bark shoes on their feet and bark packs on their shoulders.
This material was once so valuable that it left its mark on the Finnish language. The expression “gather bark” still means “to make money.”
Pekkarinen said that with the right technique, it is possible to strip the bark from the trunk without killing the tree.
“It will still be usable in 10 years,” says Pekkarinen, holding a roll of cleaned and dried bark.
Pekkarinen uses the large amounts of bark he receives from friends and family to create anything he can think of.
“You can make anything as long as your imagination allows,” he said, unveiling a football-sized bark version of the coronavirus with spikes that extend in all directions. –AFP