top of page

Särestöniemi Museum


Reidar Särestöniemi (1925–1981) is one of the most famous Finnish artists and the most important Lappish artist of his time. He was born as the youngest child to Alma and Matti Kaukonen, later Särestöniemi, seven children Reidar Särestöniemi, Uiva poro (1974)
perheeseen Kittilän Kaukosen kylään.     _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b -136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d__cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b -136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ 


Reidar Särestöniemi studied at the Finnish Academy of Arts in Helsinki (1947–1952) and the Ilja Repin Institute in Leningrad (1956–1959). His career as an artist took off with his first solo exhibition, which he held in Helsinki in 1959. Except for his student years, Reidar lived his whole life on the homestead, but he also traveled extensively. He was awarded the title of professor in 1975. Reidar Särestöniemi was a colorful person whose art and personality sparked discussion in his time.



The Särestöniemi Museum was opened to the public in 1985. The operation was maintained by the Särestöniemi Museum Foundation until the summer of 2016. Today, the Kauko Sorjonen Foundation is responsible for museum operations. The cafe and office building was built for museum purposes in 1988 and was designed by architects Reima and Raili Pietilä.


In the museum area, you can see different layers of Reidar's life: Childhood courtyard, own studio home and art gallery. Also the surrounding nature, forests, fells and forests with plants and animals, was an important part of his circle of life. The neighboring Ounasjoki used to be a passageway. The road to Särestö was built in 1984 with the foundation of the museum in mind.


Old Lattice

Vanha Särestö is the life circle of Reidar's childhood and youth and it also carries family and family stories. The homestead represents the old Perepohja building tradition. Reidar Särestöniemi's grandfather Heikki Kaukonen bought the farm at the end of the 19th century. Heikki changed the family's surname in 1931 to Särestöniemi according to the Särestö estate.  The main building is from 1873. Opposite the main building is a stable and next to it a barn.

Reidar's birthplace was located next to the current main building in a small shack consisting of a hut and a chamber, where his parents Alma and Matti Kaukonen and their family initially lived. The house was moved to Kaukonen village in the early 1930s and has since burned down. Reidar later brought a large white stone to the place of his birthplace.


During Reidar's childhood, Särestö's economy was largely self-sufficient. Cattle were kept in the house, barley, hay and potatoes were grown, salmon was fished and hunting was done. A lot of handicrafts were also done in the subsistence economy. Reidar's maternal grandmother had moved from Kittila to Norway's Vesisaari when she was young, where Reidar's mother Alma was born and grew up. Alma sometimes missed her home region and the family connection to Norway remained and Reidar visited there often.


Pirtti served as Reidar's studio between 1959 and 1965. In order to increase natural light, he enlarged the windows of the room and painted the walls and ceiling white. The parents lived on their homestead until their death, in the early 70s. The house was left to be inhabited by Anton's brother, who died in 1997. He lived all his life in Särestö and after his brother's death, he donated his inheritance to the Särestöniemi Museum Foundation, which made it possible to establish a museum. The buildings of the old Särestö have been restored at the beginning of the 21st century and brought back to reflect the period of the 1940s and 1950s. At that time, Reidar was an art student starting his career.



The studio apartment building was completed in 1978 and was designed by Reima and Raili Pietilä. Reidar had met Raili Pietilä while studying in Helsinki. The architects listened to Reidar's wishes for e.g. a spectacular outdoor staircase. Reidar's first studio home was destroyed in a fire at the turn of the year 1977/78. The new studio was already completed in October 1978. Construction took four months and 13 days. There are 200 squares per floor.


Good lighting was planned for the studio. The office window opens to the west, which avoids the dazzling light from the south. The log walls are treated from the inside with ultraviolet varnish, which preserves the light color of the log. The slates for the fireplace are from the nearby Särestövaara, as in the other buildings. The architects named the building the House of the White Sea, because Reima Pietilä said that they took Karelian houses and the wooden architecture of the White Sea as their starting point. Reidar had time to live in his new home reilut 

two years, as he died of a heart attack in May 1981 at only 56 years old.



The gallery designed by Pietilö was completed in 1972. Särestöniemi was a well-known artist even when he was alive and Särestö was a popular destination, in the early 1970s thousands of visitors came every year. The artist's working peace was threatened, so a separate place was needed to present the works. Therefore, a separate exhibition building was built next to the former studio. Reidar had already purchased the gallery's curtain rods from the nearby area in advance.


Reidar's art got its content from the surrounding nature of Lapland. Woodpeckers and fells, grouse, lynx and reindeer appear in numerous works of Särestöniemi. Taivaanjaara was a fantasy character created by Reidar, which combined a ram, or Jaara, and a bird named Sky Goat. Often the animal figures depict the artist himself. The nature of Lapland is also reflected in the strong color scheme, which at the time was very unusual in Finnish art. Reidar experimented with colors and explored the possibilities they offered throughout his career as an artist. Although Lapland was an important artistic starting point, Reidar's work is influenced by the big names of European modernism, Russian art and prehistoric cave paintings. There are different periods in the production, for example the paintings and graphics of the 1950s differ from his most famous works, the large and colorful oil paintings of the 1960s and 1970s.


Burnt Atelier (1965–77)

The current studio was preceded by a studio apartment building built by Reidar in 1965, which was destroyed in a fire on New Year's Eve 1977. In the fire, the entire property was destroyed; at the same time, home and workplace, as well as several paintings, artist supplies, an extensive art library, most of the poems he wrote, and beloved memorabilia. The cause of the fire remained unclear, but electrical equipment was suspected to be the culprit. Kivijalka can be seen next to the gallery. A log roof was later built on top of the basement floor. The studio was designed by Reidar's fellow student, architect Robert Gunst, although Reidar made many changes to the original plans.

Exhibition texts

Gallery: THE LAST WASTE - emergency for arctic nature

The artist Reidar Särestöniemi (1925–1981) said in an interview with Lapin Kansa in 1975: "I'm a romantic. But I also take a stand in my work. Same here. In it, Susi-Rieu is alone and as a monkey walking along the edge of a large forest. I'm not aggressive. There is just enough aggressiveness. I tell people things on these boards. And I show what I see."


Särestöniemi saw "within a radius of a thousand kilometers the destruction of the arctic world." According to Reidar, the Earth's resources would not last much longer. He talked about how vital it would be to protect nature and not sacrifice it for economy and industrialization. He identified himself with endangered animals, such as the wolf or the lynx, for which a kill fee was paid. He guessed that the wolf will disappear: “It has lost the battle. This warns us: even one species that man destroys is a step towards man's own destruction." The destruction of the living environment also affected people in the sense that the way of life of the local residents was also lost. The topics that Särestöniemi talked about are unfortunately still relevant today.


Särestö's lifeblood, Ounasjoki, had experienced changes during Reidar's lifetime. After the wars, the construction of hydropower was concentrated in Northern Finland, where there was still free flowing water. In 1948, the Kemijoki Isohaara power plant was completed, after which salmon could no longer enter Ounasjoki. The effects of the construction were widespread in the Kemijoki watershed, as about half of the county of Lapland is in the Kemijoki watershed. The loss of the salmon touched the riverside residents deeply: it meant not only the end of a livelihood, but also the end of a way of life and the end of a centuries-old tradition. In the 1970s, Kemijoki Oy planned to harness the Ounasjoki River, which would have meant the construction of ten power plants and two reservoirs. Reidar was afraid that Särestö would be submerged.

Nature was not something outside of man, but nature was part of Särestöniemi's world since childhood. As an artist, Särestöniemi identified himself with nature: he was a persecuted lynx or wolf, he was a red-bearded tough guy. Reidar mourned the sacrifice of the gang to the peat industry, when "the gangs mutilate the face to the ditch scars, ditch to ditch"


He said that the bad guy was his favorite to portray. In the painting Kiimauoma hetteitet (1969), one can imagine sinking into the gang's moments, as Reidar himself described his relationship with the gang: "I am going to the gang's death, sinking into the insidious moments, I get up again in the sixties and realize that death was not so strange after all. Jänkä is a mysterious thing to me. A huge light shines from there, sometimes good, sometimes bad."


Despite the serious subjects, Särestöniemi is very poetic in his paintings, as for example in the work Koivuje hautausmaa (1976), where the moon casts a comforting light on birch trees left standing to rot. Lapland's birches, which were considered worthless, were destroyed with caterpillars, poisons, or by cutting the tree near the top, causing it to rot upright. Forests were felled as clearcuts, which resulted in the so-called part of the squares.


The violent exploitation of nature and the disregard for what kind of legacy will be left for future generations angered the artist: "That kind of mentality that the world will end after me is criminal. It is a crime against nature and the people who live around it miss many generations of men." Reidar was very straightforward. American colleagues had asked Reidar what he thought about the future of their country. Reidar replied: "I said that you will become a developing country, you will soon be sitting on top of your garbage piles; and when they heard that, hamburgers jumped out of their mouths."

The life of the Lapps was in transition in the 1960s and 1970s, when society modernized. With mechanization and industrialization, traditional livelihoods disappeared and people had to move to Sweden or the south in search of work. The construction of power plants was justified by the supply of energy and jobs, even though the construction did not create permanent new jobs. Nature values and residents' rights were not taken into account much. In the past, the power companies had bought the water shares from the residents of the riverbanks by paying compensation only for the water that flowed by. This was not supposed to have a significant impact on the lives of the residents and they were not told that the goal was to harness the river for electricity production.


Särestöniemi painted several Ounasjoki-themed paintings for the protection of Ounasjoki. In the work Ounasjoki aalto (1975), the moon shows sympathy for the river under the threat of being harnessed. Ounasjoki's annual cycle rhythmed the artist's life since childhood; it was the main passageway and one source of livelihood, but also like a brother or a person whose expressions he observed every day. Ice melt was always to be seen and it often happened on his birthday, May 14. around the corner. The water also had a healing effect. Nephew Veli Mäkitalo recalled that Reidar was immediately cured of his gout ailments when the sound of ice crunching carried inside.


The construction plans received a lot of criticism and the riverside residents organized themselves. Reidar Särestöniemi also participated in the Ounasjoki movement and he was supposed to be the patron of the Ounasjoki rowing organized in the summer of 1981. However, Reidar died in May 1981 and his brother Anton Särestöniemi received the rowers in Särestö at the beginning of July. Ounasjoki was protected by a special law in 1983.

The artist also featured the topic of nature conservation in his exhibition in Japan in 1980. In Tokyo, the work It's time to wake up (1979) was exhibited, in which a plea for nature can be seen from the eyes of three bear cubs waking up from hibernation. In the preface to the exhibition catalogue, Reidar said: "It's really time to wake up and let the great nature live without doing violence to it."  _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d-35-cc758 bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde- 3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d__ cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905- -

      _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde- 3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_ _cc781905-5c de-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_Museum director Anne Koskamo

Archival sources and research literature:

Newspaper and radio interviews, Reidar Särestöniemi archive, Särestöniemi museum

Ilvas Juha, The world of Reidar Särestöniemi, Oy Art Fennica Ab, Helsinki 2000. Polttila Brita, Reidar, Tammi, Helsinki 1985.  Kenen Ounasjoki, WSOY, Porvoo 1981




The artist Reidar Särestöniemi often depicted nature and animals in his immediate surroundings in his works. Many of the species covered by Reidar are now endangered or close to it. This exhibition shows a few examples of today's threatened or endangered species that can be found in Reidar's production. There are also a couple of positive examples of species that have been successful.




Matti Saanio's photos:


Atelier: Dancing the visions of Bali - Reidar at home and in the world


Vanha Särestö: From cow hides to fodder oats – Särestö and its everyday atmosphere


Photographer Matti Saanio (1925-2006) became known from the 1950s as a photographer of people and life in Lapland. Saanio photographed the people of Särestö in 1963 for Suomen Kuvalehti, when he became friends with Reidar.

Saanio often visited and photographed the artist as well as Särestö's usual course of life in the 1960s and 1970s.

bottom of page