Akseli Gallen-Kallela's wilderness studio Kalela (completed 1895) in Ruovesi, central Finland, is pure Karelianism in its architecture. It is now a museum.Finland contains quite a few regions, but the names of only two are any way well-known in the world: Lapland and Karelia. It was in the "singing lands" of Karelia that Elias Lönnrot collected the folk poems that he used to compile our national epic the Kalevala, the 150th anniversary of which is being celebrated this year. That sowed the seeds from which a sense of national identity grew and flourished, and eventually led to independence. Thanks to the Kalevala, the artists and intellectuals who sought the wellsprings of true Finnishness tended to look east. By the 1890s, the powerful upsurge that was taking place in literature, music, architecture and the visual arts drew its power from the same admiration of the Kalevalan world of Karelia, which explains why the trend was called Karelianism.
One can also speak of political Karelianism, which toyed with ideas of a Greater Finland. It was inspired by ethnographic material about the Finno-Ugrian languages, which were spoken even east of the Urals. Dreams of territorial expansion extended far into Eastern Karelia, which was inhabited by peoples closely related to the Finns, as well as to the Kola Peninsula and the shores of the White Sea. For a couple of years in the early 20th century, Finnish idealists with pretty fervent views on nationality questions recruited volunteers to go east and support their kith and kin in Eastern Karelia. However, they failed to gain much local support there and had to abandon their unrealistic project.
Karelianism as a phenomenon took place during a period of National Romanticism that historians now call the Golden Age of Finnish art. The Kalevala, which had greatly boosted national self- esteem, provided the themes and motifs. Artists travelled deep into the Karelian heartland in search of inspiration. Ever since then, old Karelian textile and jewellery designs have been an integral part of the Finnish identity.
Jean Sibelius was one of those who travelled in Karelia. He acknowledged the influence that the famous rune-singers he met there had had on his entire output as a composer. His symphony Kullervo (1892), inspired by a heroic, but tragic figure in the Kalevala, can be regarded as the first great milestone in Finnish classical music. He also composed several other works on Kalevalan themes, including the Karelia Suite. Other Finnish composers have likewise found inspiration in Karelia, and the region remains a source of themes. Aulis Sallinen's Kullervo was chosen for the first performance in Helsinki's superb new opera house in 1993.
The artist whose work is most powerfully imbued with Karelian influences is Akseli Gallen-Kallela, who in 1891 won a competition to illustrate a sumptuous edition of the national epic. This book is now a national institution and the figures in it - as he depicted them - are engraved in every Finn's mind already at school.
Kullervo's Curse is one of the best-known paintings on a Kalevalan theme by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931).
Old Karelian log buildings with their lace-like carved-wood decorations were directly reflected in the architecture of that era, along with strong influences of Jugendstil. For a presentation of some of the most important public buildings dating from that era, see our section about Helsinki.
The essence of Karelianism is crystallised in our national epic, which has been translated into more than 30 languages. Dozens of Finnish authors have acknowledged the inspiration that the Kalevala gave them. In the world of theatre, the 1950s plays of Kyllikki Mäntylä, still evergreen favourites, represent a kind of post-Karelianism. Eino Leino, who is considered Finland's greatest poet, represents pure Karelianism in that many of his themes are drawn straight from the rune poems of the region. He is such a towering figure in Finnish culture that his birthday is an official flag day.