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May 29, 2024

CIA student exhibition to explore Karelian heritage, family refugeeism

Work by Gwen Putz for "Seeking Sisu: From Finland, with Love."

“Seeking Sisu: From Finland, with Love” opens June 15 at the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor


May 29, 2024

CLEVELAND—Gwen Putz, a rising senior majoring in Printmaking at the Cleveland Institute of Art, is honored to announce her solo exhibition Seeking Sisu: From Finland, with Love at the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor, Ohio.

Putz is partnering with the Finnish Heritage Museum to produce work about her family’s Finnish and Karelian heritage, including her family’s experiences during a war between Finland and Russia in the 1940s. Her work also explores themes of immigration, migration and refugeeism.

Karelia is an area in Northern Europe currently divided between Finland and Russia. At the outset of World War II, Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union and ceded a large portion of Karelia via treaty—forcing hundreds of thousands of people to be relocated. Finland soon took back this territory, but a few years later, was forced out again. This resulted in the entire population being evacuated from the region with no chance for return.

“Though my family was faced with hardship and displacement, they remained resilient. The bravery my Iso Mummi (great-grandmother), Lulu, showed during this time is something that I will always look up to and do my best to honor,” Putz says. “I will never truly understand the weight of their decisions, but I will always carry their sacrifices and inspiring stories with me.”

Seeking Sisu: From Finland, with Love will open to the public from 3 to 6pm Saturday, June 15 at the Finnish Heritage Museum at 301 High St. in Fairport Harbor. A brief artist presentation will occur at 3:30pm. Putz’s exhibition will be on view alongside the museum’s permanent collection and will remain up through Saturday, June 22.

“We at the Finnish Heritage Museum are excited to have Gwen’s talents and story on exhibit,” says Janine LaBounty, curator at the Finnish Heritage Museum. “She brings a fresh perspective on Finland’s struggle during the Winter War.”

For Seeking Sisu: From Finland, with Love, Putz found inspiration within the museum's collection and by connecting with its Finnish members. In addition, for this exhibition, she explored a range of printmaking processes. The responsive works she created are mainly lithography and monotype.

“Looking at cultural textiles and finding ways to understand and explore my heritage—despite being far removed by time and distance—is something I deeply tap into through the work in this exhibition,” Putz says. “In the act of transcribing and transforming photographs onto lithography stones, I am not only trying to connect with my family’s history but also share this little-known history with others. Acknowledging the pain and displacement war causes serves as an example for why it is important to remember our histories.”

Seeking Sisu: From Finland, with Love was created through CIA’s Creativity Works program, which is made possible by the generous support of the Fenn Educational Fund and the G.R. Lincoln Family Foundation. Creativity Works is a self-initiated internship program with the goal of supporting a student's professional development. Participating students create proposals that align with their long-term professional goals.


Cleveland Institute of Art
Michael C. Butz, Director of College Communications + External Relations / 216.421.7404

Finnish Heritage Museum
David Leifer, President

The Cleveland Institute of Art is a private, nonprofit college of art and design that has been the training ground for countless students who have gone on to make important contributions to the fields of creativity and innovation since it opened in 1882 as the Western Reserve School of Design for Women. Its students have designed internationally recognized products, their artwork has been exhibited in major museums and private collections around the world, and their entertainment media has been enjoyed by audiences and game players for generations. It enrolls about 600 students nationally and internationally and has a faculty of about 100 full-time and adjunct members, all of whom are practicing artists, designers and scholars.

The Finnish Heritage Museum is located on the corner of High and Third Streets in downtown Fairport Harbor, Ohio, just two blocks from Lake Erie and one block from the Finnish Monument. The museum is home to many dedicated volunteers, all of whom have some Finnish ancestry and/or connection. Our members meet monthly to discuss museum business and plan for future events. In just a very short time, we have successfully arrived at a point which says, “we are here, we are serious, and we are active.” The Finnish Heritage Museum is open to the public every Saturday from 10am to 3pm.

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