What kind of world were artists looking at 100 years ago? How did gender affect the standing of the artist in Finland? What does courage stand for?
Will and Skill – Artist Women of the Early 20th Century explores the artistic output and the lives of artist women originating from and connected to the North Ostrobothnia region. Artists featured in the exhibition are Hilja Tolvanen (1879–1959), Laila Karttunen (1895–1981), Lyyli Kaurila (1896–1987), Karoliina Otava (1901–1990), Olga Nordström (1902–1981) and Hilja Palomäki (1902–1994).
They were passionate about art, received professional training and travelled abroad. In the day, working with art required courage and often the ability to tolerate uncertainty – and still does. Each of the artists solved the challenge of how to get by in their own way.
The exhibition is based on a research project started in 2017 at the Oulu Museum of Art that focused on early artist women of the region with artist training. Many of them were unknown to the general public. As the research progressed, we encountered a spectrum of women who made art. New artists emerged at every turn. This exhibition presents six of them. It also features works by some of the other artists active in the same period.
Making the exhibition has been like colouring a picture from the edges and waiting for a shape to form in the centre. The artists are reflected in and through archive records, oral recollection, objects, and, in some cases, historical portrayals. We have not been able to interview them, but their voices and the ways they perceived the reality around them are reflected in their works. The exhibition focuses on their early work from the 1910s to the 1950s.
The majority of the works are on loan from private collections, along with works and objects from the collections of Hämeenlinna Museum of Art, Oulu City Archive, Oulu Museum of Art and the Northern Ostrobothnia Museum.
We wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who made artworks available to us or helped us with our research work.
Photo above and banner: Olga Nordström, Self-Portrait, 1947, pastels on paper, Collections of the Oulu Museum of Art. Photograph: Mika Friman.