On Kalevala Day, 28 February 2009, the Kalevala Society granted the Akseli Gallen-Kallela Award to sculptor Taru Mäntynen.
The works of sculptor Taru Mäntynen (b. 1944) often deal with human beings, animals or their mythical metamorphosis or combination. In her sculptures, body language, gestures and postures often express strong emotions, taking one’s imagination to archaic expression, mythology, rock paintings and the verse of the Kalevala.
Becoming an artist was not the dream of the young Taru Mäntynen. She was more interested in animals than art. After matriculating from high school, she applied for horse husbandry school, and intended to become a vet. After spending a year in Switzerland looking after horses, she went to Sweden to look after the household of her grandfather, sculptor and professor Jussi Mäntynen (1886–1978). Her grandfather soon saw Taru’s skills as a crafter and draughtsman, and encouraged her to become a sculptor.
Taru Mäntynen started her studies at the Free Art School in 1966, but could only stay there for a year. After that, she moved to live with her uncle, a farmer and amateur painter in the Porvoo area, spending three years there. As she worked at the farm, she had the opportunity to paint, create sculptures and discuss art with her uncle, who was at the time making sculptures of the female characters of the Kalevala. The Kalevala had been close to Mäntynen ever since she was in school, but her uncle’s sculptures reawoke her interest in the epic. Mäntynen discovered the symbolism and the mythic depth of the Kalevala.
During her time in Porvoo, Mäntynen applied to the School of Art and Design, where she studied in 1970–1972, and after that to the Finnish Art Academy for 1972–1976. After her studies, she moved to Varkaus, and commenced her decades long, ongoing work as a productive sculptor. Mäntynen has created an extensive range of works: hundreds of pieces, from small, unique tabletop sculptures to great public works of art. She casts her own bronze for even her largest works, around thirty of which are displayed in many Finnish cities. One of the newest is the sculpture Approach, erected in the yard in front of the extension to the Finnish Parliament House.
Taru Mäntynen’s work has been on exhibition since 1972. She has held around thirty private exhibitions, and participated in the same number of shared exhibitions. Her work has been exhibited in Finland, Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union, Monaco and Sweden. In 2004 and 2008, the Varkaus art museum displayed her retrospective exhibition. In 2008, the Juminkeko Foundation organised an exhibition of her key Kalevala-themed sculptures in Kuhmo. The exhibition also included new works specifically made for the exhibition. Mäntynen’s works have been displayed in many public collections, for example in the Museum of Modern Art Kiasma, in the art museums of Imatra, Kuopio, Pori and Riihimäki, in the city collections of Juankoski, Jyväskylä, Kuopio, Naantali, Pieksämäki and Varkaus, as well as the collections of the Alvar Aalto Museum, Nokia, Saastamoinen Fund, Emil Halonen Museum Fund and Yrjö A. Jäntti Fund. Furthermore, her works can be found in many hospitals, rest homes, libraries, public buildings, banks and businesses.
With the Akseli Gallen-Kallela Award, the Kalevala Society wishes to thank Taru Mäntynen in particular for giving form in her sculptures to mythical subjects and their emotional landscapes. Mäntynen continues the legacy of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, known as a unique interpreter of archaic forms, the movements of the mind and the logic of emotions.