Dean Peter MacKeith Participates in Exhibition, Lecture Series Celebrating Finland's Centennial

This is the building banner for the exhibition "The Iconic and the Everyday: Creative Finland in America," which opens this week at the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C.
Graphic design by DOXA

This is the building banner for the exhibition "The Iconic and the Everyday: Creative Finland in America," which opens this week at the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas, has a long-standing relationship with the country of Finland.

It began in 1990, when he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to this Nordic country. He decided to live and work in the country for another 10 years. And, in February 2014, MacKeith was recognized by the president of Finland for his contributions to the culture and architecture of Finland with the insignia of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the Lion of Finland.

So it's only fitting that he's been asked to participate in a couple of ways as Finland celebrates the 100th anniversary of its independence in 2017.

For one, MacKeith is among a select group of five Centenary Lecturers named by the Finlandia Foundation for its Lecturer of the Year program. As part of this, he is set to travel to several locations around the United States to give a lecture about Finland. His lecture, titled "A House of Finland," presents the ways in which Finnish architecture in 100 years of independence has "constructed" an understanding of Finnish identity and values.

The second is an exhibition that opens this week at the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C. "The Iconic and the Everyday: Creative Finland in America" highlights Finnish architecture, design and industry, which have been a strong presence in American culture since at least the mid-20th century.

MacKeith is the exhibition curator, and Jonathan Boelkins, an instructor in the Fay Jones School, is the exhibition designer. It opens Thursday, May 18, and remains on display through Aug. 15.

This exhibition has the endorsement of the Suomi/Finland 100 Program of the President of Finland, and it is partially funded by the program. MacKeith received a grant of 25,000 euros to create and install the exhibition, funding that is administered through the UA's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Koskisen Plywood of Finland is the significant corporate sponsor of the exhibition and has provided the plywood material for the installation.

Annina Aalto, cultural counselor at the Embassy of Finland, said embassy officials work to strengthen ties between the United States and Finland through political work as well as work with a cultural focus. Design and architecture are the main ways Finland, a country of just 5 million people, is known to Americans, she said.

MacKeith, as an "American who has lived both realities," is the perfect person to talk about Finland with American audiences.

"He's such a cultural ambassador for Finland in the U.S.," Aalto said. "He's an expert on Finnish architecture and I'd say the foremost expert on Finnish architecture in the U.S. He's an American who I think can perfectly translate the Finnish design mentality for an American audience."

When planning the content for this exhibition, MacKeith brought together a variety of items based on a concept of what is iconic and everyday in American life regarding Finnish design and industry.

"The intention is to demonstrate to those who visit the exhibition the everyday presence of Finnish design and industry in the everyday lives of Americans," MacKeith said.

A trip to St. Louis will easily reveal the Gateway Arch, designed by the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. But the Louisville Slugger brand, the unofficial bats of major league baseball, is now owned by Wilson Sporting Goods, which itself is owned by the Finnish company Amer Sports.

"So when you pick up a Louisville Slugger bat, you're basically entering into the Finnish economy," MacKeith said.

The "most invisible" example in this display is the penguin creature called Tux, who is the official mascot of Linux, the operating system that powers Android phones and much of the internet. Linux was the invention of Linus Torvalds, a Finnish-American software engineer.

Many people might have in their homes a pair of scissors made by Fiskars, which is the oldest company in Finland, founded in 1649. The most popular fishing lures in the United States are made by Rapala, a company founded in Finland in the 1930s. The Fatboy beanbag chair was created by the Finnish designer Jukka Setälä.

Huhtamäki, a Finnish-based food packaging company whose North American headquarters are in De Soto, Kansas, makes Chinet products and commonly used paper drink carriers.

"These things that we take for granted and put our hands on all the time," MacKeith said.

Many church hymnals, especially those in Protestant denominations, include the hymn "Be Still, My Soul." The melody to this tune, noted in the corner of the hymnal page, was written by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Another product that's becoming more popular these days is the Finnish Baby Box. For more than 80 years, expectant mothers in Finland have been given this box by the state; it serves as a starter kit for their new baby.

The Embassy of Finland, itself, was designed by Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen in 1991-94. Many of the cruise ships operating out of Florida with the Carnival and Royal Caribbean lines were built in Finnish shipyards.

In addition to the Gateway Arch and the Finnish Embassy, there are featured works in the United States done by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

"The idea of 'The Iconic and the Everyday' is that what we perceive as the everyday could simultaneously be perceived as something quite iconic - that it has this super value to it - but we're just not alert to it and aware of it," MacKeith said. "So the exhibition plays on our perception of those qualities. A pair of scissors can have this super value - and almost monumental status."

This exhibition that celebrates Finland is Arkansas made. Stronghold NWA designed and built a set of cabinets, which will be filled with these objects for this exhibition. Tim Walker and his team at DOXA created the graphic design work.

The smaller items that are highlighted are physically represented in the exhibition, while larger pieces such as architecture are depicted through photography.

"The whole point of the exhibition is that you can put your hands on these things, and some of them are used in quite serial fashion," MacKeith said.

Even Finlandia vodka will be represented through 100 100-milliliter bottles - positioned as a way of marking the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence.

"It's a very particular way of understanding the world that Americans live in," MacKeith said of this exhibition. "Finland is this very small nation that has this rather powerful impact on our lives."

MacKeith has worked in architecture and design practices in both the United States and Finland, notably with the renowned Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa. He has written, lectured and published extensively in the United States, Finland and other Nordic countries on modern and contemporary Finnish and Nordic architecture.

"The Iconic and the Everyday" exhibition at the Embassy of Finland is open from 3-7 p.m. on Wednesdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the following weekends: May 20 and 21, June 3, 4 and 11, July 2, 9, 16 and 30, and Aug. 6, 12 and 13. Admission is free.

This Saturday, May 20, MacKeith will lead a tour of the exhibition at 11:30 a.m. Also, the Finnish author Anu Partanen will present a special lecture on her book "The Nordic Theory of Everything."

The Embassy of Finland is located at 3301 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. For information, contact (202) 298-5800 or


Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design


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