Finnish families

Most of the figures in the mural are portraits, members of the Finnish families past and present. I worked from historic photos and in the case of some, from life, with a subject posing in front of the wall.


Going back furthest in time, look at the group on the right. These are the four founding families of Sointula Commune, located on Kass Creek, which flows into the south fork of the Noyo River, eight miles east of Fort Bragg.

These four couples were recent Finnish immigrants who pooled their resources in order to purchase 636 acres of logged land that they named Sointula, meaning “place of harmony.” Each family had a house, small barn, milk cow and vegetable garden. The big horse barn, the sauna, blacksmith shop, swimming hole and the land were held in common. It was all up and down, with just enough flat land to set a hat down.

Fun future fact:

Aili Mankinen, with loose blond hair, and Waino Jacobson, standing in front of his parents, later got married!

You can see how rough the wall is, making any kind of detail quite difficult. Zoom in on faces and you’ll see how rough the brush strokes are, yet coalescing into a likeness from a distance.

Here are the painted portraits.

Sointula was located on very rugged land, scattered with the giant stumps of felled redwoods. To plant these hillsides took enormous labor trying to eliminate the tree roots. A better source of income was splitting the trunks by hand into railroad ties, which were in high demand. This is how the Sointula men paid the mortgage during the first ten years.

Without knowing it at the time, I had painted another future married couple: Adolph Backlund and the older Sylvia Erickson.

Above, the Anderson and Jacobson families. The detail of Jonas Jacobson and baby Walfrid shows how rough the wall is. Oscar, the son of Matti (Matt) and Hulda Erickson, appears in the photo, grown up, with his wife Bea. They are the parents of young Sylvia, whose portrait appears next to the group, separated not by space but time.

Source photos from Sylvia Erickson Bartley

Little Sylvia holds hands with another grandchild of Sointula founders, Eddie Mankinen, in front of berry bushes. Everyone picked blackberries, huckleberries, and the delicate brilliant orange-red thimbleberries in their seasons.

Laundry day at the logging camp could include music

Adolph Backlund and Matti Jylka are on the sauna porch at the Caspar Woods Camp, around 1915. Just as the Finnish sauna made bathing a party, laundry day up in the woods at the logging camp was an opportunity to play the accordion.

Matti Jylka’s light eyes are typical of many Nordic people and of the Finnish people, along with the frequency of blond hair.

The Finnish descendants I have met over the course of this project have made the mural what it is. They have given me stories and photos to use.

Grandmas did a lot of things, including catch salmon and serve coffee

One of the Finnish descendants is David Maki, president of the Fort Bragg – Mendocino Coast Historical Society and great source of info and objects. His Grandmother Hilma Holmi Maki was a no-nonsense lady who got things done.

Hilma and her salmon appear above the Sointula descendants Sylvia Erickson and Eddie Mankinen, and with Adolph Backlund doing his laundry and Matti Jylka playing the accordion.

Music was a big part of life for the Finnish families. A gathering could become a party with a fiddle, trumpet or accordion, preferably all three!

The portraits at the sauna

An important part of the sauna was refreshments afterwards, especially coffee, served here by Finnish descendant VoVo Cain’s beloved Grandma Katie She was Katie Halonen before the name was “Americanized” to Hellen.

VoVo and her family grew up on the same property with Grandma Katie, who was a midwife on the coast in the early 1900s, along with a Native American woman from Westport.

Grandma Katie walked everywhere, even with bad arthritis. Walking to the cemetery to lay gladiolas on graves, walking to visit lady friends, refusing a ride. Born in 1880, she went from horse-and-buggy to airplanes. She embodied Finnish sisu: determination, perseverance, being stoic and following through no matter how hard the going gets.

VoVo Cain

My friend and sauna adviser Lauri Rissanen told me about sauna structure and then posed for the obligatory relaxation and cool down on the bench in front, legs crossed, enjoying hot coffee.

Fort Bragg friend Adam Maynard, in the photo above, posed for the other man finished with his sauna session. Another important part of the sauna was preparation. Wood needed to be cut, chopped and stacked close to the fire box. Paul Nylund posed for this:

I painted Paul stacking wood near the madrone tree representing the vibrant natural world. Saunas were certainly also located in town, but the essence of cleansing renewal went hand in hand with nature, especially when you were so hot you dove into a cold stream afterwards.

Judi Mills, descended from the Jacobsons of the Sointula communal property comes to see the mural. She and Paul Nylund share memories. Lou Rossi was married to a Finnish descendant, Ray Rossi, whose grandparents came to Fort Bragg around 1920.

Listen to Judi, Paul and Lou in their own words. And here:

Thank you to everyone who shared family stories and photos. I feel such kinship to your Finnish relatives. It was an honor to paint this mural about them and for their families and the town!

Lauren Sinnott

I met many people descended from the Fort Bragg Finnish families. In addition to these, I’d like to include more stories and photos over time. Contact me if have info.