Discover a bit of Finland this month in "Land of Summer Light" at Astoria's RiverSea Gallery, 1160 Commercial St.

Bellingham, Wash., artist Rebecca Hafdahl-Meloy spent three months last summer visiting relatives and creating art in residency at the Nelimarkka Museum in Alajarvi, Finland. In the process, she reconnected with her ancestry and found that the spirit of the land and people of Finland began to appear in her artwork.

"Land of Summer Light" will be exhibited through July 14 at River-Sea Gallery, then will become part of a larger, one-woman exhibit this August at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. Next February, she has been invited back to Finland to exhibit her artwork at the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki.

"The Little Cottage near the Field" ("Pieni makki pelon laidalla") from "The Finland Suite," oil on canvas by Rebecca Meloy, 2003. Submitted photo by Johnny Danger."My emotional connection to Finland, the land of lakes, sky and space, is through my mother," Meloy said in her artist's statement. "In 2003, 17 years after her death, I made the trip to Finland to find her footprints on the soil... I was trying to discover and capture through my art the Finland of my memories as she spiritually transferred them to my soul and to try to further understand why I am so attracted to nature imagery.

"In making the land-based nature images which inspired me, I was surprised to see the reactions on the faces of my relatives. I learned that nature and very specific images of nature have meaning to the Finnish people which I still have not begun to totally comprehend. For instance:

"I had painted an image of a horse standing in a forest, but my cousins' reactions were 'Ooohh' with a long sigh. To them, it was all about the honoring and sacredness of the animal they depended on to save our people and culture. It was the 'Finnish Horse' which our people relied on in helping fight the many dozens of wars in the shelter of our beloved Karelian forest.

"Also, I had painted several images of red houses with barns and fields, only to learn that the most cherished thing in Finland is to own a little red cabin and a potato field. To me, I had painted them because they were familiar. In America, I had grown up in a red farmhouse where we grew everything from potatoes to blueberries. Little did I know the rich symbolism in the simple imagery I was painting.

Rebecca Meloy shows one of her paintings from "Land of Summer Light," created in Finland. Photo by Christopher Key, Whatcom County Business Pulse."Most importantly, I discovered the clear light and rich earth, and lovingly groomed fields, and diversely changing sky - the same as my ancestors knew and my cousins still know. And similar to all that my mother had taught me to love in her 'God's Country' of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

"I returned to Finland and found peace and communion with a very pristine environment. What I found, I now and then find at home in America, but mostly through the process of painting."

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