The Toivakka Church was built between 1879 and 1882. The interiors were refurbished in 1923, when the angels designed by legendary Finnish architect Alvar Aalto were added to the ceilings. The current ceiling paintings were completed by the artist Pellervo Lukumies between 1972 and 1973. The artist passed away in August 2018, aged 83.
Toivakka Church owes much of its present day reputation to the highly distinctive and idiosyncratic images created by Lukumies. However, they were not an immediate or uncontroversial hit with the locals. The story goes that, having laid eyes on the first painting, the vicar was horrified by the sight and stripped the artist of the keys to the church, exclaiming: “If you think I’m going preach in this circus tent, you can think again!” The lack of keys did not stop Pellervo Lukumies from continuing his project, however. As the son of the vicarage’s previous incumbent, he knew there was another way to get in. He instructed his assistant to climb up on the roof, enter through the steeple window and then open the church door from the inside. Rumour has it that the artist was so keen to continue his work that the door splintered on his way in. Undeterred by the disruption, he persisted and continued to work through the night in his inimitable style. Ultimately, he won the support of the Parish Council, which led to the vicar resigning in protest.
The Parish took delivery of the completed ceiling and wall paintings on 6 December, Finland’s Independence Day, in 1973. Lukumies’s paintings are now a great source of pride for local residents and a classic part of the area’s history. The paintings were inspired by pop art, the Bible and the Finnish national epic Kalevala, and they remain to this day one of Toivakka’s main visitor attractions. Other works by Pellervo Lukumies are on display at the Toivakka Library and Toivakkatalo, the municipal council hall.
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