A loom made by Matt Riihinen in Negaunee during the winter of 1945-1946.
Photo courtesy of Christine Simonen
This loom has a fascinating history, and helped inspire the Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers, a field of interest fund established at the Community Foundation of Marquette County in 2003.
Johanna Pohjala (1919 – 2003) was born on Case Street in Negaunee. Her parents, Anna (Kotka) and Matt Riihinen were Finnish immigrants who settled on the Riihinen farm in Negaunee. Like so many immigrants to the area at the time, Matt worked in the iron mines to supplement their income from the farm. During the Finnish-Russian War in 1939, Matt received numerous donations of secondhand clothing from customers along his dairy route. The Riihinen’s sent as much as they could to Finland, but much of it was of poor quality. Anna requested a loom to make rag rugs with the clothing. Matt, who was also a blacksmith and woodworker, built the loom almost entirely from lumber harvested on their property over the winter of 1945-1946.
Johanna was Matt and Anna’s only child, and she graduated from Negaunee High School in 1937. She married Sulo E.Pohjala in 1941, and ten years later they moved to the Riihinen farm to help care for her parents. Johanna began weaving on the loom in 1952, and this began a journey of over 50 years weaving rugs on this loom.
Johanna Pohjala on the loom in 1954. Photo courtesy of Christine Simonen
As a toddler, Johanna spent over a year traveling in Finland with her parents and stayed in contact with her Finnish cousins. Her Finnish background influenced her weaving, and the more she created, the more her craftsmanship was widely recognized. Orders for Johanna’s rugs came from all over the U.P. and the country. As a member of the local weaving guild, Yarnwinders, Johanna explored different techniques and patterns in her rugs. In September 2000, Johanna was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the U.P. Weavers Exchange annual conference.
Johanna Pohjala, Rosepath Rug, Collection Michigan State University Museum
In the 1990’s Michigan State University Professor Yvonne Lockwood travelled to the Upper Peninsula to interview rug weavers. Her research was published as a book titled, “Finnish American Rag Rugs: Art, Tradition & Ethnic Continuity”. MSU Press published the book in 2010. Johanna was one of eight weavers featured in the chapter titled, “Weavers”. The Michigan State University Museum holds some of Johanna’s rugs in their textile collection.
Johanna was also a poet, educator, and traveler. A charter member of the Finnish Language Class in Negaunee, Johanna served as a substitute for well-known Finnish language educator Tanya Stanaway. Three more trips to Finland allowed Johanna to stay close to her Finnish family and heritage. She was a translator of family histories and correspondence for several different Finnish families. She was also a published poet, writing in both English and Finnish.
Christine Simonen, Johanna’s daughter, established the Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers at the Community Foundation of Marquette County in 2003 after her mother’s passing. The purpose of the fund is to create opportunities, for fiber artists and fiber arts education in Marquette County. This fund has supported Yarnwinders and Lake Superior Art Association to create educational programs and exhibitions around the tradition of weaving.
Christine Simonen (bottom right) with her husband Fred after delivering the loom to The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in 2017. At left are Karen Greenly (standing) and Robyn Sendelbach (sitting).
And what about the loom? Christine took up her mother’s interest in weaving but knew the loom needed a permanent home that would fully appreciate and care for this historically significant artifact. In 2017, the family donated the loom to The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, in Vista, California. The Museum is a nonprofit that “collects, preserves and displays examples of mechanical ingenuity and crafts associated with the early days of the American farm and rural community”. The loom is on permanent display with over 50 other looms from all over the country. The loom is still fully operational, and is utilized for demonstrations by museum volunteer weavers.
COVID-19 Community Response Fund Grant Provides Support for PPE Needs in Marquette County Schools
Through a collaborative effort with local school districts, the Community Foundation of Marquette County and United Way of Marquette County recently announced a grant to Marquette-Alger Regional Education Service Agency (MARESA) to support the purchase of personal protective equipment, including masks, for Marquette County schools. The $7,400 grant was made possible by the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, which is administered by the Community Foundation in partnership with United Way of Marquette County.
“These types of collaborative efforts have a meaningful impact in our community,” says Andrew Rickauer, Executive Director of United Way of Marquette County. “I am really pleased to be part of helping our local youth so that they are safe and can return to in person learning.”
The grant will allow MARESA will coordinate a bulk order of PPE, including masks, after the schools expressed a need as they prepare for the school year.
“After hearing there was a need for PPE in Marquette County schools, we were able to utilize funds from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund to assist,” says Community Foundation CEO Zosia Eppensteiner. “With much uncertainty going into this school year, our hope is that this grant allows the schools to be prepared if the PPE is needed. Collaborating among organizations to provide a quick response to a community need is exactly what the Community Response Fund was set up to do.”
The COVID-19 Community Response fund was established in 2020 to support the needs of the community and nonprofits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, over $178,000 has been raised and over $160,000 in grants have been distributed. Grants have supported the community in a multitude of ways, from purchasing food for senior meal programs, to at-home craft kits for youth, to supplies for organizations assisting homeless populations.
Jackson Mine Park Pavilion Opens : Grant Spotlight
This past month the City of Negaunee held a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of the pavilion building in Jackson Mine Park. The project has been in the works since 2012, with a total cost of $485,000. Funds and grants have been raised over the past seven years (2012-2019), including a grant from the Negaunee Area Community Fund. The project “broke ground” in 2019, after the City was awarded a grant through the DNR, fulfilling the resources needed for the project.
The finished building consists of a large, covered picnic area and restrooms, with plans of adding on a kitchen area. The project also included an on-site parking lot. The pavilion, which is located off the Iron Ore Heritage trail, on Tobin Street in Downtown Negaunee, is open to the public and available to reserve for private events through the City of Negaunee.
Projects like this show the opportunities that become feasible when our grantmaking abilities are utilized to their fullest potential. When we work together, we can achieve greater goals. By helping organizations leverage funding, we engage as partners in larger projects which then have a greater impact in our community.