MARQUETTE – Artist Mary Biekkola Wright has a proven track record in promoting community art. When Marquette celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1999, Wright was instrumental in the family totem poles that lined city’s Lower Harbor Park bike path. When the local library was fundraising, Wright oversaw the Books on the Blocks project which featured paintings of residents’ favorite book covers. And when Finn Fest 1996 came to town, Wright dreamt of blue and white chairs representing the Finnish colors lining the roadways as a sign of welcoming.

      “Marquette has become synonymous with the painted blue and white chairs,” stated John Kiltinen, Past President of Finn Fest USA. “Many Upper Peninsula residents have asked if all Finn Fests have blue and white chairs, but this is something strictly unique to Marquette. Through the vision of Mary Biekkola Wright and her painted chairs, Marquette holds a special place for thousands of people who attended the 1996 festival. When we were notified that Marquette was chosen to host Finn Grand Fest 2005, a joint Canadian and U.S. Finnish festival, we knew we needed to talk to Mary about resurrecting the painted chairs.”

       Biekkola Wright, though, wanted to go grander in honor of the Finn Grand Fest 2005 (FGF05) festival. This time she has envisioned 2,005 blue and white chairs lining Northern Michigan University’s (NMU) campus walkways and Marquette’s sidewalks. For the past two years, she has embarked on a major outreach program throughout the Upper Peninsula making sure that a few thousand chairs are painted and placed throughout the community.

       “I’ve been from Sault Ste Marie to Menominee and most places in between working with citizens of all the U.P. counties on this chair painting project,” enthused Biekkola Wright. “Painters are using the chairs to honor their family’s immigrant story either through decopaging family photos on the chairs or through free hand art. Others are honoring their hobbies. It’s been a phenomenal experience to witness the thousands of pieces of art that have been created and so heartening to witness the many Finnish stories being told through these chairs, benches and church pews. It will be something to see.”

       For those who don’t paint their own chairs, there will be an opportunity to purchase one after the festival is over. While many chairs will go back to their owners, others will be donated to FGF05 and sold immediately after the festival is over. The sale will take place at the Superior Dome on Sunday, August 14.

       For more information on Finn Grand Fest 2005, visit www.finngrandfest2005.com or call 1-906-222-FINN.

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