Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Personal Memoir: Heikki Seppa

I have worked with metal nearly all of my life. The love of metal is in my family (both maternal and paternal), my blood and my spirit. I studied metalsmithing courses in college, but could not quite understand how to achieve my desired final product: a hollow, fabricated piece that made a bold statement in metal with the seeming lightness of a feather.
One day, I came across The Penland School of Crafts Book of Jewelrymaking (1975) - and there it was - the exact technique that I needed! A shell structure technique developed by one Heikki Seppa.
Heikki Seppa was pioneering a brand new vocabulary of form - literally redefining the art of metalsmithing. Heikki was from Helsinki, taught briefly in Louisville (close to my neck of the woods), and was currently heading up the metalsmithing department at Washington University in St. Louis.
The fates smiled upon me, and Heikki accepted me into the graduate metals program - although after I arrived at Washington University, there were so many talented metalsmiths! I was a small town girl (jokingly referred to as "Kentucky Woman" by Heikki) with a B.A. in Fine Arts, Art History and a minor in Political Science. Most of my peers had achieved their BFA degrees in metalsmithing.
But, I was not a fish out of water ... many of the metal students, as well as Heikki and John Baltrushunas, the undergraduate professor were Pisces.
We even had annual Pisces parties. Oh...the stories I could tell...the photographs that I treasure...
I was HOME.

Being innately shy (many will dispute this statement, but I assure you it is completely true), I recall hiding my works-in-progress ... no small feat. Critiques were nerve-wracking. This was a serious program!!! (ahh - those were the days) Heikki was in the midst of publishing Form Emphasis for Metalsmiths - a giddy time in which we all enjoyed way more than 15 minutes of fame. Everything was golden.
Heikki worked us hard! We played hard too - but that is another story.....

Below is a pin that I have watching over my workbench. The photo was taken during a two week forging session on the St. Louis campus. The image is one of my favorites of Heikki.

This period was fruitful, graced, creative, blessed. I am so grateful to have had those highly educational and challenging years! Very, very fortunate...
I received word that Heikki died last week. This was not unexpected, but I am heartbroken. Of all of his many achievements (and believe me - I cannot think of a single artist rising from the "craft" world who has achieved more honors and accolades, awards and recognition) I like to think that Heikki's best achievement was being true to himself.

What an inspiration.
I was not the perfect 'shell-structure' metalsmith. I was an odd hybrid.
Here is a complimentary note about my critical writing he sent to me not too long ago. Heikki started my writing career in 1976 when I impressed him (no small feat!) with my wordsmith ability and knowledge of metal - a rare combination.

In my letter of reference, Heikki graciously wrote that I was a master of many arts, facets and nuances - including playing the piano! His kindness, remembrance and sentiment touched me profoundly.
He was a complex, often misunderstood, fun, hard-working, hard-playing, masterful and enlightened being.
Here is an example of the type of encouragement that he freely gave me.

Heikki and I remained in touch for 35 years. I am proud to say that he was my friend.
I miss him.
Have you heard that 'thing' about when a mighty oak falls somewhere in the woods, do you hear it?
I may not have heard the felling of the master, but I certainly feel his absence.
Heikki was unique and unforgettable. Demanding, outspoken, opinionated ... and a real sweetheart!
This old weary soul and world will miss you, Heikki. But, somehow, I know there is a joyous and rowdy reunion in a sauna, replete with eucalyptus, vodka, snow outside and a waiting forge, hammer and anvil inside.
With Love, Beauty and Respect...

In Loving Memory of Heikki Seppa  March 8, 1927 - May 18, 2010

Images Courtesy of the Author


  1. Wonderful wordsmithing indeed! I am young yet to the field and I have only seen Heikki from afar at SNAG, but it is good to read his accolades from such a personal viewpoint. I know one of my own teachers, Jon Havener is very fond of Heikki too.
    I rejoice at the thought of a beautiful reunion with waiting forge.
    pieces parties (for I am one too)

  2. Thanks, Mollie, young Fish!
    I met Jon many years ago.
    Heikki - salut!

  3. Peace and Love to you during these difficult times!

  4. Thank you, Chandra.
    Heikki's passing is difficult for many,many people. He was a legend - a character larger than life.
    He will be missed.