Error processing SSI file
Error processing SSI file
Error processing SSI file
Error processing SSI file
Michigan Heritage Awards

^ MHA Awardees List ^
< Prev Awardee Next Awardee >

Photo of Art Moilanen
Photo by Jim Leary

Photo of Art Moilanen with another accoridan player
Photo by Jim Leary

Art Moilanen
1985 awardee, Mass City (Ontonagon County), Finnish American accordion player

Michigan's western Upper Peninsula (UP) is home to the nation's largest concentration of Finnish Americans and is locally referred to as "the sauna belt." Art Moilanen is the dean of Finnish-American piano accordionists in this region.

Art Moilanen (1916-2005) has lived in Mass City most of his life. He has been a logger and tavern keeper, while all the time playing the accordion. He began to "fool around" with his brother's accordion in 1930 and to imitate what he had been hearing from first-generation Finnish-American farmers and lumberjacks, and he "picked up alotta these Finn songs from a record that we had on an old phonograph at home." (1) He has been playing ever since. His musical repertoire embraces Finnish-American, country western, and regional dance tunes, reflecting influence of other local ethnic musics, the media, and the UP environment. Two significant influences were Viola Turpeinen, an accordionist and icon in Finnish-American culture, and Frankie Yankovic, "the Polka King." Because of Viola Turpeinen, Art acquired a piano accordion and learned her style and her songs, which he still plays even today. Art also plays "a pretty good polka," some of which he attributes to Frankie Yankovic. One of Art's specialties is parodies of pop songs in English. The lyrics are UP or Finnish-American specific and often are about locals; they are expressions of regional values and attitudes or Art's assessment of situations. Art is something of a cultural mediator, communicating both Finnish-American and UP culture values and history to outsiders through the medium of his songs.

Art's musicianship has been acknowledged by many. He received Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship awards in 1991 and 1992 to teach piano accordion and Finnish-American music. He has played at music festivals throughout the Great Lakes region and in Finland, for ethnic dances in the region, at local bars, and has participated in music and cultural conservation workshops. In 1987 he participated in the Smithsonian Institute's American Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and the Festival of Michigan Folklife in East Lansing. He has been featured on recordings of traditional music of the Upper Peninsula by James Leary and in the film Tradition Bearers (1983) by Michael Loukinen. In 1990 Art received the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Although retired but still playing, Art says, "After 70 years of music, why quit now!" (2)

Art Moilanen also received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990.

(1) Moilanen, Art. Quoted in James Leary, "Reading the 'Newspaper Dress': An Expos? of Art Moilanen's Musical Traditions," in C. Kurt Dewhurst and Yvonne Lockwood, eds. Michigan Folklife Reader, East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1988:213.
(2) Moilanen, Art. Personal communication with Yvonne Lockwood, 2002.

Back to top of page

© 2003 Michigan State University, all rights reserved Error processing SSI file