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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo by Pearl Yee Wong

Anna Lassila
1993 awardee, Mohawk (Keweenaw County), Finnish-American tradition bearer

Anna Lassila (1909-2001) was born near Mass City to parents from western Finland. She grew up on the family farm, learning skills that nurtured her throughout her long life. Of her many skills, Anna is best known for her rag-rug weaving. Many years after she married, she acquired a loom and returned to weaving, a skill she learned when she was 13 years old. Although praised for her woven rugs, recognition of great skill also comes with her superb five- and seven-strand braided rugs.

Anna's home was a showcase of textile tradition. Walls, floors, furniture, and beds were graced with textiles by Anna: intricately patterned woven wall hangings; woven and braided rugs; upholstered furniture; crocheted afghans, doilies, and bedspreads; woolen bed throws still reminiscent of the coats they once were; quilts, tied and quilted. Much of her materials were recycled and reused for Anna was the consummate recycler. "I like to make things out of nothing. Anybody can buy [fabric] and make something, but when you make something out of what people have discarded, it can be a treasure." (1) Looms, like furniture, were prominently in view, communicating the importance of weaving in her life. Anna's skills extended to traditional Finnish foodways, knitting, sewing, tailoring, and even woodworking. She learned within her family, from neighbors, co-ethnics, and co-residents of the area. Some skills she learned out of necessity, some out of desire.

Teaching others was always important to Anna. She unselfishly received young girls who want to learn Finnish-American cookery, and for decades she assisted weavers. In 1987 she was an invited participant at the Smithsonian Institute's Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D. C. and at the Festival of Michigan Folklife in East Lansing. In 1990 and 1994 she was awarded Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeships to teach multiple-strand rag-rug braiding and rag-rug weaving, respectively, to Lorri Oikarinen of Calumet. Anna's expertise and traditional knowledge gained through decades of activity are greatly respected and honored.

(1) Lassila, Anna. Interview with Yvonne Lockwood, Mohawk, Michigan. 1986

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