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Kuusamo

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Crossing out "kiss a bear" from my bucket list

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In May 2017, when Jane McDonald and her film crew (from Cruising with Jane McDonald) visited Taiga Colors, I told Jane that I intended to kiss Juuso the painting bear when I finally would get the chance to meet him. Well, I have news for you Jane!

In the beginning of September I had a chance to take a few days off from work and fly up to Kuusamo. My good friend, journalist Päivi Arvonen, took good care of me and showed me around. The first day after Päivi picked me up from the airport, we went to Kuusamo Predator Center to meet Juuso and the other bears. In addition to myself, Juuso the bear is the only artist of Taiga Colors, and our mutual JuJu Collection was launched last May. 

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We were happy to get Sulo Karjalainen, the founder of the Predator Center and the lifetime companion of Juuso and the other bears, as our host during this extraordinary visit. When Juuso saw him approaching he got on his back feet and started eagerly "dancing" back and forth, showing that he was all exited to meet us (or more likely Sulo and the grapes and plums we had with us). But before going to meet Juuso, we went to meet and feed the other bears first. 

Getting ready to feed Niisku. Pictures of Jutta and the bears by Päivi Arvonen.

Getting ready to feed Niisku. Pictures of Jutta and the bears by Päivi Arvonen.

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This is totally awesome!

This is totally awesome!

When we finally got to Juuso, he was very upset. It had taken us too long with the other bears and his feelings were hurt. Talk about a true artistic spirit! He turned his back on us, and didn't care about the treats we had brought him. It took Sulo quite a lot of effort and about twenty minutes to get him relented, but finally he came to meet us.

Finally getting a chance to feed Juuso

Finally getting a chance to feed Juuso

"This is your bedroom, isn't it?"

"This is your bedroom, isn't it?"

"Which one of these pictures shall we post on Instagram, Juuso?"

"Which one of these pictures shall we post on Instagram, Juuso?"

"I have no idea why that woman is babbling like that..."

"I have no idea why that woman is babbling like that..."

"...but I guess she is harmless..."

"...but I guess she is harmless..."

"She looks funny though...I bet she hasn't kissed a bear before...."

"She looks funny though...I bet she hasn't kissed a bear before...."

What an amazing experience! In Finnish language, the scouring pad is called karhunkieli, which means the tongue of a bear. I have to say that the word doesn't give you the right image at all. His kiss was soft and pleasant, and his breath was as fresh as the summer wind! I thought that I will never ever wash my face again.

This meeting happened under the supervision of Sulo Karjalainen, who has raised Juuso and therefore knows him like his own child. If you meet a bear in the nature, please do not try to kiss it. Do not run or climb into a tree either, because bears are much faster runners and better climbers than you. Talk to the bear calmly so you will be identified as a human, and move away slowly keeping your eye on the bear. In Finland there are about 1800 bears in the wilderness, but the chances of meeting a bear are quite slim. They normally smell you way before you can see them, and they stay away in a distance. Observing you. 

Next day we went hiking at the most popular hiking route in Finland called Karhunkierros (the bear circuit). The full route is 82 km, but we did only the short version of it (12 km). I love swimming in natural waters, and of course I had to take a dip in the downstream of Jyrävä waterfalls. 

Jyrävä waterfalls at the background. A great way to get refreshed on the way. Picture by Päivi Arvonen.

Jyrävä waterfalls at the background. A great way to get refreshed on the way. Picture by Päivi Arvonen.

We also fed some Siberian jays. They are very tame, another wonderful experience in Kuusamo.

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Juuso the Bear has a story to tell

Picture by Pasi Jäntti

Picture by Pasi Jäntti

The Finnish word for a bear, KARHU, indicates to the course (karhea) fur of the bear. Karhu ( Ursus arctos) has always been sacred to the Finns, the king of the forest and has played a significant role in Finnish mythology. Ancient Finns considered the bears to be our ancestors. Using the orginal word for the animal, ohto, was prohibited. Therefore there are over 300 different names for the bear in Finnish language and dialects; mesikämmen, otso and kontio just to mention a few of them. 

In Kuusamo Predator Center there are six bears, one of them is called Juuso. Juuso is the most famous bear in Finland, there are plenty of YouTube videos of Juuso and he has been featured even in the Huffington Post. As far as I know he is the only brown bear in the world, that paints.

Picture by Pasi Jäntti

Picture by Pasi Jäntti

Juuso has been raised up by Sulo Karjalainen, who worked as an assistant for the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute. Sulo took care of infirm and orphaned bear, lynx and other animal cubs found in wilderness. Some of the cubs were injured in car accidents or their mother had been shot. As the animals gained back their strength, they were released back to the wilderness. When the research program by Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute was ended, the animals faced dispatching.

Several of the animals had lived in the house of Sulo Karjalainen, and he had formed a close relationship to many of them. Sulo applied for an authorization to keep predators and to establish a zoo, and Kuusamo Predator Center was established in 1992. Juuso's father, Vyöti, came with the police car from Suomussalmi as an orphan cub, and Tessu, Juuso's mother, was one of three orphaned siblins also found from Suomussalmi. Juuso had his 18th birthday while hibernation during last winter.

When animal art collector Heikki Lehtosaari contacted me with his idea of me designing a collection based on Juuso's paintings, at first I hesitated. And the designer's despair continued all through the design process. Why am I doing this? Will it be interesting enough? How will it blend with the rest of my work? But after the launch I realized, that the JuJu Collection was indeed worth designing and launching. Juuso uses a lot of colors, and so do I. I love telling stories to customers in my shop, and this is definitely a lovely and unique story. So now we have a new artist at Taiga Colors and I love it!

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Kuusamo Predator Center gets 10 % of the sales revenue of the JuJu Collection. All the JuJu Collection items, as well as all the other Taiga Colors products, are manufactured in Finland.

Have you ever seen a bear? What is your opinion, can the art of a brown bear be called art? 

 

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