ShareThis Page
Former Shaler Area student working to add Finnish Room at Pitt |

Former Shaler Area student working to add Finnish Room at Pitt

| Thursday, December 13, 2018 1:33 a.m
Nathan Fix (kantele) and Jukka Akkanen (guitar) from Pittsburgh Finns Ensemble.
Nathan Fix with his traditional Finnish kantele that he plays as part of the Pittsburgh Finns Ensemble

When Nathan Fix, 27, first toured the Nationality Rooms inside the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning as a Shaler Area middle-schooler, he wondered why there wasn’t a Finnish Room representing his heritage.

Now, he and his mother are working to add the room to the university’s roster of 30 classrooms representing the cultures of ethnic groups that settled in Western Pennsylvania.

Each year, nearly 30,000 visit the Nationality Rooms located on the first and third floors of the 42-story Gothic Revival tower, according to the Nationality Rooms website. Pitt opened its first Nationality Rooms, representing the Russian, Scottish, German and Swedish cultures, in 1938.

Nationality room committees are responsible for the designing, fundraising and building of their rooms. The Finnish Room Committee aims to raise a total of $400,000; they have raised around $110,000 through events, donations and proceeds from sales of Nathan’s band, the Pittsburgh Finns Ensemble’s $5 album “Hauska tavata.”

The Finnish Room Committee has worked for more than
30 years on the project. Nathan, of Aspinwall, joined the committee as its music director in 2016 after he started Finnish lessons with the group’s Chairwoman Seija Cohen at the University of Pittsburgh. His mother, Karen, of Shaler, joined soon thereafter as programs director.

The classroom design is based on a rural farmhouse “central to the community and central to education,” Nathan said.

“It does have an open sky, so it does show stars when you walk in. The sky is open. And then there are white birch trees on the wall when you come in. … There is a sauna facing you as you walk in,” Karen said, of the painted and projected elements.

The “Kalevala,” a 19th-Century Finnish epic poem will adorn plates within the classroom.

“Kids study it in elementary school. My mom actually has jewelry based on the story that she bought in Finland. They use it everywhere. In their pottery, in their painting dishes, in their jewelry, in their rugs,” said Karen, who originally hails from Houghton-Hancock, Mich., an area with a high Finnish population. Moreover, Nathan’s father — Karen’s husband —frequently traveled to Finland for business.

Nathan said that committee Treasurer Sally Morton purchased a Finnish log home from Minnesota. Volunteer Frank Eld of Idaho visited the home to ensure its authenticity and transported the materials to Pittsburgh so that they could be put to use in the Nationality Room.

“Frank is a huge resource to our project. He is a woodworker, but he also studies the art of Finnish log construction. And he studies and researches and tours the country looking for old Finnish log cabins. He can identify them by their structural characteristics,” Nathan explained.

Karen said the project will showcase the Finnish heritage because “they are just so super intimate and private people that you don’t know anything about them.”

Nathan said that where we reside shapes how we view the world.

“We can’t see the rest of the world unless we go and travel or unless you visit the Nationality Rooms, essentially. The Nationality Rooms kind of serve as an immediate cultural experience that you can have just by walking in. This is a national or a world project, not just a Pittsburgh project. Again, it’s the fact that the cathedral is such an important resource for preserving culture.”

To purchase Pittsburgh Finns Ensemble’s album: pittsburgh or to donate, visit and click “how to contribute.”

Donors are currently matching the committee’s funds if they reach $20,000.

Erica Cebzanov is a
Tribune-Review contributor.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.