Aira Heikkilä (nee Ilosalo) was born in 1920 a town called Teuva, located in Southern Ostrobothnia. She was a self-taught and modest artist. Due to her own wish, she was known as "Muori" ("Granny") since she became a grandmother.
Aira was the second oldest child in the family of Lauri and Alina Ilosalo. In total, there were five children in the family. In Aira's childhood the family moved several times because of her father's work, but when her mother's health deteriorated they returned to Teuva.
Aira's mother Alina died of tuberculosis when Aira was only 11 years old. Following the death of Alina, the family split up in different directions. The siblings found each other again only when they where already adults. Aira lived some time with the Ketola family in Ostrobothnia, until she left to work as a maid in Ruovesi.
Aira and her friend were planning to leave Ruovesi and get "civilized" in Helsinki, but the outbreak of the Winter War (fought between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-40) soon ended their intent. During the war, Aira married Tuomas Heikkilä, and began to expect their first child. Tuomas was wounded in the war, and spent half year as a prisoner of war.
Karhunkorva is a typical detached house built after the Second World War for the families of soldiers who fought in the war. The house was built in the middle of forest in 1950. It is located in the heartland of Northern Häme, just beside the idyllic Lake Pirttijärvi in Hanhonkylä. The nearest shop is located 20 kilometres. Aira Heikkilä named the farm Karhunkorva and since then it has been known by the name. Karhunkorva is a section of a large Hanho farm. Compared to Hanho's lands, Karhunkorva is as small as the bear's ear in relation to its large body.
The Heikkilä settler family lived a busy life. Four children were born. From left to right in the picture are Simo, Ossi and Antti. The fourth child, Minna, had not yet been born.
Aira suffered from cancer in the early 1970s. After surviving her illness her creativity burst into full bloom. She began to make a wide variety of works of art, write poems and other texts, tender her garden, make dry floral arrangements and carve and paint wooden sculptures. Aira developed into a self-taught, fame and glory-averse artist. Her poems have been published in a book "Runojen Ruovesi" (2009).
Although Aira avoided publicity, her natural material works aroused attention in the 1970s. The works were asked for display in, for example, Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki, but they were rarely on public display. Aira attended an international art exhibition, the naivistic Naivi '73 in Zagreb, with three pieces of work.
Aira made art from the things she discovered in the forest including rhizomes, stump pieces, burs, polybores, birch bark, beard lichen and clubmoss trees she collected from the lake. Her material also included, for example, batter, fabric pieces, stones and old iron scrap. Aira did not see herself as an artist, but rather as a discoverer.
Muori lived in good health and mentally alert for more than 90 years in a log cabin she called Hiidensilmä. The log cabin is situated in the middle of the forest far away from the major village centres in Hanhonkylä in Ruovesi. She lived alone as a widow for three decades. After her husband Tuomas died, Muori lived for about five years in an apartment in the centre of Ruovesi. She called her apartment "lokero" ("pigeonhole"), and longed back to her old home. When Aira's sons built a log house for their mother beside Karhunkorva, she was ready to move in. As Muori herself said, she would not be able to live anywhere else than in the wilderness of Karhunkorva, even though she was a very social human being and longed for company.
Aira-muori lived a modest and simple life. She marveled and criticized the materialism of the modern world. Muori was often claiming to be a woman of another era.
Aira's daily routines included walking or cross-country skiing in the winter in the nearby coniferous forests until June 2011. "The forest is my church", said Muori frequently. The forest was also Muori's therapist and health center.
Aira's schooling was limited to traveling school at the countryside in the 1920's, but as she reached the older age, she became a passionate lover of literature. Her favourite authors included, for example, Leo Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse, and Niko Kazantzakis. She appreciated philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and Socrates in particular. She read through at least once all the books in the local municipal library.
Muori was a colorful, a bit unconventional and a unique personality. She loved to tell long stories of her life and people she encountered along the way in an amazing way. She was philosophical and healed the world with happy long conversations. Muori was outspoken and mastered straight humor. From her own perspective, she was, above all, an unadorned Ostrobothnian.