As the only child of Finnish immigrant farmers during the early decades of the twentieth century, Kosti Ruohomaa was bred to a life of hard work in the outdoors with crops and livestock. Throughout his adolescence, the family owned and operated a blueberry farm on Dodge Mountain in Rockland, Maine. Not surprisingly, he grew up surrounded by a community of people with strong hands and resilient hides, where common sense and dry wit were prized. Despite his father’s wish that he commit himself to the family enterprise, Ruohomaa pursued a burgeoning interest in the humanities as a teenager. This led him to art school, an early position as an effects illustrator with Disney, and then to contract work as a photojournalist with the ascending Black Star Agency in Manhattan.
The ad hoc mentorship to Black Star veterans ripened his innate gift as an artist. He quickly became an asset to the Agency, and his photographs started to appear everywhere in glossy magazines. This led to greater professional freedom for Ruohomaa, who followed his affinity back around to the poetry of the plain and the rugged: wild landscapes, farmers, fishermen, loggers, rural schoolchildren, farm animals, factory workers. His idiom revealed the mystery, elegance, and humor of the ordinary subjects he preferred. His travels increasingly led him back to his roots, and he never seemed to grow tired of interpreting these with his camera. He continued to take photographs until his death in 1961.
Black Star donated Ruohomaa’s archived work to Penobscot Marine Museum in 2017. The collection includes over 45,000 images on various film formats, along with numerous photographer’s notes. Using professional equipment and drawing on the combined expertise of a small, dedicated team, PMM is creating high resolution digital images of the photographs and describing them in a collections database. This will allow us to share Ruohomaa’s vision with the world. Few of his photographs have been seen by the public since his death. Most of the images never appeared in print. To those who know nothing of his work, and to those already familiar with his unmistakable style, we’re privileged to offer a captivating and important visual resource. Please check back with this site periodically to keep tabs on our progress.
PMM is grateful to Black Star Publishing for donating Ruohomaa’s archive here, thereby returning Kosti to Maine. Linda and Diana Bean have our gratitude and friendship for their generous financial contribution to the project. We warmly thank the Mildred H. McEvoy Foundation and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art for their generous grant support.