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Armi Tuorila Finds a Community Through Art

When Armi Tuorila moved to America from Finland in 1983, she was lonely. “I felt so isolated,” she said. “I didn’t speak English, so it was very hard in the beginning.” Anderson, South Carolina, where her first husband had gotten a job as a pilot, was very different from home, where the winters were long and the summers were short.

What brought Armi out of her shell was art. She began taking painting lessons at the Anderson Arts Center and joined the Anderson Artists Guild, which she served as an officer for over 18 years. “I enjoyed making friends with artists,” she said. “They accepted me.”

She also discovered a talent she didn’t know she had, experimenting with oil, watercolor, pastel, drawing, acrylic, and collage. When her daughter was in kindergarten, the PTA was looking for someone to paint a mural in the school cafeteria, so Armi volunteered, thinking, “How hard could it be?” Over three months, she painted a space scene that included moon landings and airplanes, and the response was enthusiastic, leading to similar jobs at other schools and a historical downtown scene for McDougald Funeral Home. “I love doing it,” she said. “Now people call me and say, ‘We have this wall; come do something on it.’”

Her collage work was featured in a two-person show at the Anderson Arts Center two years ago. An avid traveler who has visited Europe, South America, and Australia, among other places, Armi has collected pictures, tickets, and other souvenirs that she turned into collages, each one focused on a particular place, including one for Anderson. When the former director of the Anderson Arts Center saw that one, she invited Armi to be in the show, and in five weeks, Armi created 25 pieces.

Mostly, though, her medium is acrylic, which she likes because it dries so fast. She is drawn to flowers and natural landscapes and keeps trying to be more “painterly” and less realistic. “I try to be as loose as I can, but it’s a challenge,” she said.

Her “real” job for about 20 years was in the framing business, which comes in handy for an artist. She buys ready-made frames but still cuts the mats and glass herself.

When Armi came to the U.S., she didn’t expect to stay. But it’s been 36 years, and four years ago she did something that shows she finally feels at home here: She became an American citizen.

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