Osmo Visuri is a name unknown to most Mississippians.
However, the very mention of the name brings a smile to the face of Mary Pyle of Gulfport as she recalls the colorful, adventurous character who is forever imprinted in her memory. She hopes to soon share her memories of Visuri, along with some of Visuri’s unique watercolor paintings, during a special exhibit at the William Carey University Tradition campus in Biloxi from Feb. 25 through March 31.
Pyle met Visuri, a Finnish artist, university professor, author, world traveler and photographer, in June 1988. Pyle was in Los Angeles participating in a People to People International program on distance learning. At that time, Pyle was a member of the National Council on Vocational Education, a position she was appointed to by President Ronald Reagan.
“There was a meet and greet,” said Pyle. “I would say that in most situations like that, you find people that you get attracted to as far as common interests and personalities.”
That was the case for Pyle and for Visuri, who was then serving as the director of television production at the University of Helsinki.
“I can still remember when Osmo walked in the room, dressed in a blue trench coat and with a warm and deep voice,” she said. “We chatted and instantly became friends.”
For three weeks, Pyle and Visuri traveled through Australia and New Zealand as part of a group working on educational projects. As the trip drew to a close, Pyle invited Visuri to visit her at her Gulfport home and to meet her husband, Jack.
He accepted the offer several months later in February 1989.
“The phone rings late in the middle of the night,” said Pyle. “We answer it and hear, ‘Hello, this is Osmo … I’m in New Orleans.’”
Visuri stayed with the Pyles for nearly a month. He brought with him 20 of his watercolor paintings depicting things of interest to the artist, including Finnish landscapes, in the hopes of finding a place to exhibit them in the United States.
“We thoroughly enjoyed Osmo because we really got to know more about him during his stay,” said Pyle. “We discovered that he had been a photographer and writer in the 1950s and had written five books on the Parables of Jesus. He had spent a lot of time in Israel and had also trained as a painter in China.”
They discovered many of Visuri’s other talents, including his baritone voice, and enjoyed escorting Visuri to areas such as New Orleans, Jackson and Baton Rouge. During their visit to New Orleans, Visuri was made an honorary citizen of the city by Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, a friend to the Pyles.
The Pyles and Visuri were unsuccessful in finding a place to exhibit the paintings before Visuri returned home. As he planned to depart, he made the decision to leave the paintings in Pyle’s care.
“I remember him saying, ‘I’m going to leave the paintings with you … that way, you’ll have them should you decide that we can get an exhibit going,’” said Pyle.
Visuri would go on to open an art studio and teach art in Italy. He kept in touch with the Pyles and sent them postcards and videotapes explaining his technique and what was depicted in the paintings he left behind with them.
“There’s 20 paintings, but four of them are painted front and back,” said Pyle. “They are watercolors of scenes you would find in Finland … he said that most people think that Finland is just ice, but in these paintings, you can see the changes in the time of the year and season.”
As time passed, the Pyles and Visuri kept in contact, but with less and less frequency. When Jack Pyle died in 2004, Visuri called Mary to express his sympathies. It was the last time the two friends would speak before Visuri’s death in January 2013.
About a year after Visuri’s death, a dream about Visuri and the paintings jolted Pyle awake. She Googled her friend’s name and discovered his obituary.
“I decided right then that I had to do something about the paintings,” said Pyle. “I have been on a mission since then to make sure they are exhibited in a way that properly honors Osmo.”
The search for a place to exhibit the paintings eventually led Pyle to Monica Marlowe, Carey’s chief advancement officer, and then to Tracy Williams, the director of Carey’s art program at the Tradition campus.
Williams said Visuri has many similarities to Walter Anderson, the famed painter from Ocean Springs.
“There’s so many parallels with Walter Anderson,” she said. “They were both watercolor painters, intensely inspired by nature, entranced with the natural world … they’re like similar spirits, those two.”
Pyle said finding the right place to exhibit Visuri’s work was like putting together a puzzle.
“It all fell together at the right time and I think Carey is the right place to exhibit these works,” she said. “I think it has the right connection with him – his religious aspect, as he was quite a religious man – and also because he was affiliated with a university.”
She is excited to finally tell the story of her friend to the public.
“I feel blessed to have been in the company of this individual … to have gotten to know him and to be able to carry on now with his art,” said Pyle. “I am excited for other people to know about him and what an interesting and talented individual he was.”
The opening reception for the exhibit is Feb. 25 from 5 until 7:30 p.m. in the lobby of A Building at the Tradition campus. In addition to the unveiling of the art, a presentation about Visuri is also planned. Keijo Karjalainen, a cultural counselor from the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C., will attend the reception as a representative of Visuri’s native land.
The exhibit will be closed for spring break from March 14-18.
For more information on the exhibit or for directions to the campus, call (228) 702-1775 or email Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org