top of page

If life gives you lemons

Mary Wardell

Nov 24, 2014

An artist profile, written by Mary Wardell, describing my rise into visual arts through an unfortunate car accident.

MARQUETTE – Sometimes, one day can change the landscape of a person’s entire life.

Selena Hautamaki, visual artist and special sections editor at The Mining Journal, was two years into her clinical lab sciences degree at Northern Michigan University, when fate stepped in and altered the course of her career, personal goals and even her personality.

It was a winter day in 2002, and Hautamaki was driving from her parents’ house in Skandia to her job at the university. The roads were icy. Heading into Harvey, she lost control and started flying backwards downhill, sliding into the left lane – and that’s the last thing she remembers.

“I flipped my car, and I was buried on the side of the road,” she said. “I had to dig myself out of the car.”

No one saw the white car under the snow, and Hautamaki has no idea how long she was down there, she said. Before cell phones were prevalent, she relied on the kindness of a stranger, who dropped her off at a gas station, where she called her parents.

“The cop that came, he thought I was fine,” she said. “I ended up going home.”

Returning to classes, Hautamaki discovered she could no longer keep pace or remember the necessary terminology. Her grades plummeted. Devastated, she realized she would have to change the focus of her studies.

“I remember I was taking an oral test in one of my clinical classes, and I got, like, two right out of 40. And the teacher, who was my advisor a the time, she told me, ‘I don’t think you should be in this anymore,'” Hautamaki recalled. “That kind of destroyed my career in school.”

But her career wasn’t the only thing that changed.

Formerly an introverted science major, she became more outgoing and motivated by creative energy, she said.

“It’s a lot easier (now) for me to come up with ideas and create things than trying to memorize something,” Hautamaki said. “I think it was the other way around before. I was more analytical, and now I’m more creative.”

Born the third of four children to Susan and Nick Hautamaki in 1981, she grew up in the far reaches of Skandia, near Trenary. She graduated from Gwinn High School in 1999 and aimed to become a medical lab technician, until her car accident, when she immediately started turning out emotion-based paintings.

“The majority of the work I started doing, it was all sad and angry,” she said. “It was a whole year of painting that way. … That entire year just sucked.”

A CAT scan at the time revealed nothing apparently unusual about her brain function, and after an initial search to understand how the change was medically possible, she said she’s given up trying to figure out why or how it happened.

“(Now), I just feel like, this is the way that things should be,” she said.

She graduated from NMU in electronic imaging in 2006, but her art covers a much broader range of media including film, water color and acrylic painting, computer generated art, 3-dimensional animation, electronic music, jewelry and photography, as well as layout design and illustrations for all magazines and special sections at The Mining Journal.

She tries to enter one film festival per year with her favorites being the 24-hour festivals, where teams have one day to write, shoot and edit a short film, she said. The first one she entered in Atlanta was with a “rag-tag” team of customers from a CVS where she worked. They won second-runner up in the competition.

Since Hautamaki didn’t paint, film or pursue art before the accident, it was difficult explaining the change to her parents, she said. They weren’t thrilled about the switch from a reliable medical career to the competitive and financially insecure realm of art.

But Hautamaki said she “couldn’t go back.”

“I always feel compelled, like I have to create things,” she said. “I always have ideas for things and if I don’t create them, a little part of me dies.”

Hautamaki hopes to someday be the creative director for an advertising agency.

Having made peace with life’s proverbial lemons, she said she wouldn’t be able to do everything she does, if the accident hadn’t happened.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.

bottom of page