„Latvians Abraod” (LaPa) Museum goes to the public in an „Antiques Roadshow” type event
On Sept. 22 a group of Philadelphia Latvians experienced an hitherto unknown event in Latvian society, which the organizers described as follows, „The ‘Latvians Abroad’ (LaPa) musuem meets the American TV program ‘Antiques Roadshow’.”
Just as for the popular TV program, people in Philadelphia were invited to bring their heirlooms to the event, significant belongings which they had brought with them from Latvia, or which represented some important aspect of the first years outside Latvia. But while in the TV program various experts try to determine on objects’ provenance and market value, the main role in the LaPa Roadshow belonged to the heirloom owners. Each owner told the audience about their object – its history, origin and significance in his life. After that a panel of museum specialists evaluated the relevance of the heirloom to museums, its significance in a historical, cultural, societal or personal context and how it might be used in museum expositions.
The stories and heirlooms that were brought to the event were extremely interesting, valuable and ofttimes moving, for example, the children’s Christmas picture book, drawn by the artist Alfreds Kalniņš and written by the author Vera Čakare in late 1944 in Czeckoslovakia as they were fleeing from Latvia in World War II. The first eight pages depict the happy, joyous activities of a traditional Latvian Christmas during peacetime – the father brings a freshly cut Christmas tree from snowy woods, the childran bake gingerbread cookies, they learn poems to recite to Santa Klaus, decorate the Christmas tree and on Christmas eve, the whole family enjoys the gaily decorated tree and Santa Klaus distributes presents to the children. The last page of the book shows what is happening in Latvia at the time – soldiers behind barricades, explosions, bombs, grenades and above all, uncertaintly about what happens now. „No other Chistmas book in the world has such a negative, dark and hopeless ending,” said Jānis Čakars, the grandson of the author and owner of the book. Jānis plāns to republish the book and would appreciate information about the artist Alfreds Kalniņš. Jānis’ e-mail: email@example.com.
The other stories and heirlooms were just as significant. Andra Zvargule read excerpts from letters, which her mother, the beloved actress of the Latvian National Theater, Nina Melbarde, had written to her sister about daily life during the flight and in DP camps. Andra also displayed a doll in Latvian folk costume, made by her aunt in DP camp and a very popular present in the camps. Peter Dajevskis brought a wooden bench from the horse-drawn carriage with which his mother, the popular National Theater actess, Helga Gobzine, had travelled from her home in Western Latvia to the DP camp Meerbeck in the British Zone in Germany during World War II. How the horses and carriage managed to travel on a German army ship is a story all its own.
Several people brought beautiful skirts from traditional Latvian folk costumes to the Roadshow. As Maija Medne’s family fled from Latvia at the end of World War II, her mother had used the beautiful skirt as a bag for packing clothes. Since yarn was very difficult to get in refugee camps after the war, Inta Grunde’s mother had unravelled a family’s heirloom blanket, and used the yarn to weave the traditional skirt. Edgars Dale showed a beautiful crystal bowl, brought from Latvia by his Grandmother, and inscribed to his Grandfather, a few years before he was arrested and deported by the Soviet authorities in 1941, never to be seen again. Askols Zagars brought a big, beautiful painting, which his family had brought out from Latvia during World War II. The circus performer Frida Adamsons passed around her husband’s watch chain, made of Latvian silver coins from the 1930’s. Present day emigrants from Latvia were represented by Jolanta Mockas, who brought a set of porcelain coffee cups and pot, which she had obtained in Soviet Latvia after standing in line for a long time. When she had arrived at the front of the line, she was given a choice of only two things: the coffee set or some plates. As she had neither one, she chose the coffee cup set.
The heirlooms, which people took with them from Latvia, could be included in the „Latvian suitcase” exhibit, which LaPa staff are preparing for the celebration of „Rīga – European Capital of Culture” next year. The exhibit is scheduled to open in the former KGB building in central Riga from April 30 – September, 2014.
Andris Grunde introduced the audience to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Germany, which holds millions of personal documents from the World War II period. ITS is happy to research information and supply electronic copies of documents. Their internet address is: www.its-arolsen.org.
The event was opened by a half hour power point presentation by Maija Hinkle about LaPa – it’s mission, activities, exhibits, present projects and immediate plans. Further information about the museum can be obtained from their web site: www.diasporamuseum.lv , on their Facebook page „Latvians abroad – museum and research centre” or by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The panel of museum specialists consisted of Lilita Bergs, the Director of the American Latvian Association Latvian Museum, Maija Hinkle, the former President of the Board of Directors of LaPa, and Ints Dzelzgalvis, the former Vice-president of LaPa. The museum consultant Peter Dajevskis greatly enriched the discussions. We thank Sandra Milevski for the brilliant idea to combine the LaPa museum with the popular TV program and Laila Gansert for expertly chairing the Roadshow event. Judging from the comments by the participants and later also by other community members, the LaPa Roadshow was a great success. „You need to stage another LaPa Roadshow in Philadelphia, since now people know what this whole thing is about. I have some heirlooms at home that I’d like to brind to the Roadshow, too,” were comments that the organizers heard several times. Now they just have to think of how to translate „Roadshow” into Latvian. Up to now it seems to be one of those nontranslatable words.
The members of the LaPa Museum are ready to bring the LaPa Roadshow to other Latvian communities in the United States and Canada. Interested parties can contact Maija Hinkle, email@example.com on by called her at 607-273-1319.
Legends for photographs:
- 1. Jānis Čakars talks and shows the children’s picture book „Merry Christmas,” created in Czekhoslovakia in 1944 during flight from Latvia. Photo Maija Hinkle.
- 2. First page in the picture book „Merry Christmas.” Photo Maija Hinkle.
- 3. Last page in the picture book „Merry Christmas.” Photo Maija Hinkle.
- 4. Andra Zvārgule reads her mother’s letters about her flight from Latvia and life in DP camps.
- 5. Doll in Latvian traditional folk costume, made in refugee DP camp. Photo Lilita Bergs.
- 6. Peter Dajevskis brought the seat from the horse-drawn carriage, in which his mother left Latvia.
- 7. Inta Grunde demonstrated the traditional Latvian skirt, that her mother wove in DP camp.
- 8. Jolanta Mockus’ tea service, bought in Soviet Latvia. Photo Jolanta Mockus.