Jul 29, 2014
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Lemont Art Museum Shows Pride in Lithuanian Culture's Past, Present

Folklore and contemporary ideas grace three galleries at the Lithuanian World Center.

Impish devils and soaring angels are among the surprising finds in a basement museum at the .

The Lithuanian Museum of Art, 14911 127th St.,  has three galleries: a permanent collection of fine art and sculpture; folk art featuring looms for traditional weaving, decorated eggs and straw ornaments; and a room of carved-wood statues and scenes.

“A lot of Lithuanian art is ethnic, organic. Nature is a big theme in Lithuanian art in general,” said Virginia Rimeika, who described herself as “friend and helper” of Dalia Slenys, the museum’s director and pottery artist.

The artistry begins on the outside, where wooden shrines are erected around the large complex and atop a small hill. The 9-foot or taller shrines, which resemble lantern posts, are made of wood, decorated with carved flowers and vines, and have one or two little niches to house figures of Jesus Christ.

The shrines are seen all over Lithuania, on roadways and farms, Rimeika said. A shrine with a little picket fence means the property owner has given permission for someone to use that bit of land. If the shrine has no fence, the land owner has erected the shrine.

The Lithuanian World Center, once a seminary, contains a church and a bustling Lithuanian Saturday school.

On a recent weekend, a temporary exhibit featured work entered in a juried show to benefit Sea Scouts, the Lithuanian equivalent of the Boy Scouts' Explorers.

Among the entries was a mesmerizing depiction of Koldusa, the goddess of Lithuanian dumplings (koldunai). Maya Chiapetta, 11, created the piece.  Atop the blank face of a lovely woman were dumpling-shaped adornments attached by curly wire.

"(Koldusa) was hanging in our house before the show," said Maya’s mother, Taiyda, who is a stained-glass artist. "It was eerie passing by. I thought we would turn into dumplings.”

The Chiapettas had dumplings on their minds after having made 10,000 of them for a Sea Scout fair.

Lithuania was the last European country to be converted to Christianity, Rimeika said.  The pagan past is remembered and honored.

“Folklore is extremely important to us,” Rimeika said.  “You name it, we have it,” she said of gods and goddesses for items besides dumplings.

One element of the folklore is the depiction of the devil as more vexing than evil.

“The devil is bad but not bad bad,” Rimeika said.

A section in the carved-wood room is devoted to masks and whimsical statues of the devil. Many are more comical than menacing.

Another tradition is that the image of Jesus, in shrines and statues, is almost always contemplative or sad. The figure is shown hunched over with his head in his hands.

Another area of the wood room is devoted to nature with figures of animals, birds and trees carved from oak. The wooden pieces must be oiled occasionally so they don't dry and crack.

Between the fine arts gallery and the wood room is a space devoted to weaving and fabric. Leading into the room is a stunning fiber wall piece by Ada Sutkus. Human heads are sculpted from fiber on a vivid background of multicolor threads. 

In the weaving room, Vida Rimas, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Folk Art Institute, tended to spools of threads. Looms were threaded with works in progress.

Rimas noted proudly that all the fabric work in the weaving room is hand-done “the old-fashioned way.” Intricately-patterned sashes and national costumes are on display. Sometimes weaving classes are offered.

“Most of the textiles (in the gallery) are very, very old—18th century and 19th century,” Rimas said.

Hanging from the ceiling are traditional straw ornaments, called sodas.

“Especially in the farm areas, one is hanging always in their homes and when you get married, you get one,” Rimas said.

Rimeika and Slenys volunteer from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to lead visitors through the museum. Appointments can be made for weekdays. There is no admission charge, but donations are accepted. For more information, call 630-257-1616.

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