History preservation

Work is proceeding for exhibit upgrades at the Latvian Museum in Rockville, thanks to the significant contribution of Peter Dajevskis and Ann Clausen, the founders and principals of Interpretive Solutions, a museum exhibition development company. Their pro-bono involvement includes script development, coordination with the designer and fabricator, and project management. The overall thematic approach for the new exhibits was developed with museum director Lilita Bergs, who will be involved at all stages of the project. Fabrication costs will be covered, in part, by the bequest to the museum by ALA member Arthur Knight, of Centralia, WA.

Much time was devoted to closing ALA’s Folk Art collection, which is housed in rented space at Priedaine, in Freehold, New Jersey. Since the retirement of its former director Mrs. Lilija Tomass, no new manager could be found. The NJ Latvian Association determined the collection is now rarely visited and asked that the space be returned to the Association’s use. The ALA board asked Lilita Bergs to develop a professional deaccession and dispersal plan for the sizable collection. The site is more than a three hour commute from Rockville and the physical and digital inventory took more than a year to complete.

Lilita Bergs and volunteer Inese Berzins dismantled the exhibits and packed much of the collection for storage during 2018. Dispersal decisions were made based on historical criteria. A number of diaspora artifacts, including the handiwork of craftsmen in post-World War II DP camps and in the United States and Australia were transferred to the Latvians Abroad (LaPa) Museum and Research Center in Latvia and the Latvian Folk Art Museum in Chicago. A significant number of artifacts, primarily hand-knitted mittens and handwoven textiles were purchased new in the 1970s and 1980s from diaspora folk artists. It was determined that these ethnographically correct examples, devoid of personal history, could be sold. Some mittens and folk costume sashes were donated to Latvian schools. A large number were sold at Latvian community events in Rockville, Philadelphia, Seattle and New York at the end of the year. The proceeds support other museum projects.

We are pleased to report that the remainder of the collection, which includes historical artifacts from the 1700’s to the 1990’s, will become part of the National History Museum in Riga. Many thanks go to Anete Karlsone, historian at the Latvian History Institute in Riga, who facilitated negotiations in Latvia and to the Latvian Embassy in the United States, which will assist with shipping.

Museum programs were focused on outreach this year. At the suggestion of Mara Linde, we developed a traveling exhibit on Latvian mittens from the Priedaine collection. Mara directed the project which sent a suitcase with 45 pairs of mittens and educational materials across the country to 11 states, from California to Maine. They were seen at Latvian centers and at retail knitting stores, with organizers encouraged to publicize their events to the general public in honor of Latvia’s Centennial celebration. About 2000 guests enjoyed the exhibit.

The museum provided a display and information table at several regional events, including the 50th anniversary fundraiser for the Lutheran Relief Organization of Washington DC. The largest outreach project was an exhibit mounted in the public entrance at the US State Department to mark 100 years of US and Baltic diplomatic relations. The exhibit was developed by the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) at the invitation of the State Department. Lilita Bergs assisted with copying archival photographs at the Estonian Archives in Lakewood, NJ, and installing loaned memorabilia for a case exhibit that accompanied graphic panels in the exhibition. Political artifacts from the ALA museum were included in the display and the museum contributed to the project budget. After a month in Washington, the State Department circulated the panel exhibit to various diplomatic sites in the EU.

Lilita Bergs continues to field requests from many parts of the globe for assistance in genealogical research and the disposition of historical Latvian materials. These requests come via ALAs, and therefore the museum’s, presence on the Internet. The most intriguing inquiry came from a historian and author on Nantucket Island who sought to donate archival material from 1907 Latvian immigrants to the Island to an appropriate organization. The books and song notebooks in this small collection were transferred to the Latvian National Library.