TYPA ResidencyArtist in residence

I applied for the TAiR residency upon the recommendation of Sergei Besov of Demon Press in Moscow [] over a year before I came to Tartu. Sergei is an excellent letterpress printer and he recommended the TAiR residency because of my interest in letterpress printing and the quality and scope of the collection of historic wood type at the Estonian Paper and Print Museum. I was very honored to be accepted for the residency and my first choice was to come to Estonia during the summer months due to my university teaching schedule. For many reasons mostly related to family obligations I later elected to come during the month of December. I often wondered if it was crazy to agree to plunging into such cold weather and not much daylight, but now that I’ve been in Tartu during the winter, I couldn’t be happier to have experienced life there during that time. When my husband and I arrived to a foot of snow on the ground on December 2 there were sparkling lights everywhere. Our first night in Tartu we attended the showing of an inspiring film created by Alina Taalman during her residency. It was so fascinating, I was sorry I wouldn’t have more time to get to know Alina. (She was leaving the next day, but I hope to make contact with her back in the States upon my return.)

On the following Monday I met the impressive multi-tasker Lemmit Kaplinski [Director of the Museum] who gave a comprehensive orientation to the Print Museum and its abundance of wood type, presses, paper, supplies and books. A wise man, Lemmit warned me that a one-month residency would fly by and he couldn’t have been more right. My project was to research Estonian design motifs and create a “crankie” storytelling device [for more info look up “crankie” on YouTube] to be performed along with banjo music played by my husband Jim. Since traditional crankies were created with very simple materials, my idea was to attempt to use only found materials located around the Print Museum.

Roland Seer visiting with students from the Art School

Cozy winter-Tartu

Lemmit, Salme, Mira, Mana and the generous crew couldn’t have been more helpful and tolerant of our rummaging around. It took almost two weeks to work out the logistics of what we wanted to do­ – a large commitment of time for a one-month residency. During that time we also got to know Tartu as we went to fabric stores [Abakhan Fabrics has several great locations], art supply stores [the folks at Skizze got used to seeing us every day] and back-and-forth to the Print Museum [tolerant smiles from interns.] We loved walking around the elegant campus of the University of Tartu and the decorative gingerbread of the wooden houses of Soup Town although walking through ice and snow was often very challenging. (We come from the Southern US where it rarely snows.) Salme told us to buy reflectors for our winter coats as it is a law in Estonia for pedestrians to wear them during the many dark hours in winter. We bought our reflectors the next day and felt just a wee bit more like locals. We didn’t mind the dark evenings because the lights in Old Town near our TAiR apartment were so festive and welcoming, just the right thing for settling in at a warm coffee house.

The studio provided was at the Tartu Artist Union, a large facility built specifically for artist studios during the 1950s Soviet era. The fact that this large building is still 100% still committed to artist studios and galleries is an indication of the strong commitment of the progressive City of Good Thoughts (Tartu) in supporting artists. The dynamic community of artists there were very welcoming and we enjoyed a special dinner with them (excellent Estonian cuisine provided by Markus Toompere) in the gallery the week before the opening of the traditional exhibition of Tartu artists curated in 2017 by Peeter Krosmann. While working in the studio, I appreciated the significant amount of daylight provided by the large windows and the view of the lights of the city at night. Roland Seer, a faculty member in animation at the Tartu Art School brought his class to visit the studio during our process of working out the crankies. They were very respectful and asked insightful questions.

Jim playing banjo at Fahrenheit 451

Salme arranged for our crankie performance to take place on December 27 at Farenheit 451 Bookstore (part of the Print Museum in the very cool Aparaaditehas Complex) which couldn’t have been better as the atmosphere is intimate, cozy and provided a beautiful warm light for the presentation. Even though it was still officially during the holidays, there was a large and appreciative crowd that made us feel welcome. We presented two crankies, one that was based on Estonian design motifs and one based on wood type from the Print Museum. We left the crankie mechanism with Mirjam at Farenheit who seemed to be inspired by the process and “Little Birdie” song. We hope that she and/or others at the Museum can make good use of it as crankies are very fun to make. That afternoon we received a generous invitation from bookstore volunteer Kaisa, a musician, to attend a folk music concert and dance at the Tiigi Seltsimaja Cultural Center. It was so amazing and one of our most memorable nights in Tartu.

Yes, time flew in Tartu and it was educational, inspiring, and life-changing. I gained respect and appreciation for the unique role that print, books and printing have played in the impressive history of the Estonian people. I’m so grateful for the experience and the warm people we met. The food in Tartu is amazing everywhere. As I am now in Helsinki on my way home (after a wonderful week in Tallinn), I would say not to miss the Estonian National Museum [a seriously world-class museum that deserves more than one trip], the cinnamon buns at Cafe Armastus [thank you Annalee], the salads at Crepp, the salmon at Kaubamaja Toidumaailm, the Tartu Market….And if you are lucky enough to be in Tartu in winter: the magical Christmas Market and Festival, lights in the Town Hall Square and a crazed New Year’s Eve of fireworks from all bridges over the Emajõgi River.

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