Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Wild Horses of Newbury

I firmly believe in the spirituality of trees. I can’t explain what it all means, it’s just that trees have been revered as sacred living things longer than we have been worshiping as Christians. There must be something to it. I believe that making beautiful or utilitarian objects out of the wood from trees gives them a new life after they have been cut down. I also believe that too many old growth trees are being cut down.

My recent research all started with the movie “Avatar”. (Great movie. Go see it in 3D.) In the movie, the great “Tree of Souls” is destroyed by the ruthless and greedy exploiters of the mineral resources of the planet. There is enough symbolism here to keep a discussion group busy for months. This giant tree is analogous to Yggdrasil, the great Tree of Life in Norse mythology.

Researching Yggdrasil I came across the website of an interesting music group from England called Moksha (see: (More on Moksha some other time.) Moksha’s website links to a video called: The Wild Horses of Newbury, which just blew my mind. It’s about the unexplainable spirituality of the old trees, a spirituality that we as a modern, progressive society, just can’t comprehend. Go to: . Watch this video and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lithuanian Wood Carvings – Part 2 – the Rupintojelis

The Rupintojelis (pronounced roo-pinto-YAY-lis) is an important part of Lithuanian wood carving folk art. Derived from the Lithuanian word rupestis it can be translated as anxiety, concern and solicitude. This image is a repetitive subject in Lithuanian woodcarving. It depicts a man in a sitting position, leaning on his elbow, looking pensively and sadly at passers-by. At times the Rupintojelis is sitting on a tree stump or a stone wall. This image is carved in various styles, but always in a way that you immediately know he is suffering. Some scholars think that perhaps village woodcarvers consciously or unconsciously expressed their own worries, and fears through woodcarving. The Rupintojelis was found in the home, at crossroads and other public places.

The Rupintojelis image started as an a representation of a suffering human but, after Christianity came to Lithuania, the image gradually evolved into Christ, the Man of Sorrows, pondering all the ills of humanity. All emphasis is placed on the facial expression of deep thought and infinite sorrow. From what I understand, Rupintojelis can be seen along the roadside and in cemeteries throughout Lithuania…and of course at every tourist gift shop.

Some say the pose represents Jesus' anticipation of his crucifixion, after his scourging and crowning with thorns. Others say it depicts Christ after the resurrection and not yet ascended. Polish people have their version of the rupintojelis. It is very similar. They call it Chrystus Frasobliwy. One Polish legend says Christ travelled through the world with his crown of thorns. Tired from his journey, he sat on stones near the road and wept. This statue means many things to many people. Lithuanian Christians believe it shows how Christ was human and one of us. He shared our feelings and concerns. In it they see God's endless compassion and care for his people.

Here is a photo of contemporary wood sculptor Julius Urbanavičius with his wfe and one of his Rupintojelis sculptures. As you can see, some of them get pretty large.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lithuanian Wood Carvings - Part 1 - Sacred Woods

My wife noticed a book listed on my Amazon wish list and got it for me for Christmas. It is entitled: “Sacred Woods – The Contemporary Lithuanian Woodcarving Revival”. The book is a catalog of the exhibit held at the University of Wisconsin in 1998 with great photos of Lithuanian wood sculpture. These are works of contemporary sculptors that perpetuate the long history of Lithuanian wood carving. (See the photos in this posting.)

The introduction to the book by Ruta Saliklis gave me great insight into the Lithuanians’ close personal affinity to wood and wood sculpture throughout their history. If you have been reading my blog, you know that this personal harmony with wood, and the spiritual nature of trees, is a recurring theme. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction of the book:

“Vast Forests once covered Lithuania. Evidence of the importance of woods in Lithuanian culture can be found in folklore, religion and mythology. The Lithuanian language itself shows the importance by the numerous words for woods, depending on the type of trees within them. Lithuanians see wood not merely as an organism, but as a vibrant living entity. Thus traditionally a tree can only be chopped down during the dormancy of winter. In pre-Christian times certain groves of trees were considered sacred and no one (not even the King) would dare cut a tree from such a grove, or even take wood from the ground.”

The entire subject of Lithuanian wood sculpture and folk art is very interesting for a number of reasons. First, the Lithuanians were the last of the Europeans to be Christianized. This happened in the late 14th century. The close connection to their pagan past, as well as the conversion of pagan symbols to Christian ones, is reflected in their wooden sculpture. Also, they have been many political changes over the past few centuries. A great deal of their wooden sculpture is an expression of their resentment to occupation and oppression by other nations. Much of this is done in a coded message of symbols included in the carved object. The book goes into wonderful detail about the history of Lithuanian wood folk sculpture; more than I can talk about here.

Most northern European cultures (German, Polish, Danish, etc.) were big on wood carving, but it seems that the Lithuanians had them all beat. I get the feeling that every Lithuanian baby is given a set of carving gouges along with a teething ring.

Most of the sculpted wood carvings shown in the book are now on display at the Lithuanian Museum of Art in Lemont, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. I would enjoy going there someday to experience this art in person.

Are you familiar with Lithuanian wood carvings and their significance? If not, you might enjoy doing some research on Google. Tell me what you think.