“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
I was perusing through some of my albums today and came across photos of the early years of my art gallery business in Estonia. The pictures reminded me of seeing possibilities.
In the late 1990s I was coordinating art exhibitions together with the British ambassador. They were held at the ambassador’s residence just outside of Tallinn in Tabasalu village. We had a vernissage about once every twelve weeks where many artists in Estonia had an opportunity to display their work under one roof to the foreign as well as local community.
I recall when ambassador Tim Craddock first made the proposal to offer his spacious home as a venue. He attended an opening in my cramped gallery space in Tallinn. ( Only a year earlier it had been a garage used as a storage area for pickle jars, old skis, radiators and dirt.) Trying to sip wine while avoiding the elbow nudges of the other visitors, he smiled and said enthusiastically that he had a lot more room and wouldn’t I like to have exhibitions there as well?
He invited me to visit his house which I did. Elated by all the wall space we suddenly had available to us, I asked a few senior artists I knew if they wouldn’t be willing to help curate the exhibitions since I didn’t know that many artists. Seeing the possibilities for getting the recognition and hopefully the sales that our gallery and the artists were looking for. Their flat out answer was “no” followed by a lengthy list of the impossibilities of putting on any kind of exhibition at the residence. There was no hanging system, the ceiling was too high, it was too far out of the city and other objections I can’t recall anymore. Additionally we would have the inconvenience of having to hang our art around a very valuable painting of Elizabeth II’s coronation and this simply was an impossible situation since the art would clash.
The Estonians have a saying that you have to hear “no” a hundred times before you get a “yes”. Once was enough for me.
Loathe to give up this generous offer by a representative of the British diplomatic corps, I decided to proceed forward with the help of the girls who worked in our gallery and pursue our art of possibilities.
I met some very special people during these events including the Polish ambassador Jakub Wołąsiewicz and his wife Hanna. Hanna commuted between the two countries since she was pursuing a career as a judge in Poland. We heard many an interesting story about the road conditions and border delays during her monthly commutes.
At that time Estonia and Poland had recently been freed from the respective oppressive regimes they had been forced to endure. These were heady times for not only the people who had been held hostage within their own national borders for half a century but also for those like me who witnessed and experienced their reintegration into the western world with all its life changing possibilities.
Still No Elbow Room
The ambassador would send a driver to my gallery with a packet of invitations embossed with the queen’s royal seal. All I had to do was have one of the girls put her gift of calligraphy to good use and write in the names of the invitees. I had more fun the guest list where our framing clients would also receive an invitation to an art exhibition where they could meet people out of their regular circle of friends and family. Needless to say, the exhibitions were a great hit but leaving us still with limited elbow room for sipping wine!
A Descendant of the Pakri Island Refugees
The fellow to the right in the picture with Jakub and Hanna found his way into my gallery one day looking for art that held a more Finno-Ugric theme. We were indeed able to locate just the right artist’s work for him. Erik Soderberg is my friend’s name. His connection with Estonia went back many years to Pakri Island. His family was forced to flee to Sweden when the Estonian island they had inhabited for generations was declared off limits by the invading Soviets in 1940.
The idyllic Swedish fishing villages were destroyed and the two Pakri islands were completely militarized and used for bombing practice for many years. The islands were returned to the Republic of Estonia around 1994 but decimated. Although clearance teams have worked at cleaning up the mess, mines continue to be found there today. Fires are not permitted on one of the islands, just in case.
They have become a tourist destination for experiential journeys and serve as a sober reminder of a difficult past that many countries like Estonia had to endure. Both Little and Big Pakri island are now nature reserves. Time is needed for them to heal but it is in the realm of possibility that given the chance, nature will regain balance.
Looking Forward to More Possibilities
Today Jakub is the Polish consul general to the Ukraine and we can be sure that he is witnessing heady times there. Erik has a shipyard in Sweden where large commercial vessels are being built. Tim Craddock received a special decoration from Estonia in recognition for the wonderful work he did in opening up avenues of business between Estonia and the UK and more recently was the UK Ambassador to the UK.
Looking back serves as a needed reminder to us of the possibilities that became realities. But like any chapter that’s already been read, we already know those stories. Moving forward to the new possibilities is what makes our life’s journey rewarding to us and to those whose lives we touch.