On Thursday May 28, 2015, my father, Carl Billingsley, and I left the US bound for the Pedvale Open-Air Art Museum in Sabile, Latvia, owned and operated by sculptor Ojārs Arvid Feldbergs. Both Carl and Ojārs have lost track of how many trips Carl has made to Pedvale; this is my second trip (in summer 2013 I installed Spirit Trees in the park, a temporary outdoor installation combining aspects of sculpture and printmaking). You can read more about the history of Pedvale here http://www.pedvale.lv/35/
We were met in Riga on Friday by our friends Ojārs and Laura Miglone (Pedvale's currator); Ojārs had official paperwork to file for the park, so we drove into the historic city center for business, a little site-seeing, and a drink in an outdoor cafe. (We saw at least two British bachelor parties in progress, seems Riga has become a quick/inexpensive destination.) Pedvale is about 2 hours from Riga, a long enough drive for us to catch a nap. The friendly staff at the Dare cafe had dinner waiting for us, and then we were able to walk through the central section of the park. Always amazing how long it stays light in this region at this time of year, and as we are in the country, the sky (especially at sunset) is vast and beautiful. We're staying in the three-person room at the front of the manor house, so a bit more living space (although we didn't really unpack/organize until Sunday), and our windows face into the park. Carl had the presence of mind to drive into Sabile to get water, coffee and some breakfast items, so we well set up rather quickly!
The official opening ceremony for the park's new season was the following day (Saturday May 30). We slept until noon (Latvia is 7 hours ahead of North Carolina, and neither of us slept much on the plane) but were ready just in time for the start of ceremonies at 1:00 p.m. Ojārs showed a film about his stone seed planting ceremony in Costa Rica (part of an on-going performance piece he does on his travels and at symposia around the world), then removed black fabric panels from the windows to let the light in and officially open the photography exhibition of works by Dainis Kārkluvalka. There were also readings (at intervals throughout the rest of the ceremony) of poems by two of Latvia's most celebrated poets,
Rainis and Aspazija, who'd lived in exile in Switzerland for 15 years following the 1905 Revolution. More information about the poets and their works can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspazija
After the film and photography opening, the group went into the field behind the Dare building - Ojārs has planted many stone seeds here over the years (we planted our own near the end of our trip in 2013). The participants formed a circle around Ojārs and passed the stone he'd brought back to Latvia from Costa Rica from person to person as part of the planting ritual. Ojārs then dug a hole to plant the stone (he'd tied four ropes to his shovel, which were in turn attached to a circular rope for the audience to hold so everyone could participate in the digging/planting). As usual, once the stone was planted, a fire was lit over the stone; Ojārs proceeded around the circle handing each person a piece of greenery which were subsequently offered to the fire. The final ceremonial act was for each person to drink some water from cups Ojārs distributed, pouring the remaining water onto the fire. After the stone planting ceremony, there was a procession through the park (led by children playing recorders and clay whistles shaped like birds), pausing at various locations for more poetry readings. The final stop was at the far end of the park (on the hill above the stone monument to the poet Imants Ziedonis, dedicated at the opening of the 2013 season - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imants_Ziedonis). Here, a final stone planting ceremony was held to dedicate the site of Ojārs' new site-specific sculpture honoring Rainis and Aspazija - the piece will be called "Sun Route," and will be in the form of a steel arch between three stones (supported by elements representing stars, one each for every year Rainis and Aspazija were both alive [they were born in 1865, Rainis died in 1929 at the age of 64 - so there will be 32 stars on supporting each side of the arch, on either side of the central stone which will be directly above the stone planted on May 30, 2015].
A great opening ceremony, followed by an afternoon/evening of socializing with the team at Pedvale, including Ojārs' daughter Laura, her boyfriend and a few of her coworkers. We ended the day with a hike o the center of the park to watch the sunset.
Sunday May 31, 2015 was a bit colder, and we had rain off and on for much of the first half of the day. I went for a walk from the manor house to the "old estate" at the far end of the park (a brief rain shower included hail - temperature/weather in Latvia in May/June is similar to Wilmington, NC in February/March). Ojārs big project for the day was transporting the remains of a metal church roof damaged/rolled/ripped off by a strong wind storm 10 years ago from the church to the park to create a new art object. This involved a tractor trailer and crane and a convoy of Pedvale workers' vehicles; off-loading went really smoothly, the metal was in place just before the rain started in earnest. Much of the later afternoon was spent in meetings, discussing plans for the art events for June 21. Carl will be organizing an iron pour to cast a sculpture by George Beasley, and I will be organizing a large-scale steam-roller woodblock printing event. Laura Feldberga and I will be printing along with another Latvian printmaker, one from Estonia, and one from Lithuania. I have a lot of design/carving work ahead of me - we need the blocks to be finished at the latest by June 20 - and we also have prep work to do (ink and fabric have to be purchased in Riga and a concrete pad for steamrollwe printing needs to be poured as well). [More info on George Besley is available here http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwork/magazine/2010winter/sculptinghistory.html