“Latvia has always been close because of it’s
folk legends, and my ancestry…”.
“From the Varangian sea … after so many centuries once more arrived in Russia … at this time no more as Rurik, how he was dignified in Novgorod, but Roerich. And as once he builds his stone city. Remembered like a dream and told about seas where he navigated with his squadron of soldiers, about giants, about a snake, about the rigorous angel and about how Russia was built...
His blue from the blue of the northern twilight,
Green – the green of seaweed.
The colour of fire from the fireplaces in long nights.
A flame – it is waving on the arrow castle mounds,” –
This is what Aleksey Remizov wrote with a kind-hearted smile, giving a clue about the Scandinavian origins of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. The family chronicles tell that the ancestors of Roerich remained to live in Kostroma during the Russo-Swedish war during the reign of Peter The Great. Less know that already during the same 18th century they moved to the Courland Governorate (present Latvia).
More than three centuries the Roerichs had live in Latvia, only the artist’s father, Constantin Roerich, moved to St. Petersburg in 1849 to study law. Later he married Pskovian Maria Kalashnikova and opened a notary bureau in St. Petersburg. But every summer his whole family, including son Nicholas, visited the grandfather Friderich in Riga and other relatives in Latvia. It was found out from old church books (now part of The National Archive of Latvia) that in 17th century some Roerich ancestors had already lived in western part of Latvia. It was very interesting to study the history of the Roerich family in Latvia. Some time ago the Roerichs coat of arms was found in special book. So it is the second source to prove the existence of the Roerichs coat of arms. Not only Nicholas Roerich’s ancestors came from Latvia, but also his wife’s grand grandfather was from Riga.
When Nicholas Roerich remembered Latvia, he often mentioned “remarkably lightsome encounters”; he told that “many associates from different branches” came from Latvia.
While studying in Petersburg Academy of Art his course-mate was the notable Latvian artist Vilhelms Purvitis. Roerich wrote about the academy time to Purvitis: „Our memorable teacher Arkhip Ivanovich has consolidated friendship ties between his students forever. We might be scattered all around the world, but still remain students of Kuindgi.” (1937.24.08.)
During the summers of 1903 and 1904, while being secretary of Society for the Encouragement of Arts in Petersburg, Roerich was sent to the northern part of Russia, the territories of Latvia and Lithuania to explore the condition of the cultural monuments there. Roerich brought back not only a large amount of descriptions, but also around 100 sketches of old architecture. His wife Helena Roerich took around 500 photographs. They also made archaeological digs, collected data on folklore. Marvellous words about Latvia can be found in Roerich’s book „About Antiquity”. Years later in his essay „Latvia” (1931) Roerich gives a short overview about this expedition – „Later, in 1903 me and Helena Ivanovna visited more than forty towns and historical sites, and the visit of Latvia remains in our minds forever. Along with Riga, Mitau and Windau, we observed the Livonian Switzerland – all these astonishing and scenic romantic monuments of the past that now carry the significant names like Sigulda, Cesis, Jelgava, Ventspils. So many remarkable and poetic tales! So many beautiful samples from the neolith and Bronze Age we managed to collect! So many times we listened to the most interesting tales about events of the past when we stopped at estates and bishop’s homes. And Riga itself with its old cathedrals and their organ player brought us in its remarkable past. Many paintings and sketches were drawn that are now scattered in California and Canada. And somewhere they are telling about Riga, Mitau and Zegevold (Sigulda) and reminds about the beauty of Latvia.”
Interesting is the faith of the series of architectural paintings. Some of them get sold in an auction of the Russian art exhibition in America. But many of them return to homeland and remain in the Museum of Eastern Art in Moscow since 1976 as a gift by the vice president of the New York Roerich museum – Katherine Campbell.
While working as the director and teacher of the St. Petersburg school of Encouragement of Arts from 1906-1917, Roerich carried out many valuable reforms. Around 40 people from Latvia were among his students; later many of them became famous Latvian artists.
In February of 1917 he is among the intelligence that asks for a democratic education system. Already from 1916 he is forced to undergo treatment in Serdobol, Finnish Karelia. He is worried about the new revolutionary activities, “proletariat cult” artists who have cut his paintings in order to paint their own over them. Being separated from the front line, he is taking part in exhibitions in Stockholm and elsewhere, as well as follows the Russian art exhibition throughout Scandinavia and then in 1919 moves to London, later the United States. From there, he carries out his long planned expedition through the East: India, Mongolia, Altai, Tibet. But even in America his idea about free people’s art academy remains active. An evidence for that is his Master Institute and United Arts scientific research centre in New York and Roerich Museum. The Culture Liga was founded to contribute peace and the protection of cultural heritage. An official Roerich society was also founded in Riga.
Latvian Roerich Society dates back to the 1920 when bank director’s son Anatoly Shibaev (1898-1975) from Riga was studying in London. At the same time he was working in a publishing house. A year before (in 1919) Shibaev had become a member of Theosophycal society.
At the same time Nicholas and Helena Roerich also lived in London. In London, beside other activities, Nicholas Roerich was looking for a publishing house where he could publish his poems “Flowers of Moria” in Russian language (later it was also published in English with title – “Flame in Chalice by Nicholas Roerich”). And so, in 1920 Roerich visited the same publishing house in London where Anatoly Shibaev was working. So they met and found that they share the same philosophical opinions on life. Nicholas Roerich invited Shibaev to his exhibition, which took place in London in May of the same year. Roerich's paintings left indelible impression on Shibaev, and he became a close friend of the family. Shibaev was a frequent visitor of the Roerich family. The most important negotiations took place during the evenings – about Eastern philosophy, theosophy and about plans for the future. These meetings inspired Shibaev and he decided to organise a group of people in Riga who would study theosophical literature and Eastern philosophy – the idea of the society was born.
In autumn of 1920 the Roerichs left London and moved to USA after an invitation from a director at the Art Institute of Chicago, offering to arrange for Roerich's art tour through 30 US cities. Shibaev returned to Latvia but he did not lose the connection to the Roerichs – there was a regular exchange of letters.
In Riga Shibaev organised a group of people who studied Eastern philosophy and theosophy. Following an invitation by Nicholas Roerich he spent winter of 1924/1925 in Darjeeling, India, rewriting works by Roerich. When returning to Riga, Shibaev brought with him the manuscript for Roerich’s book “The Path of Blessing” and the idea of taking part in the international publishing house “Alatas” (Riga-Paris-New York-Harbin). He also founded a branch of the book market “World Service” in Riga. Roerich’s “The Path of Blessing” is the first book published by the Latvian Roerich Society. A bookstore is being opened where among works by H.Blavatsky, Vivekananda, Ramakrishna are also books by Roerich. Roerich’s ideas of peace and cultural co-operation attract various visitors to the store – here, among the researcher of the East N.Kardashevsky, are doctor Feliks Lukins, a bricklayer A.Berzins and others. Exciting discussions about Eastern philosophy take place in the twilight of the bookstore (Jekaba street 16), as well as in the comfortable apartment of N.Kardashevsky (Smilsu street), where among books stand ancient text rolls and statues from expeditions. Discussions go on in the medical praxis of doctor Feliks Lukins where instead of journals, philosophical literature is placed on the table in the waiting-room and reproductions of paintings by Roerich cover the walls.
In the beginning the Society was not officially registered and Roerichs gave the name – The loge of Master. Helena and Nicholas Roerich become members of the society and also paid a membership fee. Through letters Roerichs guided the group, and before the first Living Ethics (Agni Yoga) book was published, Shibaev received for his group parts of the book from Helena Roerich written by hand.
When the first book of Living Ethics – “Leaves of Morya's Garden part I. The Call” in original language (Russian) was ready to be published, Roerichs asked Shibaev to organize publishing in Riga. Maybe one reason for such decision was that Latvia was a close neighbor to Russia. But Shibaev did not managed to publish the book in right time. Therefore it was published in Paris in 1924. Unfortunately, with mistakes. But some years later despite that more than a half of all Living Ethics books were published in Latvia (in Riga) by guidance of Helena and Nicholas Roerich. Many of those publications were first editions.
In 1929 Shibaev became a secretary of Roerich and moved to India after invitation. Shibaev left Riga and his place in society was given to doctor Fekis Lukins.
Yes, an unusual doctor, with the largest praxis in Riga, but with the emptiest pockets. “Good doctor”, “doctor of the poor” or simply doctor who would even reject a lady dressed in a pelt mantle, advising to undergo cure with a stricter diet, and search for an apartment of a patient for hours in narrow streets of remote places. Being an oculist with an enviable praxis, he left it during World War I to cure trachoma in Russian villages. Having cured his own tuberculosis, he is curing others from this curse – the disease of the poor. He organizes the first sanatoria near Riga, in Smerlis. Feliks Lukins is dreaming about a network of sanatoria dealing with tuberculosis all around Latvia. Not only he often refuses his honorary, but tries to help someone secretly, because “it is bad when a patient says that he does not want to eat, but terrible if he wants to, but there is nothing to eat”. Frequent journeys to foreign countries – to acquire different treatment methods, homeopathy, iridiagnosis (diagnosis from the iris of eye) – he connects modern diagnosis methods with a doctor’s intuition. And above it all – the energy of a lively and compassionate heart. But his early death in 1934 was a shock for all Society members and for Nicholas Roerich when he wrote: “he gave his soul to his friends in the full sense of the word.” A few lines cannot fully show the biography of Feliks Lukin’s (1875-1934), the close friend of the Roerich family.
When Feliks Lukins started to lead the group in 1929, intensive correspondence continued between Riga and the Himalayas. In the summer of 1930 Feliks Lukins meets Nicholas and George Roerich in Paris. The same year, on October 13th the Latvian Roerich Society is officially registered. The Society had five sections: philosophy and Living Ethics, Scientific, Art, Women and The Roerich Pact of Peace.
“Getting to know the lives of personalities of different times and nationalities, we see how ancient the primary rules are”, – Roerich wrote to Riga, underlining that philosophy and ethics have to be “alive” and connected with the everyday life.
While being a student and visiting St. Petersburg’s Public library, Roerich noted the familiarity between the Latvian, Lithuanian and Eastern traditions, thinking and ethics. Remembering meetings at the library with poet V.Solovjov and critic V.Stasov, he wrote: “Vladimir Solovjov was picking his long beard repeating: “But it is the East, the grand East.” But Stasov laughed with his even longer beard telling: “Of course the East, because even the languages are closely related to the Sanskrit?”” Roerich wrote to the Latvian Society from India: “Now, between blossoming trees and between the snow-covered tops we continuously remember Latvia and its language so close to the Sanskrit. How mighty it makes referring to each other in a careful manner, remembering the basic roots moving.” “Such an incredible heritage cannot pass without footprints. It is necessary to search for the reason why folk poems, songs and national clothes are so rich. A nation who has such an inner richness, and who represents such a past, will work actively also for the future.”
In the science and art sections lectures were read about various subjects. As a doctor and scientist, Feliks Lukins works together with the “Urusvati” Institute, receives alpestrine medical roots and plants, instructions about their use in Eastern medicine and shares his own experience. He was voted as an honorary member of the Institute.
Lukins started the Society’s library, founded the Riga Roerich Museum next to the Society, which at beginning in 1934 contained 12 original works and about 80 reproductions of Nicholas Roerich paintings.
The women’s section is lead by Katrina Draudzina (1882-1969), one of the first female dentists in Latvia.
Among books published by Lukins were Roerich’s essay “For Women” in Russian and Latvian and his own lecture “Mission of the Woman of the New Age”. In the beginning of 1934 after the Society’s initiative a conference for all women’s organizations in Latvia is held.
After the sudden death of Feliks Lukins in 1934, the Society is being lead by one of its active members Rihards Rudzitis (1898-1960).
Poet, writer, journalist and translator Rihards Rudzitis studied at the Faculty of Linguistics in Tartu and in 1931 finished the Faculty of Philosophy of the University Of Latvia. Hard childhood, difficult years of the two World Wars and – the nature of seaside and the light of the thoughts of his beloved writers; he is seeking beauty and harmony in everything, the unfairness of life firstly is the disrespectful human behavior that distorts the human. He finds these thoughts also in the Latvian folk poems – "dainas", “something is beautiful only if it is also good and ethical”. That is also the topic of his graduation work. It is his life’s issue.
In philosophy, Rudzitis is searching for the meaning of life. He is searching for answers by the thinkers of the antique, ancient Eastern laws where the human is a part of the universe. As a nine year old child he is writing to Lev Tolstoy, then turns to Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland and receives warm answers. While still a student in Tartu (1918) his first translations of 12 poems from Tagore’s “The Gardener” are being published, later more translations of Tagore’s works are to come, also Saadi, Rumi, Vivekananda, Bhagavad Gita. His love for the East and searching for beauty lead him to Roerichs. Here he feels as being at the right place – home.
In eight years time (1932-1940), this period was interrupted by World War II, Rudzitis received around 170 letters from Nicholas Roerich, 68 from Helena Roerich, tens by both sons: George and Svetoslav. 160 from the Roerichs secretary Shibaev, who also is expressing the Roerich’s thoughts and concerns, tells about the everyday life of the Roerichs. And this all, excluding greeting postcards, telegrams, packages.
Primary the Roerichs appreciate the writer in Rudzitis: “A scientist and a poet, such a combination is rare, but you have it, your work and your scientific nature is remarkable”, – Helena Roerich wrote.
“Thank you for the joy your new book gave to us”, writes Nicholas Roerich, after receiving Rudzitis work “The awareness of Beauty will save” – truly, not only it is the rich thoughts and the way the message is delivered, but it is also the clearness of mind that makes this book attractive. It is so valuable that such clear ideological books are being published and I can only wish for it to spread among wider social groups. The book must go to school libraries. It must find a way to foreign countries, so that people elsewhere know what keeps the spiritual fire of Latvia. Thank you one more time for this celebration of the spirit.”
In 1935 the book “Nicholas Roerich – the Guide of Culture” by Rudzitis is being published. That is basically the first detailed book about the life and work of Roerich during the 20’s and 30’s.
When returning to his homeland in 1957, the oldest son of the Roerichs’ – doctor of sciences and Eastern researcher – George Roerich gives Rudzitis the will of the mother – to write about the creative work of Nicholas Roerich in a cosmic perspective. When getting acquainted with the extended plan for Rudzitis work “The Cosmic Strings in Nicholas Roerichs’ Creative Work”, he is contented about it. However, Rudzitis worked on the book with such a high level of respect that in the few last years until his abrupt death he did not managed to finish the book completely.
The Latvia Roerich Society had also a publishing house “Uguns” (“Fire”) which published around 50 books. Its director from the very beginning, as well as editor and proof-reader, often also translator and author was Richard Rudzitis. Rudzitis was one of the most trusted persons for Roerichs. When Helena Roerich sends a manuscript of Teaching for publishing, she trusted Rudzitis like no one else. Many good words about Richards Rudzitis you can find in Helena Roerich dairy.
The Museum of the Society continues to expand and its official opening was in autumn of 1937 on October 10th in the new rooms of the Society, Elizabete’s street 21A (10 rooms on the top floor). Now there were 55 paintings – 45 by Nicholas Roerich and 10 by his son Svetoslav Roerich, as well as Baltic and Eastern art sections. The visitors’ book of the museum is still preserved in the Central National archive of Latvia. An album, introducing Roerich’s works was published in 1939, containing a monograph, a museum catalogue, 35 postcards and many reproductions.
A significant event in the life of the Society is the congress held in Riga by Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian Roerich Societies in 1937 to mark the 50th anniversary of Roerich’s work in field of culture. Greetings from all over the world were sent and together with the materials from the congress they got printed in the “Golden Book” (1938). Greetings from Rabindranat Tagore, professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji, scientist Jagadish Boshe, former secretary of Lev Tolstoy – Valentin Bulgakov and many more.
One of the most important subjects of the congress was the Roerich’s Pact of Peace. The political situation on the world demanded special care about the Banner of Peace for protection of cultural heritage.
“I am sending you the note “Peace”, – wrote Nicholas Roerich already in August 29th in 1936. – “From the newspapers we see that this word has to be repeated like a mantra – such high is the tension. To the list of destroyed monuments we can add – the incredible cathedral in Seville. This all shows how important the Pact is. A moral stimulus is needed, so that vandalism would not arise.”
In spring of 1937, the collective memorandum that was signed by all three Baltic Societies together with petition lists of notable cultural workers is being presented to the conference of Baltic foreign ministers. The subject is brought up, but only the Lithuanian foreign minister decides to accept it. Too heavy was the influence of Germany that was preparing for war and Great Britain that was fighting for power in Asia. However on May 4th in 1937 Nicholas Roerich wrote to Rihards Rudzitis: “You have managed to make a great leap forward, getting an important effect on the society. In the end it is not so important what kind of ways through governments the Pact might take. At first, it has to be accepted by the public spirit and the importance of protecting cultural monuments must be understood.”
These actions – the congress, the Pact started to endanger the existence of the Society in Riga because of “trying to take part in someone else’s business.” The re-registration of the Society became more and more complicated over the years, because England and Germany gave recommendations to Latvian government to “close the Roerich society”.
In 1940 the Soviet army came in Latvia. On August the 5th, the order is given to eliminate all societies in Latvia. The Roerich Society was abolished in October. The paintings of Roerich were confiscated and brought to Riga Art Museum storage. The Society’s library was destroyed. Many members of the Society were repressed: around 40 members were arrested and sent to gulags from 1948-1951. After the death of Josef Stalin, most of them returned home in Latvia.
After the Stalin time, members of Latvian Roerich Society continued to study the philosophy of Living Ethics, works by Roerichs and theosophical books. Many books were rewritten by hand, because up to 1989 all this literature was illegal. In Latvia the first exhibition of Roerich's paintings was held in 1956. Later a permanent Roerich’s exhibition is created in a separate room in National Museum of Art in Riga.
The Society gets renewed in October 1988. In the beginning of the 90’s some of the old rooms of the Society in Elizabetes street 21A are regained for a while. Now the Latvian Roerich Society is not so big like in 1930-ties, we are concentrating our work more on publishing books. Until now Latvia is the only country, after India, witch has a street named – Nicholas Roerich.
Many years ago Rihards Rudzitis wrote about Roerich: “What is especially very attractive to us in the personality of Roerich is that he is not just a thinker, a prophet or a dreamer, he has not told any idea that you could not realize and in whose realization he had not already laid the foundation. He has established the base of many beginnings, cultural institutions that are so monumental that they make people remember the great creators of the past.” (“Nicholas Roerich – the Guide of Culture”).
Nicholas Roerich wrote to Richards
Rudzitis on May 24th in 1937. “And so I wish you luck in everything you have
started. The news from Riga are always good – it has always been so – and it
will be in future. Be strong, be the most eminent workers of the country so
beloved to our hearts.”
(Honorary president of Latvian Roerich Society)