The people in Zemaitija were among the last pagans of Europe. Today they remain assome of the most faithful Christians. Especially the wood carving artists mix the pagan folklore with Christian rituals. I also bought carnival mask – from one of the best wood carving artists of Lithuania. That was not easy though.
With wild gestures I try to explain myself to Kasys Striupa. I try to press out a few more bits of my Lithuanian. Previously I had been happy to have understood so much Lithuanian. I had learned the language, as far as one can achieve that in a year during a year abroad during my studies. Also on the ferry to Lithuania I had trained my skills. Then again when I was bargaining for food and accomodations the day before.
This all seemed forgotten. The old man looked at me with wide eyes. „That’s normal,“ Ausra Brazdeikyte tells me later. The staff of the tourist information center for the National Park Zemaitija (also called Samogitia or Lower Lithuania) had previously sent me to Striupa. The wood carvings are typical Lithuanian and the Samogitians have perfected them. Kasys Striupa is considered to be one of the best in all of Lithuania.
The Samogitian lives in a farmhouse in the small village of Dovainiai near Plateliai in Lithuanias North. Apart from the actual farm house is his workshop. The building has two stories with an old thatched roof and is from top to bottom full of art made from wood. On average, a sculpture costs between 100 and 200 Lita. I opted for a traditional carnival mask. Each year carnival celebrations are supposed to expel the winter with ghoulish masks. When I think of the weather this year, the masks have probably not have been scary enough. Therefore I decided to buy the ugliest.
Despite my purchase though, it stays hard to get a word besides „Taip“ or „Ne“ out of Kasys Striupa. In addition to the art of wood carving, Samogitians have perfected the art of persistent silence. That’s not even meant as an insult. „The people here are always a little skeptical at the beginning,“ says Ausra Brazdeikyte. „But If you have once gained their friendship, then you have friends for life.“ I didn’t have much time, so I never got this far. But after trying a few different explanations and making some jokes aside I get something like a smile from Kasys Striupa.
Born in 1932, the former employee of a Soviet collective farm, called Kolchos, has not gone through the career, one would imagine from a traditional wood carving artist. „He started with carving only when his wife died in 1993,“ says Ausra Brazdeikyte. Many Lithuanians have regained their traditions only after independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union. „As a child, he had a dream that said that he will be the best and most famous wood carving artists of Lithuania“, says Brazdeikyte. Today he is at least one of the best. He once even won the price for the best national wood carving artist. And even if the man is already over 80 years old, he doesn’t think about quitting. „I have no time to think about death. I have too many plans for the next five years, „he says, and remains carving on his next sculpture.