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...and Stained Glass
Lijana Natalevičienė
For Lithuanian stained glass art, the first post-war decade was a period not only of stagnation, but also a time of adjustment and searching for new opportunities for adaptation. Prior to this, stained glasswork, as a branch of architectural art, had functioned in Lithuania only as an interior accent—a colorful window—in sacred and public architecture. Lithuania had a wealth of experience with church stained glasswork, and in the inter-war period of independence these creations also found their place in the more prominent representational buildings of the provisional capital (in the Soldier's Guild, the Central Bank, and the Chamber of Industry, Trades and Commerce). 
After the war, between 1945 and 1947, Stasys Ušinskas created stained glasswork for holy shrines in Kaunas, including his largest Soviet era work, a series of eleven stained glass windows for the Resurrection Church (located at Aukštaičių g. 4). Ušinskas employed classical stained glass techniques, still using glass he had imported from France. The artist used holy and religious as well as secular motifs in his modestly stylized stained glass creations: a Lithuanian family in prayer, decorative images of architectural landmarks from Kaunas and Vilnius, a Lithuanian village landscape. As a rule, the creation of stained glass panels for churches was not permitted under the Soviets, but in this instance their appearance was most likely enabled by post-war upheaval: in a country where daily survival was still difficult, the overseers of art had little interest in verifying if one or another artist was doing something forbidden.
With the Church marginalized from public life, stained glass artists lost a patron. Ušinskas began designing smaller works for exhibitions and started experimenting. In the "Aleksotas" glass factory, under very primitive conditions, he studied the secrets of low-temperature firing to produce glass and glazes. Faced with a dwindling stock of Parisian glass, he was forced to produce his own materials for his stained glass creations. In his stained glasswork Žalgirio mūšis (Battle of Žalgiris [Grunwald], 1946), the artist portrayed the fighting and mounted knights against a background of thicker glass. This experiment was akin to a first step by Ušinskas toward the creation of thicker pieces using embossed glass—creations later produced by his students.
As an instructor at the Kaunas Institute for Applied and Decorative Arts, Ušinskas trained many talented artists whose later works would bring renown to Lithuanian stained glass artistry: Algimantas Stoškus, Kazimieras Morkūnas, Vladas Jankauskas, Vytautas Banys, Rita Gabrėnaitė, and Rachilė Krukaitė. His student Algimantas Stoškus remembers:
Ušinskas impressed us with his personality, his teaching method ("understand form, then try to render it"), and his personal workshop. There, he had his own small wood-fired furnace where students could fire their glasswork for academic projects. My life turned to stained glass because of my training with Ušinskas. Algimantas Mačiulis, Dailė architektūroje, Vilnius: Vilniaus dailės akademijos leidykla, 2003, p. 134. 
Early pieces by Vytautas Banys (his stained glasswork Mūza [Muse], 1946) and Vladas Jankauskas (Statybininkas [Construction Worker], 1947) were inspired by an understanding, conveyed to them by their teacher, of the expressive forms specific to stained glass. At the start of the 1950s, however, fine art concepts began to influence stained glass. This is evident in some collective works, for example in the stained glass piece called Happy Childhood by Gabrėnaitė, Krukaitė and Stoškus (1953, at the Vilnius Civil Records Office), and in the stained glasswork by Lithuanian authors created in 1952–1953 for the Lithuanian pavilion at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition portraying the idealized heroes of a new Lithuania: Lithuanian Communist Party founder Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas, the renowned female Soviet partisan Marytė Melnikaitė, and Red Army General Ivan Chernyakhovsky. Stained glasswork lost its notional imagery and decorative character. These pieces were typical examples of the Stalinist triumphal style, evidenced by human figures modeled in half-tones, pathetic poses, backgrounds featuring finely rendered scenic images, and rolling landscapes that created an impression of multi-layered spaces. The popular nature of art espoused by the Soviet aesthetic was reflected in external features – national costumes, folk ornamentation.
The situation was similar in the other two Baltic republics, Latvia and Estonia. Ceramists, textile artists and others in the various fields of applied art had to balance between ideological restrictions, adaptation to the requirements of socialist realism, and their own individual artistic expression. Baltic artists had to quickly learn the lessons that their colleagues in the other Soviet republics understood all too well: one form of creative work was possible for self-expression, while another was needed for the public—one that was official, uplifting and representational. They also understood that artists who collaborated with the new government would have exclusively ample material conditions...
One cannot help but notice, however, that politically relevant works of applied art by Lithuanian authors were significantly lower in number. Lithuanians did not create works of stained glass, textile or ceramics featuring pathetic sentiment or grandiose multiple figures. Some of the artists who began their careers at this time recall the principled stance of Lithuanian artists concerning ideological art. This "position of principle", though, could also have been facilitated by a material base that was less substantial than in other Soviet republics (particularly those that had been part of the Union for a longer time). Stalinist triumphal works were most actively created in those republics with a well-developed production base and a wealth of master artists. Lithuania simply did not have the capability to carry out grandiose projects.
In the post-war years, art workshops operating in Estonian cities implemented so-called labor brigade methods, notorious in the world of Soviet art. Squads of female weavers produced "slogan carpets" using knotting, tapestry and other techniques, as well as portraits and complex compositions featuring multiple figures based on designs by professional painters.
Artists in the socialist bloc countries, dependent politically on the USSR, were also under pressure. Although functionalism was revived in post-war Europe, priority in the socialist countries was given to the new order and friendship between socialist nations, particularly to art that advocated warm relations with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, artists in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany were considerably more free and under less pressure from the new demands on art.
Lithuanian artists balanced between the ideology forced upon them and the artistic principles rooted in the inter-war period, adapting to the changed political environment. Their maneuvering between official and private lives, between the public and the personal, brought new discoveries as well as new lows of conformism. Today, these experiments of artistically questionable merit are of interest as evidence of new imagery and stylistic mastery that reflected the spirit of the times.
Read more: Stasys Ušinskas.


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Sources and links

Algimantas Mačiulis
Dailė architektūroje
Vilnius: Vilniaus Dailės akademijos leidykla, 2003
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