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Facing New Demands
Lijana Natalevičienė
The first post-war decade (1945–1955) was a period of organizational and artistic consolidation for the applied arts, which had a somewhat less rich inheritance from independent Lithuania than other artistic fields. Firstly, applied arts lacked a stabile material foundation—the technical means, materials and facilities to carry out their ideas. In the turmoil that followed the war, under an increasingly entrenched Soviet occupation, applied arts organizers attempted to establish conditions for a more systematic development of this field of art to allow them to resume the training of specialists at the Kaunas Applied Arts Institute, restart operations at the "Dailė" artistic cooperatives, and to gather together the creators of applied arts.
With the retreat of the war front westward in 1944, the Kaunas Applied Arts Institute established on the eve of military hostilities in Lithuania in 1940—was revived and renamed the Kaunas State Institute for Applied and Decorative Arts in 1945. The Institute trained ceramists as well as textile and monumental decorative artists, in addition to other specialists. The training of mid-level specialists was delegated to schools of higher art education that had evolved from their origins as fine art schools, including the Stepas Žukas Applied Arts Technical School in Kaunas (established in 1954) and the Applied Arts Technical School of Telšiai (founded in 1959).
A network of facilities centered around the "Dailė" DailėThe "Dailė" workshops were a specific phenomenon of Soviet applied artistry, of interest not only to those studying design (for the way their work was organized and how works were reproduced), but also to applied art critics (for the style of the works produced).

The Soviet "Dailė" workshops were created in the spirit of early European modernist associations that propagated the idea of a union of arts and crafts that aspired to bring art and mass production closer together. Soviet ideologists were inspired by the efforts of William Morris, a late 19th century socialist who sought to consolidate the production of all articles necessary for the home environment (textiles, ceramics, furniture, wall furnishings) in one Morris and Co. studio (opened in 1888) in England.

Similar workshops, opening one after the other in the early 20th century, continued Morris' efforts: the Wiener Werkstätten (opened in 1903) in Vienna, the Deutsche Werkbund (est. 1907), workshops in Krakow (Warsztaty Krakowskie, opened in 1913), and others.
production factory was launched in 1945, and the LSSR (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic) Art Fund was established to finance larger works of applied art.
Workshops for individual fields of applied art were established at the "Dailė" facilities where artistic works were produced according to the designs, called etalonai (standards), of professional artists. In cooperation with the Art Fund, the "Dailė" facilities remained in operation until the collapse of the Soviet Union, comprising a system for the design of large orders and integrated interior spaces.
The artistic capabilities of applied artists were not alike. Many artists, fearing the Bolshevik terror, fled to the West. Ceramists had been participating in Lithuanian artistic life for many years already, and could thus benefit from the tasteful works of Liudvikas Strolis (1905–1996), who had studied in Paris before the war, as well as the work of his students: Vaclovas Miknevičius (1910–1989), Valdemaras Manomaitis (1912–2000), Jonas Mikėnas (1899–1988), and Teodora Slyvauskaitė-Miknevičienė (1909–1982). The work of the ceramists was not interrupted by the Second World War: an exhibition of Lithuanian ceramic works opened in Kaunas in 1943 and the Kaunas Applied Arts Institute continued to train ceramic artists during wartime.
Other branches of the applied arts (textiles, wood, metals, glass, jewelry) were much worse off. An odd situation developed in particular with textiles. When the husband and wife team of textile artists, Antanas Tamošaitis (1906–2005) and Anastazija Tamošaitienė (1910–1991), withdrew to the West, no professional artists remained working in this field. The art institutions in operation in Kaunas had to train the applied art specialists that Lithuania required, under the guidance of renowned artists. It was most important to achieve a creative professional level beyond that of the artisan. These different artistic fields had already become linked during the inter-war period, with artisan creations supplementing and compensating for the lack of artistic works in independent Lithuania.
The textiles department was headed from 1945 by set designer Liudas Truikys (1904–1987), while the ceramics department was directed by Liudvikas Strolis. The Institute also housed a department for monumental and decorative painting, with two studios. In one of these, Stasys Ušinskas (1905–1974) instructed in wall painting and stained glass.
The Institute's gaining momentum (it produced its first graduating class of textile artists in 1947) was hindered by the Soviet Ministry for Higher Education, which took issue with the direction of teaching at the Kaunas Institute. Soviet functionaries in Moscow were concerned by the proliferation at the Institute of artistic traditions of the school's pre-war predecessor in Kaunas, which the Soviets equated with "bourgeois" values. Instructors and students felt a constant ideological pressure. Instead of works of artistic value and individuality, they were pressed to develop politically relevant themes and realistic works.
Meeting transcripts from the various departments of the Institute spelled out the requirements that the works of the young artists had to satisfy. The following is an excerpt from the minutes of a meeting entitled "A discussion on the shortcomings of the Fine Arts Department":
Žmuidzinavičius: The studio under the leadership of Liudas Truikys lacks realism. Kalpokas: Carpets typically have a synthetic decorative form, and excessive realism is not desirable in that studio. Vaitys: Under Truikys' guidance the carpet studio has achieved very good results. [...] Recommendation: Have Truikys replace his painting instructor Tarabilda with another teacher and vary the carpet themes. 1947 m. spalio 2 d. protokolas Nr. 40, Lietuvos literatūros ir meno archyvas, f. 62, apr. 1, b. 14, l. 187, 197–198. 
The dialogue between the instructors makes it clear that a battle over aesthetic principles was being waged involving a dispute between realistic and decorative forms; the latter was considered by the post-war regime to be inconsistent with the principles of socialist realism. Textile designers (like their colleagues working in ceramics and the other applied art fields) were now required to produce content that reflected the ideological realities of Soviet life.
Efforts to adapt to the new demands were not enough to save Liudas Truikys, who was forced out of his position as head of the Fine Arts Department in 1949. Painting instructor Petras Tarabilda (1905–1977) was also dismissed from the Institute in 1950. Tarabilda, a promoter in Lithuania of the ideas of Nikolai Rerikh (having founded the Rerikh Society in 1935), had become yet another irritant in the eyes of the new regime.
Truikys' dismissal from the leadership of the Textiles Department for formalism is the officially established version of the story. His contemporaries, however, speak of many other reasons why the department head had fallen out of favor. One of them tells of illegal business activity, i.e. the production and sale at the department of illegal fabrics that were in short supply in post-war Lithuania. Whatever the true reason, Truikys was badly shaken by the decision of the authorities.
"Denounce, my dear brother, denounce others—this is the only way to live in today's Lithuania," he advised recent graduate Juozas Balčikonis. He went on to say he himself wandered the halls of higher learning and informed on former colleagues, teachers and artists, in an attempt to gain the favor of the higher powers. When his position as composition instructor at the Textiles Department was taken by Vytautas Kairiūkštis, Truikys became furious with him, even though they had been inseparable friends up to that point. Unfortunately, Kairiūkštis met the same fate a year later—dismissal from his position for formalism. Memoirs of Juozas Balčikonis, recorded by Lijana Natalevičienė, 2004 04 15.
These tragicomic facts show how the new order crushed individuals, suppressed humanity and morality, and instilled conformity.
In 1951, the Kaunas Institute for Applied and Decorative Arts was dissolved and merged with the Academy of Arts in Vilnius. Stasys Ušinskas, Liudvikas Strolis, Vytautas Kairiūkštis, Jonas Prapuolenis, and Jonas Vaitys were not invited to teach at the newly established Lithuanian SSR State Art Institute, to which the Ceramics, Fine Textiles and other departments were transferred from Kaunas. Neither, understandably, was Liudas Truikys.
Neither the students arriving in Vilnius, nor the instructors who had "passed" a rigorous selection process, had an easy time adapting to their new environment. The textile artist Vladas Daujotas, who began his studies in Kaunas in 1948 and completed them in Vilnius in 1954, later wrote in his memoirs:
Stained glass, set design, mosaic murals, ceramics and textiles all "began" not in the Bernardine chambers of Vilnius, but in Kaunas—on Ąžuolas Hill, in the studios of the Art School established by Justinas Vienožinskis. [...] With the arrival of the Soviets, the Applied Art Institute became a splinter in the eye of the regime. Why the government despised the school is a topic for another discussion. It was simply the case that, by 1951, the government's patience had run out and so it closed the Kaunas Institute, dismissed all instructors and staff, and gave students the option to transfer to the newly established applied art departments at the Vilnius Academy of Art. The organization of the new departments in Vilnius was done hurriedly, completely unprepared, without a second thought [...]. The worst troubles for those from Kaunas who had moved to Vilnius, though, were not material, but spiritual. Immediately upon arrival from Kaunas, where they had enjoyed a relatively tolerant environment at the Kaunas Applied Arts Institute with its remnant spirit of European cultural universalism, they found themselves pressed between the mill stones, [as the Lithuanian saying goes]. There, right under the eyes of the Artistic Affairs Council, the government suppressed any displays of unregulated creativity, priggishly trying to conform to the prevailing situation. Vladas Daujotas, „Vilnietis ar kaunietis?“, Vilniaus dailės akademija: informacinis biuletenis, 2000, Nr. 10. 
The situation hardly seemed any better to Juozas Balčikonis, recently appointed to head the Fine Textiles Department:
"We had to find facilities," he remembers. "At first they allocated 18 square meters of space for 24 students. The Institute director at the time, Vytautas Jurkūnas, told us there was no more space to be had. I began to look for more. There was disorder everywhere then, everything was a mess. I looked around the second floor and found a vacant space filled with all kinds of trash, bricks, broken windows. But it had three small rooms! I went to Jurkūnas and asked if I could have any empty space I could find. He agreed. That's how we started, by cleaning out those little rooms. Though they were dark and poorly heated, it was still something. All our looms and weaving machines had been left in Kaunas. Some were later brought over and piled up in the Bernardine Church, while others were left for the Applied Arts Technical School in Kaunas. They received wonderful facilities, living like kings, while we suffered. Some time later, the residents of a former monastery building at 13 Tiesos Street were evicted. They moved a student dorm out of a huge hall on the first floor, and let us set up our department studios there. Though it was cold and the stoves were bad, the space was big. We assembled the looms and the Jacquard machines, and we were fine. Juozas Balčikonis, Memoirs [manuscript], Vilnius Art Academy, Department of Textile archives, 2001. 
During the first post-war decade, applied artists sought to consolidate their place in the art world, mobilize artists working in their field, reinforce their material base and resume the training of specialists. In the difficult post-war years, they not only had to cope with shortages of material but also had to adapt to life under occupation and endure the burdens of a spiritual crisis.
Read more: Juozas Balčikonis, Vladas Daujotas, Stasys Ušinskas.
Tending to its wounds in the first years following the war, the art world was stricken from the list of vitally important issues. Out of inertia, applied art was still considered a field of more notional expression, characterized by more abstracted, superficially modest imagery. A knotted carpet created by Balčikonis while he was still a student, entitled Rugiapjūtė (Naujakurių pjūtis) (Cutting the Rye (Settlers' Harvest, 1947), was distinguished by a decorative, abstract composition learned at the Kaunas art school and displayed at an All-Union Applied and People's Art exhibition in Moscow in 1948, and even received an award from the Art Committee of the USSR Council of Ministers. The inertia of the post-war period can also explain the appearance of stained glass works by Ušinskas in the Šančiai and Resurrection Churches in Kaunas (1945–1947). Artists would later collaborate with the Church secretly.
Within several years, however, Soviet ideologues were quick to use art for the ideological education of society, to lift the general mood, and to mobilize the people for the post-war reconstruction effort. Ideological pressure on the art world of the junior fraternal republics increased after resolutions on cultural and ideological issues were adopted by the Communist Party Central Committee in Moscow in 1947–1948. The darkest period came at the juncture of the 1940s and the 1950s.
At that time, a Stalinist imperial style, sometimes also called the "triumphal style", began to take hold in art and architecture. Stained glass works, ceramic panels, and monumental textile creations of ideological content reflecting socialist achievements and the values of "Soviet man" were added to architecture as a means of visual propaganda. It was then that proponents of the Soviet aesthetic noticed that decorative imagery in applied artwork was conflicting with the needs of socialist realism that promoted ideologically effective and popularly accessible art.
Thus, applied artists were forced to turn toward the more illustrative visual arts and adopt the creative processes of painting and graphic imagery—detailed drawing, three-dimensional images, inclusive modeling of shapes. For a time, they had to forget the requirements of construction and technology that were characteristic of applied art and the treatment of shape based on the given material (clay, yarn, glass, metal). Ceramic vases, wall carpets and stained glass works not only had to decorate their environment, but also had to proclaim a political idea using academic realist painting methods.
Applied artworks devoted to representational purposes thrived, while those intended for domestic use languished. Unique works of applied art were created for exhibitions and decoration, while items mass-produced for daily use were given less attention due to the shortages and ideological priorities of the post-war period.
The efforts to adapt to the unequivocal ideological requirements were evidenced by the Exhibition of Applied and People's Art, organized in 1950 to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. The exhibition featured the works of professional artists and the master craftsmen of the "Dailė" workshops. Works of a more neutral style and vases, textiles, woodwork, and leatherworks decorated with folk art motifs were eclipsed by carpets featuring the LSSR heraldry, wooden creations inlaid with images of Lenin and Stalin, as well as gifts made of wood, leather, and amber dedicated to Stalin's 70th birthday.
Applied artists were brought together by a unique event in the art world of the day, the ten-day exhibition of Lithuanian literature and art in Moscow in March, 1954, organized to showcase the Lithuanian nation's optimism after joining the family of fraternal Soviet republics.


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Sources and links

1947 m. spalio 2 d. protokolas Nr. 40
Lietuvos literatūros ir meno archyvas, f. 62, apr. 1, b. 14, l. 187, 197–198
Juozas Balčikonis
Recorded by Lijana Natalevičienė, 2004 04 15
Juozas Balčikonis
Memoirs [manuscript]
Vilnius Art Academy Department of Textile archives, 2001
Vladas Daujotas
„Vilnietis ar kaunietis?“
Vilniaus dailės akademija: informacinis biuletenis, 2000, Nr. 10
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