The metamorphosis of the Lithuanian wayside shrine, 1850–1990
Richardson, Milda B.
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This dissertation examines the wooden wayside shrines of Lithuania and the unique role they played in the religious, social and political history of Lithuania from the end of World War II to the 1990s. Two manifestations of performance are discussed: (1) the development of the wayside shrine tradition in the territory of Lithuania itself, and (2) the radicalization of the tradition among émigré artists rebuilding a sense of community in the West. With the annexation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union following World War II, the Communist government aggressively repressed but never completely eradicated the religiously-based wayside shrine tradition. Beginning in the 1970s, the Folk Art Society in Lithuania vigorously generated a renaissance in the folk heritage. Society members turned to the arts and crafts tradition and created over thirty, large-scale ensembles of woodcarvings throughout the countryside. As part of a struggle to assert Lithuanian cultural identity, the ubiquitous wayside shrines composed of roofed poles with chapels containing free-standing religious figures evolved into totemic carvings, which combine religious and secular figures fully engaged on the trunk of the totem pole. In North America, the Lithuanian diaspora recreated the shrines predominantly in miniature form, often using a greater variety of materials and tools. In this radicalized form they became the symbol of the Lithuanian community's identity in all aspects of its visual culture. The dissertation is organized into three sections: (1) an examination of the historical tradition, 1850–1940; (2) an analysis of the metamorphosis of the tradition in Lithuania, 1940–1990; (3) a comparative analysis of production in North America. Extensive fieldwork and interviews in Lithuania and North America, and research in previously unexplored archives inform the dissertation. Prior scholarship on the wayside shrine tradition has remained largely descriptive. This study seeks a broader cultural analysis, including the North American production which has not been documented until now. The contribution of this dissertation is to synthesize the significance of this art form by applying a variety of scholarly disciplines: art history, religion, anthropology, history, material culture, and immigration studies.
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