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  Vol. 16, November-December, 2008
Made with Love

Jolanta Paškevičienė

“People who like bright things may not even notice my work,” says Gintvilė Giedraitienė. “It is for people who like simple, genuine things, like silence and nature.

“My work is for dreamers who look for tenderness and friendship, for those who create joy, for poets, philosophers and travellers, and all those who look for unusual souvenirs.”

Her work is easy to recognise. It is simple, symbolic and pleasant to look at and touch. The method she has created is often called grass art, but what she makes is difficult to attribute to a genre.

Simple grasses and plants, when put together and tied or plaited, become beautiful verbos (dried grasses habitually made for Palm Sunday), crosses, the Tree of Life or frames for pictures of saints.

 A home full of the smell of hay

In her house the windows are covered with jalousies tied from silk grasses and straw. Grass compositions hang on the walls, and clusters of rowanberries are hung out to dry. A small stack of hay under the table gives off the pleasant aroma of summer meadows.

Giedraitienė touches, twists and rolls the grasses gently and unhurriedly. The first part of a composition is born right under my eyes just as we are talking. Armfuls of silk grass gathered during the summer, and heaps of dried plants from meadows and woods, will turn into a host of beautiful things. Later they will be dispersed across the country and travel to foreign lands as exhibits in shows and art shops and as presents for friends’ homes.

“There has never been anything more wonderful than nature. All my life I’ve admired the beauty of plants,” says Giedraitienė. “It’s a real pleasure for me to make things from them. I do it with all my heart, with love. If I don’t feel full of love, I don’t work that day.”

She tried to make her first compositions and original verbos a good 20 years ago. Even then her monochrome works differed greatly from the sea of coloured verbos at fairs in Vilnius.

“I was encouraged by the first buyers, who praised them,” she says. “They were cultured people, who appreciate folk art and were attracted by the symbols and the folklore. However, several years were to pass before I got fully immersed in this work.”

Giedraitienė lives in Prienai with her husband and two children. She spends all her summers in their country house near woods and fields. She learned the art over two years, studying plants not from books but in the field.

“There were times when I picked fantastically beautiful silk grass, and admired it while it was drying, and it would turn into dust when I started working with it. I tried to pick it at a different time, but then stopped as it was not good for my work.

“Every plant I use has to be picked at the right time: some around St John’s Day, others at the end of August. I enjoyed learning very much, the more so that I spent all the summers in the countryside.”

She did not have any teachers, and devised her own methods. She worked for many years at a folk art museum, surrounded by exhibits of folk art.

“I’ve always admired folk art: simple iron crosses, simple wooden sculptures without any intricacies, the Tree of Life, with all the symbols of the nation, and the patterns of homespun textiles.”

Her work is full of Baltic signs and symbols which have many meanings. She gives several meanings to the moon: a secret, the womb, a boat, a bridge and the sky. A bird stands for freedom, flight, the soul, the Holy Spirit. The Tree of Life is a link between worlds (spaces, generations, Heaven and Earth), the axis of the Universe. The cross is the transition from life to death, the point where the spirit and matter meet, a marriage of Heaven and Earth, a symbol of belief, love, sacrifice and salvation.

She shared her knowledge and wisdom with schoolchildren for many years, teaching at an art school and at handicrafts clubs. When she started giving seminars for adults, followers appeared, but nobody was able to work as precisely and carefully as she was.

“Very interesting people buy my works. They are easy to talk with. They give my phone number to each other and then call me. Some have become friends who often come to see what I have made, and we write to each other. I’m rather shy, and it’s through my work that we communicate. Grasses bring us together.”

From meadow to monastery

Before grass turns into an intricate composition, her hands touch and finger it many times.

“It’s a great pleasure to go to the woods with a pair of shears. I never know what I’ll find there, what plants and flowers will be ready for cutting. Now that we have a house in the countryside, I know that I’ll cut most of the hay, which is the main medium for most of my work, around my own home. That’s where the most suitable grass grows. It’s very fine, only it has to be cut before it grows too long.”

A petrol-powered lawnmower saves time and makes the work easier than cutting the grass with shears. She does everything herself, because, she says, nobody else knows what kinds of grass she needs or the length. It is then put in the attic to dry. If it were left in the sun it would lose its soft green colour. When the time comes to use it, the hay is sprinkled with water to make it pliant and easy to bend and twist. After little bunches of different grasses, tied with tow, become the body of a composition, it is often fixed to a stick, and other plants and seeds are added. Everything is made spontaneously, without any sketches.

“The idea comes into my hands from the grass. It prompts me to find the right form and composition.”

She has made hundreds of pieces, from little birds with tufts of silk grass for tails to large spatial constructions and metre-high crosses, adorned with small details, which make the texture, the colours and the kind of grass stand out.

Giedraitienė’s works are always warmly praised. Tradition and her longing for the countryside and the quiet landscape seem to be embodied in their simplicity. They are unpretentious, but at the same time they are a symbolic reference to something more profound.

Many people looking at them remember their childhood summers. Giedraitienė’s self-expression and her talent arouse very deep feelings. Because of their inner warmth, simplicity and sincerity, monks and other devout people often buy them.

Several years ago, a large cross of hers was sent as a present to a monastery. Later she heard that the person who received it was so pleased that they were moved to tears.

 “Warm words are the best remuneration. As a matter of fact, I make them because I want to, because I can’t live without them. I’ll never make things which everyone likes. The most important thing is that it comes from the heart. It’s nice to be faithful to yourself.”

An unexpected tandem

Several years ago in a Kaunas art gallery before Christmas, Giedraitienė put on a display called “The Grasses’ Song to the Mother of God”, together with the artist Albina Žiupsnytė. The project, which was conceived in the spring, was not completed until the autumn, and just before the show a real rush started.

It was a one-off exhibition, in which the two artists displayed works which they had made together. Žiupsnytė showed miniatures painted in acrylic on plywood, which Giedraitienė adorned with grass. Sometimes they were enclosed in shrines made of grass. The works looked like small temples or wayside shrines.

 “It was very exciting and a great responsibility to work with an artist whose work I’ve known for a long time,” recalls Giedraitienė.

She was even thinking about it while she was collecting the grasses. The joint works gave an impression of organic unity. It seemed that her grasses grew naturally out of the figures, while Žiupsnytė’s “little icons” looked as if they had been born surrounded by plants. A unity like this is possible only when two related souls meet.

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