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Estonian Art for Peace at KHL

Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s head youth librarian Nicole Westbom stewards Estonian student artwork at Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Photo by Valentyn Smith.
On the shore of the Baltic Sea, there’s a school full of children who want to share their dreams with you. Through the efforts of a global library network, the artwork of these students traveled from Pärnu, Estonia, to Montpelier. And if you head to Kellogg-Hubbard Library on 135 Main Street, where this exhibit is currently stewarded by head youth librarian Nicole Westbom, you will encounter a full scope of visual works by Estonian teens dialoguing with the idea of peace. 

Whether the tyrants looming over a violet-haired figure in “Millennial” make you laugh or the depiction of a body discovered under rubble in “Rescuers that were a Little Late” gives you pause, be sure to stop and appreciate the captions entitling each work of art. 

The images curated in this gallery range from universal images of peace, such as a dove mid-air and spirits circle-dancing atop a globe, to idyllic landscapes of a winter forest, the folkloric and familial, as well as the darkly humorous and poignant. In a variety of mediums, including colored pencils, graphite, pastels, print-ink, and watercolors, each piece is set on drawing paper. Each work is bordered by floral fabrics and brims with emotional resonance. 

19-year-old Madli Pajos depicts a dove and transcendent figure in “Peace in My Mind.” Photo by Tom McKone.
Student artwork from Sütevaka Humanitarian High School will be on view in the children’s section of Kellogg-Hubbard Library until late November. This exhibit is part of a traveling collection that will be touring New England in promotion of peace and global partnership. 

“This collection is highly political. It’s cutting in a lot of ways. Like it’s really these kids seeing bullcrap and cutting straight through it. I think that the way kids tell stories through art is really universal,” said Westbom.

“The Peace in the World” is the theme of the Estonian exhibit, which has been circulating throughout regional libraries. Sütevaka Humanitarian High School was founded in August 1990 by the Sütevaka Society to offer an alternative to an outdated Soviet educational system. It is one of the several schools — established after its country regained its independence — that have been participating in the “Let’s Build a Roof Over the World” project. This part of the collection consists of 28 drawings from students 12 to 18 years old.

 “Let’s Build a Roof Over the World” is an international project spearheaded by Fermata Arts Foundation, the Connecticut-based organization that promotes intercultural dialogue between New England states and post-Soviet countries. Through the framework of social truth and the role of art in promoting peace, each school approaches the theme with a different focus. For instance, the previous exhibit from Moldova approached this theme through a mythological lens.

In 2019, Executive President Tatyana Ishutkina cold-called Nicole Westbom to ask if her library would be interested in being part of the circuit of libraries hosting the exhibit. 

“When I first heard the mission and the vision of Fermata, I felt like it resonated very strongly with me because I think a large part of the way that there’s conflict is that we don’t just see each other,” Westbom said. “We see surface level things or large political movements, but we don’t see that there’s a kid who sat at a desk after having Cheetos and made this beautiful piece of artwork. I think that sharing something extremely personal about yourself is a way to create peace. You know, starting at a small level can be resonant. It can create a ripple effect for greater peace in the world.”

Kellogg-Hubbard Library has been participating in partnership with other libraries and the non-profit Fermata Arts Foundation since 2020 to support this mission. However, because of the global pandemic, the exhibit was postponed. The tour resumed in 2021. 

A total of 1,375 students and professional artists from 13 countries participated in this project, including Estonia, Moldova, Ukraine, the United States, Kyrgyzstan, and other post-Soviet countries. A total of 221 exhibitions were organized in nine states, including Vermont. 

In 2009, the Fermata Arts Foundation began its correspondence with the U.S. Senate, members of Congress, global ambassadors, and President Joe Biden. In these documented exchanges, several senators, congressmen, and President Biden have recognized the Fermata organization and its participants, as well as commended this international project for its mission of preserving peace. 

The upcoming exhibit from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan will center on the theme of “Ideal Home,” and will be installed around Dec. 1. In the Kyrgyzstan exhibit, older students have created architectural models of houses, and younger students will explore fairy tale homes. 

When asked how the overall exhibit interacts with the Children’s Library, Westbom said: “Almost everybody who comes here has a connection with youth. To have this artwork from the other side of the world, from circumstances that are so different from ours, it just creates so much more of an ability to have a dialogue around questions like: ‘What does art mean?’ ‘How do children express themselves through art?’ ‘What are our children seeing that we don’t know that they’re seeing, and how are they processing that?’ So, I think it is an especially profound place to have an art exhibit like this, because we’re surrounded by storytelling that we give to kids. And this is storytelling being given to us by kids.” 

Westbom’s child, 13-year-old Lennon, added: “This exhibit can show a lot of the negative impacts that lack of peace can cause, and then it can do the opposite and show the positive impact that peace can cause.”

Valentyn Smith is a Brooklynite living in Vermont, where she writes for The Bridge and works as an Assistant Circulation Librarian at Kellogg-Hubbard Library. She has an MFA from VCFA.