By Gail McCarthy
---- — MANCHESTER — Cape Ann residents can get a rare taste of the richness of Russian culture beginning Friday when the Manchester Community Center hosts an exhibition showcasing fine art, Russian handicrafts, food, live music and some historical connections between Russia and New England.
Friday’s debut, which runs from 5 to 9 p.m., will feature an opening reception, hosted by Olesya and Jerry Koenig with free refreshments. Jazz music will be performed by virtuoso improvisational pianist Leo Loginov Katz.
On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., there will be “A Russian Treasure Hunt” encouraging visitors to “find connections between Russia, North Shore and Manchester-by-the-Sea over the past 200 years.
Saturday’s program will also include a roundtable discussion led by Margaret Coleman of Manchester. The discussion will highlight people, places and events with Russian ties to Manchester and Cape Ann; The treasure hunt will be conducted after, and forms will be given to the participants to complete and return to the Center by Aug. 3 for a review and prize.
Coleman, who is director of the non-profit organization called the Russian American Cultural Center at Russia Wharf, Inc., is a major organizer of this event, along with From Russia with Art Gallery in Cambridge and the Manchester Community Center.
The “From Moscow to Manchester-By-The-Sea Art & Culture Exhibit,” which will run through Sunday, Aug, 4, features artwork by 13 Russian-American artists from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ukraine and the Greater Boston area, including American Impressionist and Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America, Anatoly Dverin.
Although Massachusetts is known for its role in colonial history, Coleman noted that there was a unique partnership between the young nation in the wake of the American Revolution and Imperial Russia, which is often overlooked in history books. There was also a prosperous trading relationship between the two nations.
“We have several people in Gloucester whose ancestry is Russian and one of them, Gabrielle Barzaghi who is a wonderful artist, will speak at the round-table discussion, which will be made up of about eight people who have Russian ancestry,” said Coleman, who has researched Russian-American history for many decades.
”There are a lot of chapters in American-Russian history, but particularly after the revolution in 1783 when England became the enemy and Russia became our trading partner,” said Coleman. “We didn’t have to ask England anymore who we could trade with, so many ships left from Beverly, Salem and Boston.”
Several of the captains on those ships came from Manchester, including Capt. Thomas Leach who sailed and built ships for the Russian trade.
She said it is likely that ships left from Gloucester, too.
“It’s called the Russian trade instead of the China trade, but it wasn’t fancy porcelain and silver, but Russian hemp which made the best rigging and Russian canvas duck,” said Coleman. “The USS Constitution was built with all Russian raw materials except for the wood.”
She shared countless tidbits of history, including research pertaining to Gloucester.
”LePage’s was actually called the Russia Cement Company before it was LePage’s. I believe some of the raw materials were coming over from Russia and that’s why it was called the Russia Cement Company,” she said.
American artist James McNeill Whistler got his early art training in Russia because his father was the principal engineer for the Russian railroad, said Coleman, who taught Russian at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in the 1960s. She also worked with Russian immigrants when the non-profit was based in Boston at Russia Wharf, which since has been renamed Atlantic Wharf.
”I’m a product of the 60s and have a great interest in Russia because of the era in which I grew up,” she said. “But since I’ve lived here in Manchester I have discovered so many chapters here.”
Last September, she traveled to Russia for the 200th anniversary of the death of the infant daughter of John Quincy Adams, Louisa Catherine Adams (1811-1812). She was born and died in Russia, at the time her father was America’s first minister to Russia from 1809 to 1814. The infant was buried in a Lutheran cemetery there.
”He was there because of all the trade between Russia and the New England ports,” she said.
Anyone seeking more information is welcome to visit www.racc-boston.org.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.