Date
18 August 2021
Reading Time
6 minute read
Tags

Mozaika explores a spectacular archive of Lithuanian children’s book illustration, and its cultural significance

What’s the difference between illustration for children versus adults? Celebrating 27 Lithuanian children’s book illustrators operating during the second half of the 20th century, Mozaika delves into the creative expression of artists working in the newly Soviet-ruled country.

Share

Date
18 August 2021
Reading Time
6 minute read

Share

When I think about children’s book illustrations, I think of brightly lit imaginations stripped of the harshness that plagues adult realities. Children’s illustration is known as a safe space tucked behind a curtain of unbridled innocence, but this is not always the case. While one aspect of the niche genre has given us the likes of The Cat in the Hat, Winnie the Pooh and The Hungry Caterpillar, there are also more unknown corners of children’s illustration where artists discovered coveted modes of expression where they could express themselves freely under the plain site of authoritarian rule. This is the case for the creative treasure trove we are about to uncover in Mozaika, an archive collecting Lithuanian children’s illustrations from the latter half of the 20th century.

GalleryAll the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors

Left

Mozaika: Albina Makunaite in the book Pasaka apie ezeli ir jo jauna pacia by Petras Cvirka, 1959

Right

Mozaika: Domicele Tarabildiene in the book Simtas vytureliu by Kazys Jakubenas, 1970

GalleryAll the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors

Above
Left

Mozaika: Albina Makunaite in the book Pasaka apie ezeli ir jo jauna pacia by Petras Cvirka, 1959

Right

Mozaika: Domicele Tarabildiene in the book Simtas vytureliu by Kazys Jakubenas, 1970

Above

Mozaika: Domicele Tarabildiene in the book Simtas vytureliu by Kazys Jakubenas, 1970

There is little exposure on this eclectic range of works, a collection which is as stylistically broad as Baltic history is complex. Prior to the invention of the internet it was more difficult for illustrations to circulate. But the biggest factor contributing to this secret of Lithuanian children’s illustration lies in the country’s historical context. Looking to the second half of the 20th century, we see Lithuania occupied by the Soviet Union like much of the Eastern Bloc. Artists were strictly supervised by regimes who restricted creative freedom of expression in light of nationalistic agendas and propaganda. This meant Lithuanian artists had to find another, more covert way of unleashing their artistry, a space many found in children’s illustration – one supposedly void of politics.

Mozaika, in turn, is a tribute to 27 artists and illustrators operating in this period. Founded by Miglė Rudaitytė, who also runs the Vilnius-based creative studio Boy, the designer started the web-based archive a little over a year ago while foraging through the contents of her parents’ country house in the Lithuanian countryside. She tells us, “many country houses become family archives that preserve various objects from unusable cupboards to bedsheets and kids’ stuff left for future generations.” In Miglė’s case, it bore a myriad of children’s books which were of interest again as a mother to three-year-old Jonas. “While looking at the books as an adult,” she recalls, “I rediscovered the beauty of Lithuanian illustrators’ work,” and its cultural significance.

Childhood memories quickly merged with a professional approach and a mother’s experience and so, Mozaika was borne. A mini digital archive which preserves works from that time, raising the ageing illustrators’ profiles and showcasing the distinct qualities of Lithuanian artistry to the masses. The collection also highlights olde Lithuanian words which are no longer in use and face obsolescence today, in turn, passing on their meaning to younger generations.

“Looking at those illustrations,” adds Miglė, “I feel those artists didn’t pander to adults nor kids. Their aims weren’t for the illustrations to be formalist or vainly decorative. Children were treated as clever individuals who could understand and be exposed to high artistic expressions.” In this way, Mozaika highlights both a thematic and stylistic maturity rarely seen for the children’s demographic. Stasys Eidrigevičius, for example, is praised by art historians for a singular modernist aesthetic where he conveys unmistakably sad and lonely ideas. A master of rare genres such as masks and the Polish smutki (Stasys has been living in Warsaw since 1980) the famed illustrator’s work can be seen across institutions in Lithuania and Poland not to mention The British Museum, MoMA and Tokyo’s Creation Gallery, just to name a few.

Above

Mozaika: Petras Repsys in the book Naslaite Elenyte ir Joniukas Aviniukas, 1971

Above

Mozaika: Nijole Kryzeviciute-Jurgelioniene in the book Kas atidarys duris by Jeronimas Laucius, 1990

Above

Mozaika: Aspazija Surgailiene in the book Pasaku skrynele, 1961 (All the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors)

When Miglė first rediscovered the abundance of children’s illustration last summer, she wondered what the best medium for Mozaika could be. “I wanted to create something meaningful alongside showing those beautiful pieces,” she explains. She chose to design and build a website because “it’s the most accessible means of media '' and created the system to resemble an old book from those days. With a menu on the left-hand side to mirror an interactive table of contents, the designer also implements page numbers to indicate a chronology.

She chose the typeface GT Eesti by Grilli Type to tell each illustrator’s story. As the Swiss type foundry describes it: “GT Eesti is a free-spirited interpretation of the Soviet geometric sans serif Zhurnalnaya Roublennaya.” The typeface features a handful of purposeful typographic imperfections which bear a resemblance to the printing processes used in those days. Typographic alignment is left “holey” for instance as it is in the pages of yellowing old books. Miglė sheds further light on how books were manufactured in the 20th century prior to the use of digital printing presses: “Most of the books were set in the same repetitive way. For instance, all of them have the same block of credit sets in small type at the end of the book.”

GalleryAll the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors

Left

Mozaika: Rimvydas Kepezinskas in the book Cipolino nuotykiai by Dzanis Rodaris, 1993

Right

Mozaika: Leonardas Gutauskas in the book Vasko Dvarelis, 1970

GalleryAll the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors

Above
Left

Mozaika: Rimvydas Kepezinskas in the book Cipolino nuotykiai by Dzanis Rodaris, 1993

Right

Mozaika: Leonardas Gutauskas in the book Vasko Dvarelis, 1970

Above

Mozaika: Leonardas Gutauskas in the book Vasko Dvarelis, 1970

Mozaika’s website is full of thoughtful design decisions piquing the viewer’s intrigue from one click to another. The viewer can explore the archive in close detail, zooming in on specific details; a quirk observed by Miglė when watching her son explore the most insignificant of details across a number of books. She also wanted to create something original from the reservoir of inspiring material. Deciding to take small details from the books, she created a series of graphic collages which pepper Mozaika’s launch page; a nod to the bridging together of old and new, complete with a few of Jonas’ naive scribblings thrown in the mix (“I know how kids sometimes decorate books themselves”).

As Lithuania is quite a small country at 243,610 square kilometres (roughly one fifth of the UK) with a population of less than three million people, Miglė found her investigative diggings took place closer to home than expected. When she got deeper into her research, she realised her son’s kindergarten in Vilnius is the former home of children’s book legend Taida Balciuniene. Upon making this discovery, she managed to borrow some of Taida’s books from her personal collection, scanning them one by one to gradually build the Mozaika archive.

Taida isn’t the only illustrator with a personal connection to Miglė. The designer’s mother-in-law, a champion of Lithuanian art, introduced Miglė to another illustration legend, Birute Zilyte, who boasts an incredible portfolio and similarly lent books and advice contributing to Mozaika’s present success. Famous for her exceptional use of colour, Birute was key in the movement of graphic art during the 50s. “She established a new modernist way of thinking in the country,” says Miglė on the acclaimed artist’s significance, “ending the dominating period of realism.”

Though Mozaika feels like a comprehensive overview of Lithuanian children’s illustration to the layman, she admits that the collection “is not pretending to be a full scale study of art”. It’s subjective to the designer’s individual memory and her particular childhood bookshelf in question. Consequently Mozaika can be seen as an introductory tour of the genre as told through Miglė’s findings to date. Amidst Taida Balciuniene and Birute Zilyte, we meet an eclectic range of other extraordinary artists. Rasa Dockute, for example, is described as a “radiant personality”. Known for her extravagant carnival-like characters, she refused to talk to journalists, purely expressing herself through drawing.

Above

Mozaika: Edmundas Ziauberis in the book Uzuozeriu Antaniukas by Ona Sedelskyte, 1967

Above

Mozaika: Marija Ladigaite-Vildziuniene in the book Namai namuciai by Violeta Palciskaite, 1984

Elsewhere in Mozaika we meet the likes of Albina Makunaite and her intricate engraving style illustrations as well as Algirdas Steponavičius and Rimtautas Vincentas Gibavicius. By contrast, Rimvydas Kepezinskas stands out for his distinct character design and calligraphic brush strokes doused in a moody colour palette that wouldn’t seem amiss in contemporary illustration today. A working graphic designer as well as illustrator, Rimvydas’ work won numerous awards both in his home country and abroad, his languid, relaxed style at odds with the bold, blocky aesthetic prescribed by the Soviet era.

There are a multitude of stories to be told on Mozaika, both through the images on display as well as through the artists who crafted the beautiful works. For Miglė, this is at the crux of Mozaika: “I want more eyes to see the beauty of those illustrations and I want to preserve them for a bit longer. These authors have certainly played their part in the way our generation sees the world – how we perceive its colours and how sensitive we are to the overwhelming processes of today – I want to share that.” A platform which is as inspiring to parents as it is their children, Mozaika celebrates 27 artists’ contributions to Lithuanian art history and hopes to pass on a legacy to future generations. It’s an inspiring testament for parents to show artistically valuable pieces to their kids, Miglė urges, “believing it will help to raise them to be more clever, creative and courageous”.

GalleryMozaika: Rimtautas Gibavicius in the book Ne velnio nebijau, 1988 (All the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors)

GalleryMozaika: Rimtautas Gibavicius in the book Ne velnio nebijau, 1988 (All the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors)

Hero Header

Mozaika: Birute Zilyte from the book Pasaka apie narsia Vilniaus mergaite ir galvazudi Zaliabarzdi by Aldona Liobyte, 1970 (All rights to the illustrations belong to their authors)

Share Article

Further Info

This is a non-profit project, supported by the Lithuanian Council for Culture. All the rights to the illustrations belong to their authors.

www.mozaika.cc

www.theboy.lt

About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

jo@itsnicethat.com

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.