Celebrating Lithuanian Heritage Through Folk Art
Philitha Stemplys-Cowdrey is our Southern New England Apprenticeship Program (SNEAP) Manager, but did you know that she is also a past participant in the program?
She is the apprentice to Lithuanian Folk Artist, Aldona Saimininkas and has been learning from Aldona as far back as she can remember. Both Aldona and Philitha’s father sought refuge in the US, specifically Connecticut, after spending years in Germany’s displaced persons camps after fleeing Lithuania during the Russian occupation in the late 1940’s. In Hartford, and in many cities across the US and the globe, Lithuanian refugees settled together in communities to preserve their culture, language, history, and folkways. Many communities formed around Lithuanian Catholic parishes and grew from there, creating language schools, folk dance and singing groups, scout troops, and even heritage summer camps. It was through these community groups that Aldona and Philitha’s father met and became family friends. Growing up in the Lithuanian community and being a frequent visitor to Aldona’s home, Philitha was immersed in the folk art that Aldona and other artists created. Ever in awe of the pieces she saw, at an early age a part of her knew that she would be destined to continue these expressions of telling Lithuania’s cultural heritage and history.
Philitha began to learn under Aldona informally at the age of 7 when she made her first straw ornament. To this day, Philitha shows this first, small, awkward ornament to classes she teaches to push the message that, “We all start somewhere,” and to “Trust the process.” In 2016, Aldona began to work regularly with Philitha to teach her more about Lithuanian straw work and in 2018 they officially applied for the SNEAP program to delve deeper in their work together, and then returned the program in 2021. Since apprenticing under Aldona, Philitha has been able to continue Aldona’s legacy in the Lithuanian community and is teaching folk art to some of the local Lithuanian language schools, community clubs, heritage camp, and even private lessons.
The majority of Lithuania’s folk art is created with items found in nature: harvested grasses (like rye, linen, and wheat), herbs, flowers, wood, and other plants and vegetables. Much of the work that Philitha and Aldona create is centered around the rye plant. Using all the components of rye, they create both 2D and 3D pieces of art. The rye straw can become ornaments (šiaudiniukai), mobiles (sodai), or flat 2D pieces.
On Saturday, August 5th, Philitha will be instructing a family program here at CMCH to demonstrate all one can make with rye straw, and participants will be able to create their very own piece to take home. The program is free and all are welcome and encouraged to learn more about Lithuanian Folk Art.
One Elizabeth Street
Hartford CT, 06105
Tuesday-Friday 12pm-5pm, Thursday until 8pm
Research Center Hours:
Tuesday-Saturday 12pm-5pm, Thursday until 8pm
Always by appointment only.