Open Air Museum Cultural Exchange, September 2014
Izborsk – Fort Ross – Colonial Williamsburg
Izborsk is a medieval fortress on Russia’s border with Estonia which was historically well-situated along the Baltic trading routes, making it a center for craft making and international trade. Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum in Virginia designed to interpret a Colonial American city. And Fort Ross is, as you likely know, a park dedicated to the southernmost settlement of the Russian American Company.
What do these three locations have in common?
They are each open air museums. And thanks to a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, staff from all three museums were able to meet in Russia to compare notes on our respective organizations, learn how to improve historic interpretation and crafts, discuss ways to improve our facilities, and explore future collaboration. We would like to thank the U.S.- Russia Peer-to-Peer Program for providing us with this opportunity to learn first-hand how these two open air museums operate. The information exchange proved beneficial to both organizations and we are all looking forward to continuing the friendship going forward.
Izborsk fortress dates back at least to the 1400s — yes, significantly older than Fort Ross, and pretty much most structures in the United States.
The stone fortress is quite different from Fort Ross’ 19th century wooden buildings, but we found that much of the old-world material culture shown in the interiors of Izbork museum’s outbuildings is similar in style and era to what the Russian colonists used in their homes – for example the ways in which the pechka (indoor fireplace) was decorated and used, and many of the common kitchen wares.
Izborsk, Russia Open Air Museum Visit, August 2014
Neighboring Pskov, considered by many to be the birthplace of Russia, offers abundant historic parks and museums. The medieval feel is emphasized by the historic walls that pepper the streets — over time walls were built in concentric rings around the growing city, and fragments appear to a lesser or greater extent depending on where you are wandering. Pskov is also remarkable for its numerous picturesque 15th and 16th century churches.
We also had the good fortune to participate in an outdoor festival of the Seto peoplel. Seto are an ethnic and linguistic minority in south-eastern Estonia and north-western Russia. They certainly know how to make their guests feel welcome!
Museums in & around Pskov and St Petersburg, Russia
Visiting Pushkin’s Estate Mikhailovskoye was such a pleasure. Pushkin, the father of Russian literature, was also a Decembrist, as were many of the Russian American Company founders. His outspoken writings got him exiled to this family estate, and although he complained about his time here he produced much of his best work while living at Mikhailovskoye. The history of how his family came to own the estate (gifted to his great-grandfather from Cameroon) is also worth tracking down. This is a federally supported park and Russia should be quite proud of how its developed this piece of its literary history.