“We’re preserving the atmosphere of the writer’s home.” An interview with the director of the Paustovsky Museum

October 14

There is one Moscow museum that stands out among dozens of others in the capital as it is located rather far from it – in Tarusa, a town in the Kaluga Region. In the mid-1950s, Konstantin Paustovsky, attracted by Tarusa’s stunning views, bought a home there. Today, the building where the writer lived until his death houses a memorial branch of the Konstantin Paustovsky Museum.

Material by mos.ru prepared in collaboration with Mosgortur agency.

This house is full of memories

Question: Is it easy to manage the museum with branches in different cities?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: The writer’s memorial home and garden in Tarusa are the soul of our museum. For many years, there was only a literary exhibition in Moscow. It was created on the initiative and through the efforts of Paustovsky’s students, his admirers and great friends – Bulat Okudzhava, Yury Bondarev and Alexei Batalov. The museum expanded as the years passed, with new exhibits added to its collection, but it did not have a memorial space.

Paustovsky’s family preserved the interior of the Tarusa house where the writer lived but it could receive visitors only twice a year – on 31 May, the writer’s birthday, and on 14 July, his memorial day. Now that the writer’s home has been made part of the museum, we have everything we need for work. The literary exhibition in Moscow is about Paustovsky’s creative work while the memorial space in Tarusa gives visitors the opportunity to have a glimpse of the writer’s life and imagine him working there.

Of course, in our work we have to allow for the distance between Moscow and Tarusa but we are coping with this problem. Galina Arbuzova, Paustovsky’s stepdaughter, works in Tarusa. The employees of the museum in Moscow traditionally take part in big events.

Director of the Paustovsky Museum Anzhelika Dormidontova

Question: How often do you visit the Paustovsky memorial home in Tarusa?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: It depends, but on average, I go there once a week. It is very important for me to see myself how visitors are received and if everything is kept in good condition; also, every time I have to address various administrative issues and issues affecting the daily life of the museum.  

Konstantin Paustovsky wrote: “Since early youth, I’ve had an overpowering yearning to visit places associated with the life of my favourite writers and poets.” I share this sentiment in full. I first visited Tarusa on 31 May, 2011 – Paustovsky’s birthday. It was not so much Tarusa that interested me then but the memorial house, which did not have the status of a museum at the time. Every year, Konstantin Paustovsky Museum employees visited Galina Arbuzova, who would take them around the house. Of course, this first meeting with her was unforgettable.

Every time I visit Paustovsky’s home I feel as if I am visiting him. Our museum employees are keen to preserve not only the material items exhibited at the museum but also the silence and atmosphere of the house – the rule here is to avoid speaking loudly and discussing work-related matters. We are seeking to preserve the inimitable atmosphere of the place and, of course, visitors feel it. This house is full of memories of Paustovsky and his family, as well as the events and meetings that took place here.

Question: Last year, the Paustovsky Museum partnered with the Marina Tsvetayeva House Museum to hold the Inner Tarusa exhibition. Was it the first time you cooperated with another museum?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: Cooperation between museums is one of the priorities underlying the concept we have developed for our museum. It is impossible to talk about a writer’s life and creative work outside of the historical and literary context. So, we need to cooperate with various literary and memorial museums.

We have maintained strong relations with regional museums for many years now. Our museum played a key role in opening several memorial exhibitions, including Paustovsky’s memorial study at the Ivan Pozhalostin Memorial Museum in Solotcha, the Paustovsky House Museum in Old Crimea and the Paustovsky Memorial Museum in Odessa. Our museum has helped many regional museums and schools organise and regularly update exhibitions dedicated to Paustovsky’s life and creative work.

In 2017, the year of the 125th anniversary of Paustovsky’s birth, we partnered with several museums to hold two ambitious exhibitions, Paustovsky and the Cinema at the Belyayevo Gallery (held jointly with the Russian State Literature and Art Archive and the Museum of the Cinema) and Paustovsky: An Unedited Version at the Alexander Pushkin State Museum exhibition hall in Denezhny Pereulok. The latter exhibition we held jointly with the Vladimir Dal State Museum of the History of Russian Literature, the Russian State Literature and Art Archive, the Sergei Yesenin Moscow State Museum, the Vladimir Mayakovsky State Museum, the Marina Tsvetayeva House Museum and the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum.  

Gymnasium student Konstantin Paustovsky

Our mission is to overturn the established view of Paustovsky as a children’s author

Question: What was the first book by Paustovsky you read?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: Of course, like many people I read Paustovsky’s works about nature while at school, as well as his stories and fairy-tales. My first conscious encounter with Paustovsky as a writer is still fresh in my memory – it was when I was about 15 years old. Back then I was interested in the history of fine art and one day I bought Paustovsky’s book “Stories about Artists”. It was then that I learned about the vivid and sincere language of the writer who can truly love, appreciate and understand all things beautiful. I am immensely grateful to him. It was largely owing to this book that I went into this profession, becoming a museum employee.

Question: What is more important to a literary museum – perpetuating the memory of someone or educating people?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: The most important activities of any museum are gathering collections, preserving and studying museum items and, of course, popularisation and education.

We cannot imagine our museum without ambitious educational projects targeting different audiences. Like all literary museums that are custodians of classical legacy, we are dreaming of seeing as many young people among our visitors as possible. We hold competitions, festivals and other events in various formats. This year we held a prose recital competition, Dedication to Paustovsky, in which people from various regions of the country took part, and we believe it will become a tradition. Unfortunately, we have been unable to hold the final event yet because of the pandemic. The museum regularly holds the inclusive Glittering Clouds festival and the Summer Days festival, which is focused on literature and environmental protection, at Moscow parks. In Tarusa, we organise the creative Golden Grains festival.

Question: Is the museum engaged in research and, if so, what type of research?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: We are still receiving items and documents from Paustovsky’s heirs. Each of them needs to be examined. Before including an item in the museum collection and afterwards in the Russian Museum Foundation’s State Catalogue, we need to do scientific research for attribution purposes.  

We have no guides – instead of them, researchers show visitors around the museum. This was done to allow visitors to get reliable scientific information from those whose profession it is to study the writer’s legacy.

Every five years the museum holds an international scientific conference highlighting the results of the latest scientific research by museums, as well as philologists studying Paustovsky’s creative work from various countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Japan, China and India.  

Question: What are the latest additions to your museum collection?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: In 2017, the Moscow Government acquired a unique collection of documents from the 1930s for the museum collection – all in all, 362 items. The most valuable document in this collection is a postcard sent to Konstantin Paustovsky by Ivan Bunin from Paris in 1947.

The latest additions are documents dating back to the 1940s. There were only a few items from this period in the museum’s main collection mainly because during the war the writer’s archive was kept in different places. We have managed to track down and obtain a large number of documents dating back to this period from private owners and Paustovsky’s heirs.

There are quite unique documents among them, like manuscript copies of Paustovsky’s frontline essays, letters and telegrammes.  One document is particularly valuable for us. This is a note which Paustovsky received from a soldier in 1942. The soldier, whose family name was Khomenko, after reading Paustovsky’s story “The Encounter” in Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, probably, in a trench, wrote promptly with a pencil on a scrap of paper the following: “Comrade Paustovsky, thank you! Thank you for your ‘Encounter’. I was choking with tears and even too much but these are good tears. I even forgot about the bombing. Thank you. I warmly shake your hand. Western Front. 5 July 1942.” 

Other important exhibits are documents related to the period when work was underway to stage Paustovsky’s play “Until the Heart Stops”. The production was co-authored with Alexander Tairov, head of the Chamber Theatre, and actress Alisa Koonen. They include Tairov’s telegrammes informing Paustovsky of how things stood with the production and the premiere. “Until the Heart Stops” was put on during the evacuation in Barnaul and Belokurikha in 1942. The premiere performance was shown in Barnaul on 4 April 1943, while the Moscow premiere took place at the Chamber Theatre on 25 December 1943.

Our museum’s mission is to overturn the established view of Paustovsky as a children’s author and an author of stories about nature because Paustovsky also wrote short stories, novels and political essays and was a playwright. He was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for literature for his autobiographical book “Story of a Life”. He gave guidance to the whole generation of writers who fought in the Great Patriotic War (1941 – 1945). We are seeking to tell the story of the real Paustovsky, who unfortunately remains unknown to many.

Question: Konstantin Paustovsky was among the Soviet writers who were known all over the world. He jumped at the opportunity to travel and, in the 1950s-1960s, travelled around half the world. Does the museum keep in touch with people he communicated with during his trips abroad, or their descendants?  

Anzhelika Dormidontova: The fact is that Paustovsky did not meet many people while travelling. You know how these official trips abroad by Soviet writers were organised: wherever they went, writers were accompanied by people who kept a watchful eye on all their contacts and movements. 

One of the most important meetings took place in Paris in the 1960s. From his younger days, Paustovsky had been fond of Boris Zaitsev, a Russian writer who emigrated to France after the October Revolution. Before his second trip to Paris he decided to go to see Zaitsev no matter what. He visited Zaitsev in his Paris flat and took photos too, which have been preserved, along with wonderful lines that Zaitsev wrote about Paustovsky.

Like many other Russians in the émigré milieu, Boris Zaitsev gave credit to Paustovsky for his unique ability – that seemed unbelievable to him – to remain true to himself in Soviet realities and preserve the splendid literary style and the traditions of the Russian language.

Museum employees are really creative people

Question: What effect did the pandemic have on the museum’s activities?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: Those difficult circumstances have opened up altogether new opportunities and ways of communicating with audiences. Many museum employees have revealed their creativity and acquired invaluable experience and competences that are in demand. Today, all of our researchers can communicate with any audience and regularly create virtual programmes, give lectures and hold talk shows live.

This situation has showed that museum employees are really creative and daring people. People who devoted their lives to work in museums are those whom Paustovsky loved and praised: they are romantics seeking to learn more and believing that creativity and beauty have the power to change the world and help overcome any difficulty.

Question: What online projects did you launch?

Anzhelika Dormidontova: We have prepared a series of video tours entitled The Museum Is Closed. Welcome to the Museum. We held the online Days of Paustovsky festival that included lectures and live broadcasts from our museum in Moscow and we also presented the online Paustovsky Memorial Day programme. The museum took part in the online Intermuzei 2020 festival programme, as well as other events. Hopefully, we will soon come up with media content at a higher technical level.

Source: mos.ru

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