Marvin Repinski: Our very human hearts

Published 4:29 pm Friday, January 13, 2023

“Give me justice, O Lord,

For I have lived my life without reproach,

and put unfaltering trust in the Lord.

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Test me, O Lord, and try me;

put my heart and mind to the proof.

For thy constant love is before my eyes,

and I live in thy truth.”  (Psalm 26: 1-3)

An older man, now deceased, whom I consider one of the dearest friends that anyone could know and cherish, lived in Minneapolis. He was not born there. He arrived there some years ago — an immigrant from Latvia by way of Germany. Some years after World War II, from a kind of refugee village, he, his wife, Alida (Ziverts), and two small daughters, Guna and Lelde, made their way to this country.

I know only too well the past cruelties of some forms of Communism that ruthlessly invaded and took over some countries. I know well some of the record of the political intrigue, the pain, the deliberate movement of masses of people. We know about forced evacuation, the many who were coerced to take up work and residences against their will. And, let us not forget, the untold numbers who went to unmarked graves.

Janis (John) Kalmite was born in the Soviet Union. There are others who take the earlier designations of the geography of Europe and term this land the Baltic States: Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. He was a professor of art in the University of Riga, on the Baltic coast. He had less than one day’s warning to pack his bags. All of his life’s possessions except what he could carry on his back were left behind. He had to literally flee for his life.

Life in this country had been safe. Yet while living in this country this sensitive and intelligent man carried a deep ache in his heart. I did not say his feet had hurt him. I did not say his head had pained him — although I know he had his share of headaches. I did not say his stomach, for lack of food, emitted growling irritation — though he had times of inadequate food. I said he carried a deep, profound ache in his heart.

And there had been nothing to soothe the hurt. He was a man with a settled, calm, affirmative belief in the grandeur and love of God. He lived his artistic life with a beauty and awe that was part of his humble and respectful adoration of God.

John Kalmite lived the later part of his life as a pilgrim. And that’s why his life resonated with the lives of those whom we call the fathers of our faith. He lived as a human transplant; his deepest root, his most cherished memories of childhood and youth took shape in another culture within a whole circle of persons from whom he became separated.

I just studied, ran my fingers across the rough surface — many paint colors mixed in odd configurations that one can imagine would be on a painter’s palate. The palate that hangs on the wall of our living room is one that Mr. Kalmite utilized in his years of painting, usually in the style termed abstract, expressionistic, or scenes very distinctly recalling farms, buildings, fences and fields, as he often spoke of the art forms; they were often his memories from growing up until his late 20s in Latvia. His daughter Lelde, who lives in St. Paul, recently shared with me the wide “distribution” of his works. Some of his paintings are in museums, like the Russian Art Museum (Minneapolis), and hanging in several European galleries.

My attention to this artist’s palette is for me a powerful symbol, a reference point to years of one of my deepest, most thoughtful, most fulfilling friendships. Often I did simple errands on behalf of him and his family. Usually shopping. Like what? Groceries, arranging oil changes for his car, visiting the artists’ supply stores in the Twin Cities for tubes of paint, frames, canvasses, and once from the Sears store, a pair of shoes.

The symbolic placement of items in our lives that when turned over and over, may admit to our happiness for many years. It’s so for me. Think of an event, an object, a conversation, a picture, a home (the home you were raised in), and gather the fruit that falls from these “trees!”

I write of this rare artist, in part because in my retirement years I have read, studied, taught at Riverland Community College, conversed, and collected numerous reproductions and creations of what I term the art world. The larger area of Austin has increasingly bloomed, spread invitations to beginning artists of photography, painting, architecture and a multitude of crafts. This is grand, and Laura Helle keeps prodding the young art community. Share your gold mines at the Austin ArtWorks Center.

A fitting conclusion is to comment on how painting and music may be like twins. Mr. Kalmite and his wife encouraged their two daughters to be musicians — a piano in their home. And Kalmite the artist also had a love of classical music. My visits to his home were to see him sitting, head bowed, a large radio in front of him, listening to one of the classics. Wait awhile, don’t disturb!

We can best live with the remark of Nikos Kazantzakis: “We have our brush and colors — paint Paradise and in we go!”