Estonian-American animation workshop team reaches nation’s capital, American Midwest (1)
Following a successful debut weekend with three stop-motion animation workshops held for the children of the Estonian diaspora in Lakewood, N.J. and New York City, the Animation Generation team, whose project aims to bring Estonian-American children's connections to their families' homeland to life, traveled onward to Chicago, but not before first stopping in at the Estonian Embassy in Washington, DC.
The Estonian Embassy in Washington, DC sits on the narrow edge of the intersection of Florida and Massachusetts Avenues and 22nd Street NW, and it is drenched in rain for the 15th straight day when Counselor for Public Diplomacy and Media Relations Kairi Saar-Isop welcomes the Animation Generation team to the embassy. Since the animation project is funded in part by the Estonian Ministry of Culture, Saar-Isop made time to meet with the team and talk about the project.
The embassy building itself, completed in 1905, was originally a private home for a doctor, but had also served as a school for boys and home to the Bulgarian Legislation and the Embassy of Peru in the 1930s. In the 1960s, as many as 55 people lived in the five-story structure, which was purchased by the Government of Estonia in 1994.
The embassy counselor recounted to the team the story of how the Estonian Embassy came to be located there, thanks to then-ambassador Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Now the current President of Estonia, Ilves used his legendary charm and appealed to each of the building’s neighbors individually to allow the structure to be used as an embassy. According to Washington, DC law, if a privately-owned building is to be used as an embassy, its closest neighbors must first consent to its classification as such. Fearful of late-night diplomatic parties and jammed parking around the building, the neighbors initially all categorically refused. According to the story, Ilves then went around with a picture of the medieval Old Town of Tallinn and told the neighbors how the pointed tower of 2131 Massachusetts Ave. reminded him of home; he also supposedly spoke of Estonians’ taciturn nature and promised that they were a forest people who rarely drove cars. Sufficiently pacified, the neighbors all signed off, and with that, the Estonian Embassy had found its new home.
Saar-Isop congratulated the Animation Generation team on its successful initial workshops and expressed the embassy’s pleasure in the fact that the tour included stops in the Midwest as well as the country’s West Coast. She noted that many Estonian cultural visits to the US have been limited to stops in New York and Washington, DC, with the addition of Toronto as well from time to time, and said that it was wonderful to see the inclusion of the rest of the US, especially the relatively far-flung Seattle, Washington on the itinerary.
A bit of medieval Tallinn in the heart of Chicagoland
Following their time in Washington, DC, the animation team continued on to Chicago, Ill., where they were met at the airport by Estonian Honorary Consul in Chicago and Chicago Estonian House Vice President Siim Sööt. As in Lakewood, N.J., Estonians in the Chicago metropolitan area have their own Estonian House, complete with a sauna and a picturesque caretaker’s house with chickens and a blue, black and white flag. Events, meals and a language school are held multiple times a month; after the animation screening, the parents of the ten children involved in the Chicago animation workshop stayed on for the performance of a Chekhov play with a cast straight from Estonia, where sprats and sandwiches were served as the audience enjoyed the show.
The Chicagoland Estonian-American kids have nearly all been to Estonia, with the most recent arrival having moved to the US only one year ago. They have an excellent command of the Estonian language, and the workshop there was held primarily in Estonian. The children’s animations featured medieval Tallinn, complete with blacksmiths, chimney sweeps, executioners and even a princess.
The pixilation animation, done outdoors this time, showed the children hovering in midair among the green leaves of the birches surrounding the Estonian House. One of the parents, Liivika Koern, who is also the bookkeeper for the Estonian House, told the team, “The animation workshop brought in some of the older children who don’t always come to events. It was great to see how happy the kids were because there was something just for them. My son said it was the best thing ever.”
The warm welcome and blooming flowers made the team feel wonderfully at home. If only it hadn’t been for the freezing rain and hail that arrived only hours after their flight landed… Apparently one can never outrun Estonian weather.