Under the guidance of poet and textile artist Maryliis Teinfeldt-Grins, volunteers in the town of Kadrina in Lääne-Viru County have woven Estonia's largest rya rug, which is now on display at the Tütar Gallery in Tallinn's Noblessner Port district.
The exhibition's focal point is a five-meter-wide rug that the artist created with the help of over 300 locals at the Kadrina Community Center in Lääne-Viru County over the course of a month and a half.
The collaborative project is the result of a research-intensive creative process that could be summarized as coming back home, composing poetry in a dialect based on childhood memories of an Estonian summer in the rural outskirts of Kadrina, and ultimately telling the story of a vanished artisan village, Koplimetsa, and a vanished scenic ridge called Niinemäe that once surrounded it.
Koplimetsa, a historic settlement founded in 1877, had grown old and disappeared under the pressure of collectivization by 1977, while Niinemäe, a four-kilometer-long winding ridge, had become little more than a gravel pit as a result of a quarry that supplied material for nearby military bases and the construction of the Tapa-Loobu road.
"Koplimetsa does not exist anymore, nor did it exist in my lifetime, but it was in the area of today's Ridaküla, where I have lived for 20 years," Teinfeldt-Grins told the Värske Rõhk literary magazine.
"I went to school in Tapa, which is nearby. My mother worked (and still works) in the Defense Forces in Tapa, so I went to school and home with her every day. After finishing school I went abroad to Tartu, Tallinn, Helsinki, London, Portugal and Riga."
She said her 2023 poetry collection was inspired by "a place made of roads," her memories of the native landscape.
Kadrina is now a small borough in Lääne-Viru County located at the crossing of the main Estonian roads, the Tallinn-Narva railway, the Pärnu-Rakvere highway, and the Loobu River.
"It is this spider's web of roads that is at the heart of this collection of poems and of home for me, because I have moved a lot and created a network of roads myself, but I always end up back at the heart of it."
Despite growing up near historic Koplimetsa, Teinfeldt-Grins said she was unaware of the rich history of the place and realizing that even the oldest locals were not passing down the traditions, she set out on her own journey to restore the memory of what her home area once was before it was forcefully transformed.
"I initially started from where I come from, and it turned out that it used to be an artisan village with a rich past. Linguistic expeditions had come here, and the lost village's oral heritage had already been collected before. I grew up on the fringes of Koplimetsa and had no idea it even existed. As a child, I would simply wander around the quarry," she explained.
Teinfeldt-Grins went out to interview residents for her research on history and memory; the effort culminated in a collection of poetry written in the local dialect and published a year later, as well as a joint project on the Kadrina rug, which is currently on display in Tallinn.
The abstract image on the carpet is evocative of Niinemägi, a ridge that previously defined the area's scenery but has since been replaced by hills of quarry waste. "You could see excavations in the image, or perhaps turned upside-down mountains," the exhibition's curator said.
The outlines of these "upside-down mountains," as if dug into the ground, or scattered excavation holes outlined in blood-red and pink colors will leave a lasting impression on many people in Estonia who have lost links to their land or ancestral farms as a result of large-scale collectivization and resettlement.
Estonians were able to reclaim their family lands after Estonia regained independence in 1991, but few found them in good condition; most were severely depleted by intensive collective farming, overgrown with young, dense alders, or radically altered in other ways.
Teinfeldt-Grins said that she was inspired to document her native Kadrina dialect after a close friend paid a visit to her family's home. "He is an Estonian philologist and immediately said, 'Oh, you speak such a lovely Kadrina dialect!'"
"That was eye-opening for me; I had many misunderstandings with my teachers at school. For example, I remember multiple occasions when I needed to point out that my father spoke like this, or used this word, and the teacher would respond that it was impossible: 'I don't think he speaks like that, I think you've heard it wrong,'" Teinfeldt-Grins recalled.
Teinfeldt-Grins did, however, also consult a number of other sources when writing in her native dialect. She reviewed linguistic expedition recordings from the 1970s of older men and women speaking the Kadrina dialect and conducted additional interviews herself. Essentially, she further documented the dialect by taking notes and taping it and then transcribed the language and created a handy dictionary.
"As far as I dare to explain the essentials of the dialect, I can say that certain sounds, such as the letter 'h,' are extremely, extremely difficult to hear in speech, and that there is considerable palatalization."
She said that it is difficult for her to describe what this dialect is as she is not a linguist herself. "Six years ago, I did not even know that I speak one," she said.
Nevertheless, Teinfeldt-Grins invented her own dialect spelling to represent her vernacular as accurately as possible and in 2023 published a collection of poems, "Kivi alla kükakille."
At the book launch, she recalled that one gentleman compared her Kadrina dialect to an old smell. "You open a chest, and there's a smell that immediately reminds you of your first summers at grandma's or the like."
"This is a very good way of explaining the dialect to someone. There is a charm and a power in it," she said.
Here is a fragment from her poetry book:
kivi alla kükakille
peidan oma süda
siun siidi rihmad
uue une kuue
kivi alla kükakille
peidan oma süda
Just take a closer look at what's going on in your home and in your family's use of language, she asked: "How do they get angry when things go wrong? What words do they use when they stub their toe, for example, or what expressions do you use and don't use?" She said the main catalyst for wanting to write poetry in her native dialect was a desire to document what was happening at home. It is a home-opening book, she said.
"There has been hardly any fiction written in the Kadrina dialect in the past, with the exception of Kristen Suokass' 2014 poetry collection, which I read a few years ago while living in Riga. It felt as if my father and mother, as well as a stove-top oven, had suddenly appeared in that huge Riga apartment, simply because the poetry was written in a language that felt so intimate to me, like a hidden language, household slang, or colloquialism. This joy of recognition was so intense that I wanted to share it," she said.
She said her parents sometimes used words or phrases that she would not use herself while living in Tallinn or Tartu, but now they are becoming part of her everyday language. "Just one of those words, and I'm transported back home, at the kitchen table, my mom is making pancakes and my dad is tinkering around... That's all it takes."
Maryliis Teinfeldt-Grins (1993) studied textile at Tartu Art College Pallas and Latvian Academy of Art, as well as contemporary art at Estonian Academy of Arts.
Teinfeldt-Grins is a laureate of Eduard Wiiralt Scholarship awarded by Estonian Ministry of Culture and Adamson-Eric Scholarship awarded by Adamson-Eric Museum. In 2019, Teinfeldt-Grins received the Textile Artist of the Year award from Estonian Textile Artists' Union.
The exhibition is open until February 25.
Editor: Kaspar Viilup, Karmen Rebane, Kristina Kersa
Source: Värske Rõhk, interviewed by Saara Mildeberg