History of LTFAI

Antanas and Anastazija Tamošaitis, founders of the Lithuanian Folk Art Institute, are considered the champions of Lithuanian folk art in the diaspora. They devoted themselves to Lithuanian folk art, collecting, conceptualizing, and promoting the esthetics of artifacts made by the simple craftsmen of the Lithuanian countryside. They wrote about them, published monographs about them, and incorporated their findings into their own art work. Their zeal and dedication was not diminished by the fact that they were uprooted and removed from the source of their inspiration – their homeland, the towns and villages where much of this traditional art was created.

After a very short period of independence (1918-1939), Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Army and annexed by the USSR as the “Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic”. Subjection to Communist rule meant the suppression of religious and civil rights, and also the eradication of cultural ethnicity in all its forms. The occupation was the reason behind mass flight to American, British and French administrated refugee camps in Germany, Austria and Italy, where Lithuanians banded together, at first hoping to return, later forced to seek refuge in other countries. In their infinite longing for home, they established schools, organizations and cultural ensembles, and wherever they finally settled, they brought with them their love for their homeland and its folk culture. Soviet rule precluded all contact with the homeland from the outside the Iron Curtain, so the exchange of information and any artistic collaboration was impossible. For this reason, the work of Anastazija and Antanas Tamošaitis was essential to the preservation of Lithuanian folk art.

Their Passion

Their creative life consisted of three periods: they were teachers, textile and folk artists and collectors in pre-war Lithuania, refugees and teachers in Germany, and finally, creators and nurturers of Lithuanian emigre culture in Canada.

From the moment they met in the early 1930’s, they marched shoulder-to-shoulder in their creative work. They were the only professional Lithuanian textile artists who designed and wove tapestries and decorative textiles, and organized exhibitions of tapestries – a unique endeavour in those times – in 1935, 1937 and 1938 in Kaunas. Antanas’ tapestries and Anastazija’s national costumes won gold medals at the world exhibitions in Paris (1937), Berlin, (1938) and New York (1939), and at the international exhibition of Lithuanian art in Hanau, Germany (1948).

Their activity was multi-faceted and fully collaborative. Eight books in the series Sodžiaus menas (Village Art ) were compiled and edited in 1931-1939 by Antanas Tamošaitis, and represented the first serious work cataloguing and adapting forms of folk art for craftworks created by villagers. The last book of this series, Lithuanian Women’s National Costume (1939), laid the foundations for further research on the national costume in Lithuania. They were the first to classify traditional women’s clothes by ethnographic district.

Although the storms of war pushed them to the West, their teaching efforts did not diminish. In 1945 in Glasenbach, near Salzburg (Austria) they opened an art studio for Lithuanian youths who had also fled from the Soviet occupation. From 1946 until 1948, they both worked in Germany at the Ecole des Arts et Metiers that was established by professor Vytautas K. Jonynas in Freiburg. After moving to Montreal in 1948, Anastazija created a Tapestry and National Costume studio at the YMCA, and in 1949 Antanas became head of the Art and Craft School functioning in that centre.

In 1950, they settled in a private homestead near Kingston and continued to dedicate their lives to art. They painted, created graphic works, and wove tapestries. In 1977 they founded the Lithuanian Folk Art Institute, and became the unofficial ambassadors of Lithuanian culture in Canada. Their homestead and gallery became a cultural centre and magnet for Lithuanian visitors from all over Canada and the US, who came to explore the folk art of their forefathers and experience an authentic Lithuanian environment. They taught various workshops in tapestry and decorative textile weaving and lectured on the technical and artistic aspects of weaving both in Canada and the United States.

He and his wife collaborated on several comprehensive books published in Canada by the Lithuanian Folk Art Institute: Lithuanian National Costume (Toronto, 1979) and Lithuanian Sashes (Toronto, 1988), Lithuanian Easter Eggs (Toronto, 1982). For a full list, see Publications. For more detailed biographical information on Antanas and Anastazija, see Biographies.

Many talented Lithuanians and their descendants in the Canadian and American diaspora were instrumental in writing the continuing story of the Lithuanian Folk Art Institute (LTFAI), dedicating untold time and effort to Lithuanian folk art and the Institute. Some are mentioned in the pages of the book Lietuvių tautodailės institutas išeivijoje (Lithuanian Folk Art Institute of the Diaspora), which also features their work. It was published in Lithuanian, and as we expand the website we will provide the English translation of significant excerpts from that publication as well as details about various individual weavers and artists.

Founding Members

Kingston, Ontario, May 14, 1977: First row (from left) A. Kunevičienė, G. Montvilienė, A. Vaitonienė, A. Tamošaitis, A. Tamošaitienė, G. Lapienė, S. Balsienė, V. Matulaitis; (2nd row) J.V. Danys, K. Makauskienė, I. Adomavičienė, I. Lukoševičienė, B. Mažeikienė, D. Staškevičienė, L. Adomavičius, L. Balsys, R. Adomavičius


Photo by J. Mažeika

© 2024 The Lithuanian Folk Art Institute. All Rights Reserved. 

Donna Druchunas Bio

An artisan specializing in knitting. She taught a knitting workshop at the LTFAI AGM several years ago and fell in love with the organization. Not only is she a prolific author of knitting books, with “The Art of Lithuanian Knitting” under her belt, but she’s also the creative genius behind our social media presence.

Donna weaves her magic into our online world, managing the LTFAI Facebook page with finesse. Donna has also enlightened us with her workshops and riveting LTFAI Talks.

Past LTFAI.org Talks
Here’s what you have missed. Get updates of upcoming events. Sign up for our email newsletter.

Traditional Crosses in Lithuania:
Lithuania is sometimes called the land of crosses. Crosses and unique pillar shrines with various sculptures have been an integral part of the Lithuanian landscape for several hundred years.  They represent not only religious symbolism but national identity especially in times of repression.  We will look at and discuss the amazing wooden carving and iron work of this important folk art and touch on the well known Kryziu Kalnas (Hill of Crosses) site in Lithuania.

Wool (Vilna):
Wool Crafts in Lithuania: Although linen features prominently in Lithuanian folktales and folk songs, we rarely hear about wool. However in the cold climate working with wool was an integral part of daily life forrural villagers in Lithuania. Small farms were self-sufficient; little or no money was needed to supplement the household’s home production. All the women and girls in a family spun, wove, knitted, and felted wool to create all of the households woolens.

Easter Palms (Verbos)
History and Significance of Verbos in Lithuanian Life: Palm Sunday is an important part of the Easter tradition. Learn about the history of decorated palms and get to know the customs and decorative techniques specific to Lithuania. (Please note, this is not a hands-on workshop.)

Black Ceramics (Juoda Keramica)
History and use of black ceramics in Lithuania: The tradition of black ceramics has been documented in Lithuania for centuries. Although eventually falling out of favour due to other pottery techniques, Lithuania is one of the few places that still make this beautiful pottery. Learn about the history, techniques and artistry of black ceramics.

Amber (Gintaras)
Gintaras – Our Golden Heritage: Gintaras, or Amber, has been important to Lithuanians and Baltic people for millennia. Important in terms of culture, art and symbolism. Learn about various aspects of Amber to bring you to a new and better understanding and appreciation of this beautiful “golden stone”.

Easter Eggs (Marguciai)
History and Significance of Easter Eggs in Lithuanian Life: The egg has long been seen as a symbol of fertility and life. Learn about the role of decorated eggs in ancient and modern times. Get to know the customs and decorative techniques specific to Lithuania.

What is an LTFAI talk?

We are excited to launch our online LTFAI Talks. We hope to have a series of talks on topics that are relevant to Lithuanian folk art. These are lectures, not workshops, that will provide interesting information for anyone interested in folk art.

They will be from a half hour to a full hour in length with time for discussion at the end.

Each LTFAI Talk is free but you have to register to get an invitation to the session.

Giles Bugailiskis Bio

Raised in the Lithuanian community in Hamilton, Ontario. He moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to attend university and was a long-time board member of the Lithuanian Canadian Community there and now serves as the resource person for inquiries about the Lithuanians in Manitoba. Giles has over 30 years of experience in municipal heritage conservation planning and public outreach, having retired as the City of Winnipeg’s Senior Planner for Heritage. He is also a current member of the LTFAI Board.

Ramune Jonaitis Bio

Ramune is a translator and editor, who worked with the Canadian Lithuanian Weekly Tėviškės žiburiai as managing editor for over 20 years.

She is also an artisan who makes mosaics and jewellery using Lithuanian motifs and amber. She is a long time member of LTFAI and has recently served on our board. She learned tapestry-weaving from Aldona Vaitonienė, a master weaver in Toronto, Canada.

Testimonials: My first ever tapestry. I am an artist so I did a little extra with the beads and wire cord to hang. It reminds me of a dress so I had fun with that thought. 😉

I think you did an excellent job with the workshop, especially for those of us with no experience weaving. I have already ordered yarn. The colors in this piece was whatever my friend gave me as I was not able to go out shopping.

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