Mindaugas Rutkauskas has been involved in the craft of tile-making and pottery for more than 20 years. This great artist was born on 1st January, 1956, in Kaunas. He graduated from the Faculty of History at Vilnius University in 1981. After graduation he couldn’t find a job that suited his education because of the constraints of the contemporary government (at that time Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union) so he became interested in ceramics. In an independent Lithuania, he became a member of the Folk Artists Union in 1991. The Union is a creative, independent, voluntary and non-profit organization which unites the best folk artisans from the fields of painting, sculpture, graphics, ironwork, pottery, weaving, knitting, jewellery, braiding, and traditional art. It unites non-professionals who do not have professional qualifications in the art and crafts. Today, Lithuanian Folk Art is considered to be a significant part of ethnic culture reflecting traditions and a unique perception of the world. Mindaugas Rutkauskas was given the status of ’Art Maker’ in 2007. This status is given to people whose artistic work has been positively evaluated as professional artwork and who have carried out craft activities that are recognized as professional artistic creations. Finally, tiles, jugs, bowls, plates, pots, jars and whistles made by Mindaugas Rutkauskas were certified as National Heritage Products in 2010. National Heritage Products are non-mass-produced, certified items that are made by artisans, handmade using traditional raw materials or new techniques based on old traditions while maintaining the unique qualities and composition of the products.
Basically, Mindaugas Rutkauskas carries out all the major processes for the production of ceramics starting with the search for suitable clay, its cleaning and kneading, to throwing pottery and ending with kiln construction, glazing and firing. All of this is done following the principles of reproducing a craft, ie. using the same tools, materials and techniques that were traditionally used in the period of the pottery being replicated. Traditional methods are used for processes such as as clay preparation, moulding and throwing pottery, decorating, and glazing in various ranges of firing. Chemical test results are analysed; clays of different masses are prepared; copies of selected archaeological samples are moulded and fired.
Mindaugas Rutkauskas spends a lot of his time studying collections and ethnographic notes in museums. He has an archaeological knowledge of cultures’ development and the different ceramic techniques of these cultures, and he analyses the patterns and techniques, and moulds and fires reconstructions of selected archaeological samples. He also reproduces the ancient techniques of Gothic and Renaissance ceramics in an experimental way, exploring and reconstructing historic stoves, by analysing the evolution of stoves and tiles, samples of tile-moulds, plastercasts and clay matrix presses.
As well as his artisan activities, Mindaugas Rutkauskas also implements other initiatives relating to crafts and history. He is one of the organisers and participants of the international Bartholomew Fair which takes place every August in Vilnius. This fair showcases the replication of crafts from the late middle Ages and the Renaissance, the arts and traditions of the artisan guilds which operated for several centuries in Vilnius. Mindaugas Rutkauskas is also one of the founders of PI “Crafts Guild” which has been operating for 13 years. It is an open workshop–gallery seeking to revive and preserve craft traditions, participating in exhibitions, education, social and cultural activities within Lithuania and in international events and projects. Mindaugas Rutkauskas also carries out educational activities, for example he teaches tile-making and pottery mostly to individual adults and carries out informal education programmes for children.
The Manor of Bistrampolis and its Tile Stoves
This manor has been in existence since the late 15th century. It belonged to the Bistramai family from the late 17th century until 1940. The manor was later ’nationalized’ (confiscated), and then abandoned and so it began to decline. The manor house was built in 1850 and survives to the present day. The two-storey palace is built in the classical style with a rectangular plan. The main facade is decorated with a portico with four columns erected on the second floor above a porch of three arches. The first floor of the palace was filled with guest rooms and the whole right side had a large hall. The second floor was devoted to creating an impression. It had larger and smaller salons, the dining room, workroom, and library. The landlords had collected 2000 books, a rich archive of the family and an art collection. In 1997, the ownership was transferred to Christ the King Cathedral in Panevėžys. The new owners did not maintain the park and as a result the manor buildings deteriorated. Since 2003, the manor has been under patronage, maintained and restored by PI as a “Centre for Youth Integration Opportunities”. Mindaugas Rutkauskas has manufactured two tiled stoves for the manor following the traditional methods used for the production and decoration of tiles in Lithuanian territory (historic and current). http://www.bistrampolis.lt/
A Success Story
In answering the question of whether his activities can be called a success story, Mindaugas Rutkauskas says that he is happy that he has found his ’place under the sun’ and is engaging in a favorite activity even though it does not bring significant earnings. However, money is not the objective. The goal is quite different, for instance to replace the missing pieces of tile stoves to match the original design, and if there are no illustrations available, then to restore them using his own intuition, and his historical and architectural knowledge which helps to maintain authenticity.