While I was in Latvia I got a chance to some homes of writers and artists. I remain struck by the reverence and affection that these houses seem to occupy in the post-Soviet world--different than in the United States in some ways. I'm always trying to puzzle out why and what lessons it might provide as many historic houses are rethinking their focus and approach.
One difference, of course, is that post-Soviet countries don't have all those houses of capitalist industrialists or political figures. There's the Tzar of course, and some big palaces, but small towns and cities don't have those historic houses of Mr. So-and-So, who founded the So-and-So Widget Company. Those houses are tough places to find compelling stories. But artists and writers houses have stories already, both dramatic and homely; inward and outward looking.
So there are fewer homes, but more of these memorial museums, as they are called. I wonder whether literature is valued somewhat differently in places other than the United States Does that make it possible for people to make more direct connections with writers' homes? Does that mean that our educational system is sadly missing the chance to create new generations who care about literature and historic houses?
I'm also always puzzling about the role of creativity and narrative in such places. As it happens, some of these places I visit, like in Latvia, are the homes of people unknown to me. But why do I still feel connected to them? In Jurmala, I visited the newly restored home of Aspazija, a noted Latvian poet and writer. The best of these writers' houses have a welcoming sense to them somehow, a sense that we are not paying guests, nor tourists, nor supplicants, but rather friends coming to visit (and below, I did get to visit with friends and colleagues!)
At Aspazija's house, as in other writers' houses, attention is given to the feel of the house, but also to words as in this small exhibition of her work where books are displayed and text banners appear on the ceiling.
I also appreciate houses where you too are encouraged to embrace and build your own creative spirit. These places, around the world, go beyond the idea of "memorial museum," to the idea of a memorial being a living place. At her house, there's a library/community gathering space, used on a regular basis--and as well, currently a small exhibit where young people's drawings are exhibited.
Readers, tell me about your favorite writer's house? Is it different than other historic houses? Why? And what can other historic houses do to enhance that spirit of creativity and a sense of welcome?