Wellington artist Milton Christianson stepped off the train in
Kotlas last July, he was greeted by "eight women with flowers."
That reception set the tone for his entire stay in our sister
city. Everywhere he went, his hosts made sure that he was comfortable
and well fed.
says Christianson, a watercolor landscape painter, in describing
his summer's sojourn in Kotlas. Christianson spoke at the Kotlas
Connection's annual meeting, held on Tuesday, October 21, 2003,
at St. Mark's Church in Waterville. He also exhibited his works
and formally presented a painting commissioned by the Kotlas Connection.
who favors broad brushstrokes and vivid colors, participated in
a twelve-day international artists seminar in Kotlas, Russia this
July. Two articles about his trip have appeared in the Morning
Sentinel; he was featured in a third article for his paintings
at the Empire Falls filming in Skowhegan.
Kotlas Connection selected Christianson to go to the seminar in
response to an invitation from the Waterville Committee, the Connection's
counterpart in Kotlas. The previous August, when an unofficial
delegation of Waterville area residents had come to Kotlas, the
Waterville Committee had invited the Connection to choose a Maine
artist to attend the seminar.
all, Christianson spent three weeks in Russia, arriving in Moscow
on July 2. There he spent two days by himself, visiting museums
and touring the Kremlin, until Zina Yegorova, a retired English
teacher and two-time visitor to Waterville, came to escort him
on the 25-hour train ride to Kotlas.
was one of dozen participants in the seminar. There were five
or six Russian painters, as well as German photographer, an English
painter, and two painters and a videographer from Los Angeles.
Christianson was the only watercolorist in the group - the others
painted with oils - and the only non-Russian who had not previously
met their host, Stanislav ("Stas") Borodin, an impressionist painter
who currently lives in St. Petersburg, but was born in Kotlas.
day during the seminar, Christianson and the other participants
would pile into two minivans and travel an hour to hour and a
half in a different direction to paint outdoors. The northern
countryside is dotted with onion-domed orthodox churches, large
and small, active and abandoned. These were the painters' primary
weather was sunny and hot throughout their seminar. A cook traveled
with them and prepared meals over an open fire. At night, they
slept in the sanitorium, or health spa, owned by and near to Kotlas's
formerly secret electromechanical factory, which was a major defense
plant during the Cold War.
his stay, Christianson painted 23 works, selling one, trading
another, and loaning five to the Kotlas Regional Museum. Each
of the seminar's participants loaned several paintings to the
museum for a traveling exhibit.
Christianson does not speak Russian and Borodin does not speak
English, the two got to know each other quite well. At the end
of his Kotlas stay, Christianson spent three days in St. Petersburg.
Originally intending to stay in a hotel, Borodin invited him to
stay in his apartment. Borodin graciously escorted his guest around
the city. As a well-known artist, Borodin - and Christianson with
him - was able to advance to the front of the line and enter without
paying admission at the city's museums. Christianson later returned
his host's hospitality when the latter came to the U.S. a few
native of Minneapolis, Christianson graduated from Wesleyan University
with a bachelor's degree in anthropology. Now 56, he has lived
in Maine since 1970. He usually exhibits and sells his work at
the Waterville Intown Arts Festival in July and has twice won
the Best in Show award.
self-taught, Christianson was influenced mainly by the California
school of watercolor impressionism, which thrived from the 1920's
through the 1950's. Artists of this school, or style of painting,
typically painted ordinary outdoor scenes, cityscapes and landscapes,
using bold brush strokes and bright colors. They typically worked
outdoors to capture the transient effects of light. "I know the
look I want," Christianson says. "I just keep painting and painting,
trying to achieve [it]."
enjoys traveling to exotic locations to paint. Prior to his Russian
sojourn, he had painted in India, in Nepal, in Australia, in Canada,
and throughout the U.S. For Christianson, painting is a portal
through which he can experience the local atmosphere more richly.
It allows him to stay in one place all day, instead of just hopping
off a bus to snap a photograph like many tourists. As he paints,
the locals will come up to ask about his work and occasionally
even invite him to dinner. "It's fun to travel and paint," he
says. "It opens so many doors."
seminar, sponsored by the City of Kotlas and other area municipalities,
was held in honor of the Russian impressionist Alexander Borisov
(1866-1934), who was born in Krasnoborsk, 32 miles downriver from
Kotlas. Borisov was well known in his day, having had exhibits
of his works in Austria, Germany, France, England, and the U.S.
He is said to have been a guest of President Theodore Roosevelt
at the White House. Today, however, Borisov is little known, even
in Russia; organizers of the seminar hope that it will help restore