From Russia With Art: Interview with Olesya Koenig

Off the left of St. Peter's Field, is quaint little art gallery called From Russia With Art. In there are wonders created by Russian artists all brought to Cambridge for sale and browsing. 

The couple who own this gallery, Jerry and Olesya Koenig, started this gallery because of their love for art and culture. Today, we listen and read about their journey as art collectors thanks to a gracious interview with Olesya. 

 Olesya Koenig stands next to Vladimir Zebek's art

Olesya Koenig stands next to Vladimir Zebek's art

Interviewed by Idil Evren, Assisted with Michelle Lu

Idil: What brought you to North Cambridge to open an exhibition gallery here?

Olesya: So, we are a Fine arts gallery called “From Russia with Art”. We live in Cambridge, and our gallery is registered here. We [created this] business in Cambridge. And this is our seventh annual holiday exhibit. Right now our gallery has popped up, but it has been open for two and a half years and its permanent location at Porter’s Square, where we started featuring Russian etching artists. [Some examples include] big name artists such as Alexander Vetrov, Stanislav Nikireyev, Irina Makoveeva at the core of our collection. Right now we’re organizing several art exhibits a year and participate in a Boston International Fine Arts Show and Print Fair.

 Venetian masks made by Nina Bublik

Venetian masks made by Nina Bublik

Idil: What got you into collecting art and selling art as well?

Olesya: That’s a very good question. My husband, Jerry, and I are art collectors. We met in Moscow, where we lived, and we were introduced to several talented Russian artists. We always had a passion for Fine Arts although we’re not professional artists so or art historians.

Michelle: Yeah, I mean, if you want to appreciate art, you don’t need to have a degree. Just the passion is the best.

Olesya: Yes! The passion for beauty. Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of his quotations [says], “Beauty will save the world.” The mission of our gallery is to introduce Russian Fine Arts and culture to American audiences to bring bridges, cultural [and] educational. We’re doing a lot for the community of Cambridge and greater Boston.

 Birch Forest by Jim Kociuba

Birch Forest by Jim Kociuba

Idil: How did you meet your husband? And did you both have the same interests in art?

Olesya: Another good question. Well, I guess people marry because they have common interests! We came from different cultures: I’m Russian, and Jerry is American. He lived and worked in Russia for 17 years, and he loved Russian art. I mean, I strongly recommend you go to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kiev, Ukraine, and you’ll see outstanding Russian ballet, opera, symphony, fine art, you name it. It was just natural that we met and we appreciate similar things. We became art collectors. When it was time for Jerry to retire from his automotive business from Russia, an artist approached us and asked, “Why don’t you bring our artwork to the States and give it a try?” And we did it, and we opened our gallery, and it was very new to the local market, [and] to the local audience. And we hope to continue. Eventually, many other artists joined our effort to feature (nowadays) American painters. We’re featuring an exhibition by William Oberst—New Beginnings—[an] artists from North Adolts and professor of Fine Art of Enigmatic Contemporary Realists. We feature Armenian artists and Ukrainian designers. That’s what we do.

 Jewelry made by Nina Bublik

Jewelry made by Nina Bublik

Idil: Now let’s get into a little [bit] more about the process of art collecting. How do you find the art and how do you do what you do?

Olesya: To be a curator, you always put a loads bit of your personal experience and personal preference. Sometimes we hear complaints that we’re not commercial. But, we exhibit what we love. Basically, to be the curator, you personally curate [it] as if you would beautify your own house, or what you would make for a perfect gift for your best friend. Your [own] sense of beauty helps you. We try not to be political, we try not to deal with politics, [and] we try just to just do fine arts and culture. We wouldn’t exhibit propaganda unless it was vintage Soviet propaganda posters that we still have on display in the gallery; but, those definitely have artistic and collectors value.

Boston is the home for the best hospitals in the world. I think I’m not making a mistake with this statement, [like] Massachusetts General, Beth Isreal, Children’s. We have specialists and visitors, medical doctors, art therapists, and they find this Russian art therapeutic. So we look at the same way. For example, we collect Russian etchings, [like] Vetrov, Nikireyev. When we place exhibitions in our living room, occasionally, [in] our personal collection, it changes the atmosphere of the house. You can look at this art, and it makes you feel better. That’s what we do [here].

Michelle: I definitely agree. Just looking at the intricate etchings and thinking about how much time and process that people used to make it. You have to use a magnifying glass to really see the detail. You really come to appreciate it.

 Painting by Anatoly Dverin

Painting by Anatoly Dverin

Idil: Who’s your personal favourite artist that you’ve exhibited? And then a personal favourite artist that you admire and wish you could exhibit as well?

Olesya: Well, we really love works by Anatoly Dverin. You saw his big impressionist landscapes on display. He’s an amazing artist and person. He’s 81. He’s originally from Ukraine. He moved to the States about 40 years ago, and he struggled to keep his artistic career. He managed [to become] one of the signature painters of the Oil Painters Association of America and Master of Pastel Society of America. He’s an impressionist who travels. At his age, he travels back to Europe every second year, [like]Russia, Ukraine, [and] all over New England, Canada. And he studies Impressionism. I’ve been to his studio in his house. He lives in Massachusetts and his library is full of rare books on Impresionism. He studies the stroke and the idea of the Impressionistic landscapes. He’s an outstanding, [and] kind person. He’s a great artist: he wouldn’t waste time in giving some negative opinions about others. Sometimes it’s a problem when you deal with as many as artists as we feature in this exhibition (15 of them). He’s the sweetest, and he always lets us curate the exhibition [art] easily for him. And he is the most successful in terms of us selling his art during the six years of representing him. In New England we sold close to 15 of his original oil paintings (big size). Probably one of our biggest achievements would be Edward Kennedy Yacht “Mya”, in Hyannis. [It was an] original oil on canvas that was sold by us to the Kennedy family in August this year. Senator Ted Kennedy knew Dverin personally. Dverin was commissioned the painting. The senator [then] died, and the family never claimed the painting. So, Dverin wanted us to make an extra effort; he didn’t want to sell the painting to just anybody. Finally, the Kennedy family realized they that [would] loved to get the painting to decorate the family house at Hyannis residence. It was quite the experience.

 Piano located in the gallery

Piano located in the gallery

Idil: Oh! And the story from before about your son loving that one painting. What was that painting?

Olesya: That is a painting by Georgy (George) Lapchinsky. We still have three of them on display. The small realistic paintings. The school children. The scene of Moscow, like the old trolley. And the third one is the musicians in front of Bolshoi Theater. Those are scenes of Moscow. One of them was a landscape, a cityscape, and it had a little car parked near the pile of water after the rain. Lapchinsky actually graduated in Surikov Institute of Fine Arts, which is one of the two best schools in Russia. He loves to use vintage cars and dress people in old clothing. He’s a relatively young painter, contemporary, but he wants to give us a little bit of a set back in time. My son really fell in love with that little cute car. It was nothing fancy, maybe one of the inexpensive Russian cars that they produced 40 years ago. He said that he really wants us to keep that painting. So, we purchased it and we hung it in his room. That was his first appreciation of Fine Arts in the family.

Later, he helped us to buy a bigger painting by Anatoly Dverin. It’s not on display, but it’s called Russian Winter. It has beautiful colors. It’s a sunset and it’s very snowy of the Russian countryside where you have blue snow and pink shades on the snow. It’s an extremely beautiful painting that shines at night. It radiates light. We had it on display for sale for three years. It was a masterpiece. One day, Serge told us that he loves this painting, truly his favorite of Anatoly Dverin; so, we bought it. His opinion was instrumental. We said, “Well three people love it. We’re not exhibiting this painting anymore. It stays in our living room forever!” So that’s how we got it.

 In A Classroom by Georgy Lapchinsky [painting with children]

In A Classroom by Georgy Lapchinsky [painting with children]

Idil: And that’s all our questions! Thank you so much.

Olesya: Thank you so much! And everybody is welcome to attend the art gallery From Russia with Art in Cambridge, and contact us. Our website is http://www.fromrussiawithart.org/. My name is Olesya, and thank you.