Book lover dedicates mansion to art and education

Valters Dakša, a young book lover with a collection of about 5,000 titles, is giving away the house he inherited from his parents in order to transform it into an arts center.

The impressive, pearly white mansion, complete with waterlily-strewn pond, has been empty for years after Valters lost his parents in a fire that also consumed several rooms inside the house.

Valters says his huge collection, now stored at museums and other places across Latvia, started one spring day after he went to the house opposite the dormitory he was living in after his parents' death. He asked if they had any books to give away, and they happily obliged.

He had learned to read at a late age and in the first grade had to take private tutoring from a local librarian who supplied him with books to read. This may have contributed to him starting a book collection. Once he had started, however, what drove him on was pure willpower.

"It was determination that made me a book collector - if you go to ten, twenty, thirty people and ask them to give you old books, you get interested in how many more must be around... you start knocking on doors and accumulate and find out how you can get your hands on other titles that they don't give away for free," he says.

Initially, Valters had stored his books at his house, but was unable to deal with the upkeep.

Now he has given the mansion - called Baltais Nams (the White Mansion or White House) - away to Edmunds Pabērzs, a local who wants to start what he calls a center for "creativity and determination." 

"I decided to give away the house because I don't want someone to spend their resources and energy on superfluous things like paying loans at the bank," says Valters.

Pabērzs, who worked at the local Saldus Youth Center for several years, wants the mansion to become a place for people to improve themselves and help them reach their goals. 

In addition to holding motivational seminars, Edmunds says the site will be used as a practice space for the local theater and that, in the future, it may be used to hold artists' residencies.

Now however the priority is to restore the house so that it can be heated during the winter.

It does seem, then, that the future of Valters' house might be brighter than its past.

On August 21 the mansion was introduced to the public by means of an unusual performance - poetry readings on the river, combined with pushing an old bathtub downstream in the River Ciecere. 

"The mansion keeps bringing sad memories back to me. I want to turn them into joy," Valters says.

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