Students working to save the wooden windows of Rēzekne

A group of students in Latvia's eastern Latgale region is working to record one of its most distinctive cultural features - beautiful and sometimes ornate wooden windows that can sometimes be found in even the humblest homes. 

In order to preserve the authenticity of the old wooden buildings and their cultural and historical value, the project "Windows in the old wooden house of Latgale", supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation, has been implemented at the Rēzekne Art and Design High School. 

In the course of half a year, students of the Restoration Education Program, under the supervision of teachers, have surveyed and analyzed the windows of the old wooden houses in Rēzekne. Their conclusion is that the number of wooden buildings and windows is decreasing, making this act of preservation for posterity all the more important.

The windows of the old wooden houses that are still extant were photographed, measured and described in detail with restorers' suggestions for their renewal and preservation. In search of these architectural gems, the students roamed throughout the city.

The fact that so few wooden buildings remain came as an unpleasant surprise to Andris Anspoks, Head of the Restoration Education Program at the Rēzekne Art and Design School:

"I'm afraid that if we carry on down the same route, in a little time - two, five, ten years - no more than a third of them will remain," Anspoks told Latvian Radio.

The older the wooden window, the more likely it is to feature decoration and carving, but also the more likely it is to be destroyed or in a bad state.

Pointing to one example, Anspoks says: "This is a very old building with window sashes, its casings are more characteristic of the Russian folk style. This is a very old building, built in the 1800s. In 1902, it came into the possession of a member of the family that still lives there. This is a very luxurious house for the time, only a few here are left. The grandson who lives there now told me: 'What are you taking photographs of? I'd like to demolish it with a bulldozer and buildsomething nice and new.'"'

Looking at the photos of the old wooden windows, many consistent motifs can be seen such as wood cut to mimic lace patterns. The traditions of wood window decoration have been handed down through the generations, says Anspoks.

The skills were in many cases brought by Old Believers who came to Latvia and Estonia to escape persecution in other parts of the Russian Empire under Peter I.

"They needed to earn extra money somehow and they could do it my carving these ornaments," Anspoks explains.

Restoration of wooden buildings and windows is complicated and requires work, but at the moment people have a tendency to do quick, easy and cheap renovations - with the result that unique wooden window frames tend to be replaced with plastic, mass-produced products.

As part of the project, wooden windows were studied by Dagne Devjatnikova, a 2nd year researcher's assistant. Young people came to see that as well as being decorative, the wooden windows also had some other benefits.

"In fact, wooden windows, if they are in good condition, are very good. Thanks to them, there is good ventilation, which is not given by plastic windows," says Devjatnikova.

The goal of the project in Rezekne is to capture what has survived from the architecture of the old wooden buildings, so that in the future there is information on how to carry out authentic and long-lasting restorations.

"We photographed both the window itself and took measurements, and we noted the proportions of decorations," says Andris Anspoks.

During the project a digital catalog has been compiled, which will soon be available on the website of the Rezekne Art and Design Secondary School. The digital textbook will have photos of wooden windows, stories about their history and restorers' suggestions on how to save them in the future. 

The pictures taken will also feature in an exhibition to be staged later this year.

 

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