Latvia’s got personality: Bird painter Ineta Freidenfelde

With vast swathes of forests, bogs and lakes, Latvia has plenty of wilderness to explore. And if you sit still, you can even get in touch with nature in Rīga.

Five years ago, artist Ineta Freidenfelde began sketching birds at her home in Bieriņi, a leafy neighbourhood in Riga’s southern suburbs. Then the spring 2020 lockdown arrived, and she used all that free time to intensively observe the winged creatures and create beautiful paintings.

“It was so enthralling that time just flew by,” she says. “People think they are the center of everything, that we can chop down and tear up whatever we like. But the world of birds is wonderfully beautiful.”

Ineta was born in Rīga, then spent part of her teens at applied arts school in Liepāja before returning to the capital in the early 1990s to study stage design and painting at the Latvian Academy of Art. She honed the gilding techniques which give her paintings such a striking look at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge, UK.

Painting by Ineta Freidenfelde

Ineta’s curiosity about birds grew after she persuaded her neighbours not to cut down a tree housing a crows’ nest. While the said neighbours regarded the crows as noisy pests, Ineta was moved by the feathered couple’s supportive, monogamous relationship (“better than humans,” she laughs), and their tender care for their chicks, even making sure they take midday naps.

On one occasion, a hawk swept in to feast on doves Ineta keeps in a cage outside. But in an unusual act of cross-species solidarity, a mob of crows chased the predator away.

Large seagulls made squawking appearances, and a bunch of ducks dived in for Ineta’s birthday. The household’s firewood pile has a storks’ nest on top and a sparrows’ nest in a niche between the logs. Concerned that a summer heatwave was making the wood stack an oven, Ineta ran a trickling hose through it to cool it down.

After the sparrow chicks grew up, they landed on the windowsill to show Ineta they had made it, before flying off to live their lives.

“They clearly realised the connection,” she says. “And I wanted to draw them and paint them to show how precious they are. They are highly intelligent beings.”

When Covid regulations permitted, Ineta held an exhibition in the “Valters un Rapa” bookstore in central Riga titled “Nature doesn’t do Quarantine,” intended to show that regardless of what humans do, nature continues on its own path. Her bird works are currently on display in the chapel at Brukna Manor in Zemgale.

Ineta occasionally holds open days at her home so people can discover how she works first-hand. This blends with the bohemian vibe of Bieriņi, where a community of painters and sculptors have maintained studios since the 1980s. Visitors to Bieriņi can also check out a sculpture park by Indulis Ranka, who also formed the stone sculptures at the Turaida Hill of Folk Songs near Sigulda.

Painting by Ineta Freidenfelde

As well as creative passion, artists also have to earn a living. Ineta admits to having financial ups and downs, made easier by the vegetable garden she and her daughter tend, which supplies much of their food. Her paintings can be seen on her website, and they are available for sale at the French online gallery Singulart. Her works have ended up in collections around the world. A few years ago, her small-sized portraits of Latvian birds were highly in demand in Russia.

During one lean period, Ineta got a job in a library. But after a fall at work left her with severe concussion, she realised she had to stop wasting time and get on with painting.

“Whenever I try to lead a conventional life, things go haywire for me,” she says. “I feel like a kindred spirit with the birds – we’re born to be free.”

 

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