THE SAMOGITIAN ALKA MUSEUM
This is the main historical museum of Samogitia. The museum offers the most comprehensive exhibit of Samogitian cultural development in Lithuania. It also introduces the visitor to the natural sites of Samogitia, Samogitian everyday life, and the rich artistic heritage of Samogitia. The main collection was accumulated in Soviet times when Samogitian palaces and museums were nationalized and valuable paintings, sculptures, and other works of art made their way into the museum.
- 1. Archeology
- 2. Natural landscape
- 3. History
- 4. Art
Moving exhibitions tell of Samogitian history, famous people, folk art, etc.
In December 1923 the intelligentsia of Telsiai, who were very anxious to preserve Samogitian culture, wrote to the Lithuanian Ministry of Education: "We feel that there is a need to establish a museum in Telsiai as soon as possible, since teachers and other people have many good things that could be shown in a museum. If this is not done, these things will perish and our country will suffer..."
The foundations for this museum were laid in 1924-25 with exhibitions in the Telsiai teachers' college. Searches for a more permanent home continued. The city of Telsiai seemed a logical setting for the museum, since it was the cultural center of Samogitia and home to the Samogitian diocese.
Attempts to create a museum in 1928 failed, but in 1931 a Samogitian cultural society was created that included representatives from the regions of Kretinga, Raseiniai, Taurage, and Telsiai. In 1932 the Alka museum in Telsiai was officially opened in a rented apartment on Birute street. The first director, Pranas Genys, writes in his memoirs, "the exhibits were shown in three rooms and included only a few statues of gods, some coins, pictures, and a few archeological finds. In spite of that, the museum already made a good impression, established the name of the museum and encouraged the museum workers to continue." The museum also supported exhibits in the teachers' college. From 1932 to 1937 the museum rented rooms in the Girdvainis homes.
However, it needed more than one man to turn the museum into a representation of life in Samogitia, especially since the director Pranas Genys was bound to a wheelchair. The Alka society was instrumental in supporting the museum. The members' stated goals were to "learn about the past and present of the Samogitian lands, their nature and culture, to preserve ancient traditions, historic places, folk culture, and other cultural values of Samogitia". The society decided to open branches of the museum in other Samogitian towns and to build a central museum in Telsiai. Since they lacked funds, the society organized a fund drive in 1933. The museum's ground stone was laid in 1936 on the shore of Lake Mastis with help from individuals in Samogitia, other Lithuanian provinces, and abroad. The first exhibits were shown in the new building in 1937, but construction was not completed until 1941. The Samogitian museum was the only new museum built at that time.
While the new museum was being built, Pranas Genys and other ethnographers continued to gather material for new exhibits. Most of their exhibits were displayed at a 1935 art exhibit in Paris. The limited facilities of 1937 required that extra exhibition space be found. The Samogitian museum displayed some items in the former Rabbinical Seminary "Yeshiva" in Telsiai.
The museum remained a Samogitian cultural center even during the war. Artists arranged exhibitions here in 1938 and again in 1943. Exhibits on Samogitian agriculture, the art and culture of Lithuania Minor, postage stamps, and graphic arts were shown during the war years. Samogitian poets also used the museum as a meeting place. From 1938 on the museum was supported by state funds.
A number of valuable exhibits entered the museum's holdings in 1940 when private property was nationalized. Documents, paintings, sculptures, furniture and books are included among these items.
When German forces occupied Samogitia the Alka museum continued to operate, though the directors hid the most valuable items with acquaintances and in the museum's hideaway. Only few items went missing during this period.
In 1945 the Soviet government relieved Pranas Genys of the directorship and installed another Samogitian, Butku Juze, who worked there until 1947.
From 1948-1988 the museum was renamed the Telsiai Ethnographic museum, but regained its old name in 1988. Even today, the museum's holdings are among the richest in Lithuania. From 1967 on the Telsiai museum was the administrative center for a number of smaller Samogitian museums. In 1988 these other museums became independent of the Telsiai museum.
From the exposition of the Historical Museum of Samogitia
© Samogitian Cultural
Association Editorial Board, 1998.