This is the only regional art museum in Lithuania.
The museum's greatest pride is the palace of Prince Oginskis and the park surrounding it, built in Plunge in the 19th c.
The main collection consists of works donated by artists and other collectors.
There is also an impressive library, where valuable books by the historian Zenonas Ivinskis and other Samogitian writers are kept.
Because of the disastrous effects of World War II and its aftermath in Lithuania, most Samogitian artists scattered around the world during this time and lost contact with each other. The new generation of artists in Lithuania did not see the need or were not able to form regional groups of artists until the 1980s, when Lithuania experienced its political and national rebirth. During this period, Samogitian artists working in Vilnius and Klaipeda began to organize groups and meetings that first culminated in 1989 in Klaipeda with an exhibit of works of Samogitian artists from around the world. One of the "international" Samogitians represented was Antanas Mocys, who lived in France until his death in 1993. Even in exile he continued to speak the Samogitian dialect with his friends from home and maintained Samogitian cultural traditions though his work is still very original and contemporary.
After Lithuania regained independence, Samogitian artists around the world expressed the desire to exhibit their art in their homeland. In 1994 the Museum of Samogitian Art was opened in Plunge in the palace formerly owned by the family Oginskis.
The palace was originally purchased by Duke Irienijus Oginskis in the 19th century. Even then the palace was known as a Samogitian cultural center and was home to a music school and an orchestra.
Unfortunately, the museum was founded at an economically difficult time for Lithuania. The museum had to rely on donations, but managed to accumulate 800 exhibits in the first two years of its existence. Many art-lovers, both in Lithuania and abroad, have invested their time and money to turn the Plunge museum into an important center of Samogitian art and culture. Samogitian artists living abroad have very actively supported the project. The painter Jonas Bagdonas was the first established artist to bring a number of his works from the United States to Plunge. A display of the work of Adomas Galdikas, who also spent the last years of his life abroad, has also been organized.
The second exhibit of Samogitian artists from around the world was held in the summer of 1994, when the museum first opened.
Branches of the Museum of Samogitian Art display items of Samogitian art and culture in other towns as well. The central museum of Samogitia in Telsiai focuses on Samogitian history and life on estates in Samogitia. The restored palace of Count Tiskevicius in Kretinga houses a rich winter garden and the same count's palace in Palanga is home to the amber museum.
Currently, Samogitian cultural organizations are establishing a museum in the town of Varniai in a building of the Varniai seminary. The rich cultural history of this town is slowly being revived. The beautiful St. Alexander church has been restored and artists have recently erected monuments to bishops M. Valancius, M. Giedraitis, and canon M. Dauksa. The latter two men edited the first Lithuanian book printed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a Catechism translated from Polish and dedicated to the Church of Samogitia.
© Samogitian Cultural
Association Editorial Board, 1998.