Featured Russian Artist
Fine art oil paintings by Nikolai Dmitrevich Chernushkin.
Nikolai Dmitrevich Chernushkin is our "Featured Russian Artist" at L.P. Cline Gallery. Serendipity has made this article possible. As chance would have it, Marlene Schiller, a Chattanooga artist, brought the Christmas newsletter from the Wycliff Bible Translators to our attention. The newsletter was all about the work they are doing with the Nenets people of Russia.
We had acquired two original pieces of art by Nikolai Chernushkin (read full bio on artist page) of his time spent with the Nenets in 1961, from his family at the Artist Union in Belgorod on one of our trips. After reading the article (to follow), we feel you will better understand the will and the mind of the artist that risked so much in order that we might have a little insight to a closed world.
After contacting Ruth Hubbard, Senior Vice President of Wycliff USA, we were given permission to share this newsletter with you. The beautiful photos are courtesy of www.agaperu.org. If you would like to share in the work of Wycliff USA, you may do so directly at www.wycliffe.org. In honor of Nikolai Chernushkin and his family, we will contribute 10% of the sale price from any of his paintings to Wycliff USA. The contribution will be given in the buyer's name.
When we look at the wonderful paintings and the magnificent photos from the newsletter, we cannot help but think of the words from "The ART Spirit" by Robert Henri...
Most people wouldn't call Siberia a winter wonderland. It's more often thought to be a wasteland home to nothing but ice, snow and exiles. But the resourceful Nenets people know better. Their culture and their beloved reindeer provide a glimpse into a vibrant way of life that flourishes unexpectedly in the midst of this seemingly barren land.
Long before Santa ever thought of using reindeer to pull his sleigh, the reindeer herders of ancient Asia (the Nenets' ancestors) were harnessing the power of these amazing animals. And they dreamed of luminescent, flying reindeer long before Rudolph ever lit the dark of Christmas Eve in our imaginations. After the long night of winter, the sun is a welcome sight in the North; age-old carvings give tribute to a reindeer that carried the sun in its antlers. Some carvings depict reindeer with hooves flung outward, not in a gallop, but in flight!
While they may not be able to actually fly, the hardy reindeer are well adapted to life in Siberia – the coldest inhabited place on earth. During the icy winter, their rugged hooves harden and become more concave to keep them from slipping. For extra warmth, God has clothed them with an under layer of woolly fur and a top layer of hollow fur that provides buoyancy in the water. With the changing of the seasons, their coats turn from brown to cream to blend in with the white cloak of winter. Even when snow shrouds the land, a keen sense of smell enables hungry reindeer to sniff out lichens (called reindeer moss) for their supper. It's as if God has equipped them with camouflage, ice cleats, long johns, winter parkas, life jackets and food-seeking radar!
Rudolph's nose isn't his only shining feature!
So central are the reindeer to the Nenets way of life, it has been said that to follow a good Nenets epic, all you have to do is watch what happens to the lead reindeer! As the reindeer are perfectly suited to live off the land, so the Nenets people of Siberia are well suited to live off the reindeer. Since time untold, the Nenets have taken to their sleds to follow the majestic herds on their ancient migratory paths. The reindeer sustain the Nenets in virtually every way, providing a source of food, shelter, transportation, wealth and clothing – the hides being the only garments that can protect the Nenets from the bitter cold of -60°F.
On this astonishing trek, the Nenets tend the reindeer, living in reindeer-skin chooms (similar to teepees), and traditionally feasting on venison and blood. The reindeer have an incredible power of endurance, with the ability to travel 40 miles a day, pulling twice their weight on a sled. So following the herds is no small task. While some people shudder at the thought of such an extreme lifestyle, many Nenets herders have a hard time picturing life any other way.
In the early part of the 20th century, the Nenets were forced into fixed settlements and made to work on collective farms. Their children were often sent to state-run boarding schools, where they were separated from their families and even forbidden to speak their language. This lifestyle was totally at odds with their nomadic, clan-based culture.
One Nenets man compared the fixedness of being in a village to being in prison. Today his people have the freedom to choose between settling down or following the reindeer. Now even when Nenets young people have received a formal education, many still hear the call of the tundra.
Life with the reindeer does not provide everything the Nenets need. The winter darkness of Siberia contributes to the spiritual darkness of alcoholism and suicide. Peter, a Nenets preacher, knows the pain of suicide. After Peter's brother died of a stroke, his father ended his own life. But despite his great losses, Peter still has a burden for others. At a ministry gathering, he preached a sermon in Nenets, the first one many of the attendees had ever heard. Christian activities are usually offered in Russian, so for some, preaching the gospel in Nenets was an entirely new concept.
A Wycliffe couple from Australia and a Korean woman with the Russian Institute of Bible Translation are working to make more of God's Word available in Nenets. Thanks to a coalition of ministries and churches, the Gospel of Luke has already been published, and audio Bible stories were distributed.
Nenets believers are also enthusiastic about the Scripture translation. A shy Nenets woman eagerly offered her artistic skills to provide Nenets illustrations for Scripture publications. And a young mom used a book called Stories About Jesus to teach her three-year-old daughter the Lord's Prayer in Nenets – her mother tongue. In one town a Nenets elder, who is speech-impaired following a stroke, ministers by having all his guests listen to the audio Bible stories with him. Left without a voice, this is how he tells others about Jesus.
Two thousand years ago, the coming of the Christmas Child was first announced to shepherds. And two thousand years later, it is being proclaimed in Nenets among the "shepherds" of Siberia.
Spiritual association between reindeer and flight ran very deep in the minds of Asia's ancient herders. Their artists drew reindeer with birds on their antlers. The flying reindeer idea was also evident in the costumes of the shaman, which sometimes included antlers and feathers. Some believed that a powerful shaman could transform into a reindeer or a bird and then soar over the land in search of herds to sustain the people.
some of the reindeer herders still rely on elaborate rituals to gain spirituality. The elders of a group related to the Nenets recall a ceremony where people were thought to mount flying reindeer and journey to a land of joy and abundance in the sky. After this, travelers would symbolically dismount from their reindeer, pretending to be tired, as if they'd just returned from a long journey. They hoped this quest would bring new life and salvation.
But now some of the reindeer herders have discovered a way to the heavenly kingdom and a sure salvation through Eesoos Kristos (Jesus Christ). Some still practice blood sacrifices and revere the reindeer. Others now trust in a different Sacrifice. And though their sins were red as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. As flawless as the virgin snow of Siberia.
L.P. Cline Gallery extends a warm thank you to Wycliffe Bible Translators for sharing this beautiful story, so that we might share it with you, our viewers.