The American Latvian Association encourages the preservation of Latvian cultural heritage in the United States by supporting publications, educational, performing and visual arts programs. ALA also helps to maintain several material culture collections.
The items in these collections are donations from Latvians who immigrated to the United States after World War II. The oldest items were brought with them from Latvia. Others represent the efforts of displaced persons to keep their culture alive during the refugee years and in their new home in America.
Because people fleeing their homes in times of war can take few possessions with them, textiles and jewelry make up the majority of these collections. Two of these collections are open to the public by appointment.
The Latvian Museum
400 Hurley Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850-3121
Call the ALA office at (301) 340-1914
The museum is open by appointment. Please call the ALA Office during business hours at (301) 340-1914 or e-mail the museum at email@example.com.
On exhibit: A Time-Line exhibit at the museum entrance provides a brief overview of Latvian history from prehistoric times to the present. The exhibits include a large cooper-made storage barrel, a flax break and a spinning wheel from the late 1800s; coins and paper money from the 1400s to the present; pre-WWII postage stamps; handwoven and embroidered textiles; diplomatic, military and civilian medals and insignia and souvenir pins from Latvian song festivals.
Among the bronze, silver and amber jewelry on display is an amber-decorated silver tankard from the 1920-1930s by the reknown silversmith Janis Betins. Photographs document life in displaced persons camps in postwar Germany and immigration to America.
Of eight women’s folk costumes on view, two are from Latvia. The oldest , from Ventspils, has components made in the 1830s and 1870s. The other costumes were created by Latvian-American weavers, seamstresses and silversmiths from the 1950s to the 1970s for members of choral groups and folk dance troops. One is a striking 12th century woman’s costume reproduced from archaeological evidence from grave sites in central Latvia.
Part of the interior of a late 1800s Latvian log farmstead, with hand carved reproduction furniture and a hearth for preparing mash for livestock.
The newest exhibit is Latvians you might know.... featuring notable living opera singers, musicians, conductors, athletes, a mountain climber, an artist, an architect, and others who were born in Latvia or are of Latvian descent.
Visiting the museum: The Museum is located in the lower level of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, a handicapped accessible facility, and parking is free. Most exhibit texts are bi-lingual or in English. Your guides are Latvian-Americans who will gladly share stories of their families’ immigrant experiences. The museum is open by appointment for individuals as well as groups. Please call the ALA Office at (301)340-1914 during business hours or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A display documenting the flight from communist occupied Latvia and the refugee period in Germany during World War II.
The work of Janis Betins, Riga, Latvia, 1920s-1930s.
The Lacplesis award of merit, left, and a souvenir pin from the 1947 Latvian Song Festival at the Eslingen Displaced Persons camp in Germany.
A storage barrel and a wheel for spinning linen thread.
A young visitor playing the kokle at Heritage Days.
Special events: The Museum hosts an open house on the last weekend in June as part of Montgomery County Heritage Days (www.heritagemontgomery.org). The program features music, and guided tours of the museum and the Latvian Lutheran church with its stained glass windows by the reknown Latvian artist Leonids Linauts. Visitors of all ages can play a kokle, dye Easter eggs with natural dyes, and decorate a silver pendant with an ancient Latvian design.
Latvian Ethnographic Museum
Latvian Center Priedaine
1017 Highway 33, East
Freehold, NJ 07728
Newly renovated and very accessible, the Latvian Ethnographic Museum located at the Latvian Center Priedaine, opened its doors to the public on May 13, 2006.
Here you can see extensive displays of folk costumes, hand woven belts and blankets, colorful knitted woolen mittens, and jewelry. The collection continues to grow through donations. Among the rarest items in this collection are a large brooch from 1680, a pair of mittens knitted in 1825, and late l800s textiles and clothing.
Latvian ceramics and Easter eggs
ALA Director of Cultural Affairs Sarma Muižnieks Liepins, Museum founder and curator Elza Tomass and President of the Board of Trustees of Priedaine Jānis Students.
A doll dressed in traditional folk costume.
How you can help preserve Latvian cultural materials in the United States
Many Latvian-Americans still own objects like those ALA is helping to preserve in these public collections. But many objects are also being lost, discarded when older Latvians without descendants pass away.
If you know of Latvian-American cultural items that are in danger of being lost, please contact one of the collections listed above.
ALA has also published Our Legacy: How Shall We Pass It On? A Handbook for Preserving and Depositing Archives and Documents. This useful 38 page pamphlet is written in both English and Latvian and is available for $2 plus postage from the ALA Book Store.