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
By appointment only
The museum, located in the lower level of the Latvian Lutheran Church, has collections of traditional Latvian costumes and textiles, original and reproduction farm tools, documents, photographs, and examples of traditional crafts. Among the rarest items are an early Latvian Bible, a large coopered storage barrel, a flax break, and a spinning wheel, all from the late 1800s. Among the documents are early 1900s newpapers published by Latvian communities in Siberia.
Graphics tracing the prehistoric and early historical periods of Latvian history.
Part of the interior of a late 1800s Latvian log farmstead, with hand carved reproduction furniture and a hearth for preparing mash for livestock.
A display documenting the flight from communist occupied Latvia and the refugee period in Germany during World War II.
Examples of traditional textiles of wool and linen.
A storage barrel and a wheel for spinning linen thread.
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.