“The Kintai Dream Tree” is the fourth installation of “Project: 100 Dream Trees”, and located in the town of Kintai, Lithuania. It was created during my participation at Kintai Arts Residence from May 22 to Jun 11, 2019.
Find it here: 55°25’06.5″N 21°15’38.5″E
This little building is part of the local kindergarten, and I think it’s some sort of storage space.
Welcome to Kintai, Lithuania!
Kintai is on the coastal side of Lithuania, just an hour’s drive from port city Klaipėda. It’s beside the lagoon that’s created by the Curonian Spit, a 100-km long peninsula that extends from the part of Russia between Lithuania and Poland (where Kaliningrad is situated).
From the coastline of Kintai, you might think you’re looking out to sea at a very long island, but this “sea” is the Curonian Lagoon, and the “island” on the horizon is the Curonian Spit.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Curonian Lagoon used to be filled with old fishing boats from the ports surrounding the lagoon, such as Klaipėda, Nida, and Kintai.
If you ride a ferry across the lagoon today, you might see some replicas of these old fishing boats on the water, which are more tourist attractions than functioning fishing vessels.
One Saturday during my residency at Kintai, I took a day trip to Nida and wandered into the Curonian Spit History Museum. At the museum there are models of the fishing boats on display, as well as tools that were used by the fisherman during those times:
I also saw a photo of these old fishing boats:
And here’s the boat I’ve painted into the mural:
Sometime in the 19th century, the weather vane was introduced and mounted on every sailing boat permitted to fish in the Curonian Lagoon. These wooden structures enabled easy identification of each vessel and the respective village to which it belonged.
As a standard, the weather vane is 2 feet long and 1 feet high, though the flag at the end makes it seem longer. These vanes are made of wood, and typically painted in various combinations of red, white, blue and black. Yellow and green were introduced into the designs during the early 20th century.
These one-of-a-kind hand-carved structures have a rectangular segment in the middle which identifies which port the boat belongs to. Besides identification, some designs are also a reflection of the perspective of the village. For example, a church represents faith, an elk represents power, and so on. Each carving is also inspired from a personal story of the person who designed and made it.
Here are some original weather vane designs which I saw in the Curonian Spit History Museum in Nida:
Today there are no known existing original weather vanes, though there are numerous replicas made from these original design drawings, and you can see these replicas in the museum in Nida, as well as the one in Klaipėda.
I even saw a couple at the Vydūnas Cultural Center in Kintai when I made my visit there:
In some places around Kintai, as well as along the coastal walkway in Nida, you’ll find decorative weather vanes on poles. These are much smaller than the original ones, and were made specially for decorative purposes, thus they look quite different from the original designs.
Having learnt a little about the history of this region, I was very inspired by the weather vanes, and knew that I had to incorporate this in some form into “The Kintai Dream Tree”.
As part of my research and hunt for reference images, I searched online for various pictures of weather vanes, and came across a stock photo that caught my attention because I really liked the ship at the front:
Thus this weather vane became the basis of my design for “The Kintai Dream Tree”:
This is also the first time the actual Tree isn’t the “star” of the mural:
Besides the weather vane and the fishing boat, there are a few local landmarks that inspired the creation of this Dream Tree mural.
On my first evening in Kintai, I was shown around the town, and after a short walk in the forest, we arrived at a large tree in the middle of a fenced-up area.
This is the Thuja (pronounced too-yah), the oldest tree of its kind in the region (estimated to be more than 100 years old), and a natural monument. Apparently it’s not really a tree, but more sort of like a really large bush standing at 18m tall.
This Thuja has an opening among the branches at the side where you can crawl through and stand within:
Inspired by this giant bush, I knew from Day One in Kintai that this was going to be the Tree in my mural:
Even thought it’s not the mural’s focal point, this Tree is still a home for the Dreamer Penguins, and has three platforms which represent the family-oriented lifestyle in Kintai, where children spend their formative years.
Vydūnas Cultural Center
When I visited the Vydūnas Cultural Centre, I had just wanted to get some answers about the decorative weather vanes I had seen around the town.
Interestingly, this visit brought more inspiration than just the weather vanes.
This 300-year-old house used to be the home and school of Vydūnas, a Prussian-Lithuanian teacher, poet, humanist, writer and philosopher.
Part of the ground floor is a small museum which preserves items from Vydūnas’ time, such as letters he wrote, first editions of the books he authored, and the desks from his school.
He didn’t have many personal possessions, but his harp was one of his most prized items:
The other part of the house is the cultural center where people can participate in various art workshops and other cultural activities:
Thus I knew this house had to be part of my mural, and I’ve also included a penguin harpist to represent Vydūnas himself:
Kintai Arts Residence
My home for three weeks in Kintai was built in the early 1900s. Its architecture has some German characteristics, particularly the red bricks that line the windows, door frames, the sides of the house, and forming decorative patterns on the walls.
This house has been newly acquired by the residency, thus the upstairs was still undergoing renovation and refurbishment when I was there. Audra, the director of Kintai Arts Residence, has plans to turn this space into a cultural pillar of Kintai and its region, thus I felt it would be an important landmark in the years to come.
Forest and Camping
Just beside my wall is the forest, and behind the green gate is an abandoned campsite.
Midway through painting the Dream Tree mural, my curiosity got the better of me and I wandered through another gate (which was open), and entered the abandoned campsite.
Perhaps one day it will be revived again, but for now forest and camping are represented in “The Kintai Dream Tree”:
Just 10km away from Kintai is a coastal area with facilities for the study of bird migration. This area is a pit-stop for numerous species of migratory birds, such as the common crane, the Siberian crane, and the white stork.
Here’s one of the nets they use to catch the birds in order to tag them with a number for identification, or maybe tracking devices. (I’m not too sure, and there was no one around to ask).
Ventes Cape is also home to a little cute lighthouse (which I forgot to take a photo of, and thankfully Google found a nice one for this blog post):
View of the lagoon from the top of the lighthouse:
My artistic rendition of the Ventes Cape lighthouse:
You might also notice the kite-surfer penguin beside the lighthouse. This represents the new kite-surfing center that was recently established here, founded by Audra’s son.
The Evolution of “The Kintai Dream Tree”
At this point, I’ve completed three Dream Tree murals, averaging around 2.5 by 2.5m. At the start of this journey of “Project: 100 Dream Trees”, I had planned continue painting murals around this size because it was more manageable at this current stage.
When I was offered this wall, I was intimidated by its size. It’s around 2m tall and almost 10m long, and the residency organizers said I could paint the entire length if I wanted to. I told them I will just take the middle 3m of it, and perhaps next time they could let other artists paint something else on either side of my mural.
So I did my measurements, marked out the middle 3m, drew in the circle for my mural, and started painting.
An Unexpected Change
After two days of painting, Audra came by in the evening, and said, “We’ve thought about it, and we would like you to paint the entire wall. We’ll pay for the extra paint, just let us know which colors to buy.”
My initial reaction: What…
My mind was in a state of turmoil – We already agreed that I’ll take the middle 3m, why did they change their mind now? Why only tell me now after I’ve completed two days of work? Will I have enough time to finish this mural? This wasn’t what I planned.. Why aren’t things going my way… and so on.
(This is also after there were numerous instances of miscommunication between myself and the organizers, perhaps even among themselves. I knew it’s their first time running this residency, but it was frustrating for me at times when I’m told one thing and it actually means something else, or things suddenly change later. Could be a language barrier issue as well, and on my end I didn’t always clarify and double check.)
I didn’t want to say No, so I told Audra I will focus on my original plan first as a priority, and then see if I have time to do anything else for the rest of the wall.
More communication breakdowns
The next day (my third day of painting), one of the organizers told me that tomorrow the kids would come with their teacher to paint the wall. Since the local school was nearby, I thought there was going to be a big group – maybe 20 or 30 of them.
On 4 Jun 2019, the fourth day of painting, just moments before the Paint-Your-Dream segment, I was worried that all 20 or 30 kids would arrive at the the same, and it would be chaos at the wall. The organizer said that 8 of them were on their way, which I thought she meant they would come in small groups.
I asked her how many kids in total were we expecting, and she said, “Eight. Maybe ten.”
That’s when I realized I didn’t receive this piece of information they day before before, and I also hadn’t asked, and staring at the 7m of blank space on the wall, I felt there was no way we could cover that entire wall.
There was no time to indulge in the internal panic, as within minutes nine children aged 9-13 arrived, together with their teacher.
A little ray of hope
They didn’t come empty-handed. They had brought their own paint, paintbrushes, even paper plate for palettes, rags, and old t-shirts to wear while painting.
They were even more prepared that I was to paint this wall!
This showed me they were really excited to be a part of this project, and to contribute something to the mural.
That was the moment I decided to let go of trying to make things as expected, and to just run with the unexpected. And as these kids stood around me eagerly awaiting my instructions, I decided that they could paint anywhere they wanted on the remaining 7m of the wall, and as big as they wanted.
Tue 4 Jun 2019
One of the boys was the first to start painting, and he put down a large square (which later turned out to be a robot). The other three kids on this side of the wall followed suit and painted big as well, and it looks they just might fill up most of the remaining 7m after all!
I watched as they painted, and soon learnt from their teacher that these children were part of the local art school program.
That explains why they came fully prepared to paint, and didn’t seem to need much help with painting from me or their teacher.
He said these young artists were really excited to paint the wall as they’ve never done this before, and some of them will come back again the next day to continue.
That was when I breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing that the wall could actually be filled up without me having to invest too much time and energy to do it all by myself.
Wed 5 Jun 2019
Seven of the same kids came back the next day, and a boy who wasn’t part of the art school joined in about an hour into the session.
“They don’t really have dreams.”
As I watched, I noticed the young artists were repeating things like sailboats, trees, fish… and they’d go to the teacher, and he’d tell them something in Lithuanian. I asked him what they were asking, and he said they didn’t know what to paint, so he had suggested to paint what they see around them.
I told him that wasn’t the idea of the mural, that they were to paint their dreams.
He said, “You know, they are kids from a small place, they are young, they haven’t traveled outside their town much, they haven’t seen much of the world, so they don’t really have dreams.”
A part of me wondered if perhaps there was something I didn’t know about life here, that because I had grown up in entirely different circumstances, perhaps dreams are something only a privileged person like myself could understand.
In that moment I felt like my entire project was a fraud, like I’m the only delusional person going around talking about stuff that people don’t see as important because they didn’t grow up in a rich, developed, economically stable environment like I did.
But then I had a feeling…
I noticed one of the girls (in the white baseball cap in the photo below) had been standing and staring at the wall for a few minutes, seeming to not know what to paint next.
Trusting my inner intuition (and seizing the opportunity before she goes to the teacher for ideas), I approached and asked her: “What other dreams do you have? Like what do you want to be when you grow up? If there was no school, no homework, and you could do anything you want, and go anywhere you want, what do you really wish for?”
Then she shared with me that sometimes she wants to be an actress, sometimes a singer, sometimes an artist. She said, “It changes all the time.”
I smiled, knowing from my own story of having been an actress, an aspiring singer-songwriter, and now an artist.
I said, “Yes it does. Even for me. I wasn’t always an artist. But it doesn’t need to be just one thing. Just think of these dreams that you have, and paint what you feel like painting.”
So she started painting Winnie the Pooh, because it represents her dream of creating her own characters for animation some day:
Another girl came to me not knowing what else to paint, so I asked her the same questions. She said she loves to dance, though she doesn’t know if she wants to be a dancer. She started painting something new, and later I saw she had painted pink piano keys.
That was when I realized that the teacher had projected his own experience and perspective onto these kids, that perhaps he himself didn’t remember his own dreams, and thus believed that these children didn’t have dreams.
The boy who wasn’t from the art school
The most special thing about this session was this boy who had come up to the wall when the rest had been painting an hour, asked the teacher if he could join in.
He was very shy and quiet, and I’m sure it took him a lot of guts to approach and participate.
He spent a good two hours sitting at this corner of the wall, painting this brown triangular thing. I saw him add shades of black and green and blend it with the brown, and each time I looked I got more curious as to what he was painting.
Then in the last fifteen minutes of the session, when most of the other children had left, he took some red paint, and added the finishing touches… to his volcano:
This volcano might not be as elaborate or detailed as some of the other painted dreams, but it’s one of my favorite parts of this mural, because of the boy who wanted to join in, and dared to ask if he could.
Sometimes in life we don’t get what we want because, for whatever reason, we don’t dare to ask for it.
Now this boy who wasn’t from the art school has made a painting that will be around for many years to come.
The Painted Dreams
After only 2 afternoons of painting (a grand total of six hours), these ten children had filled up most of the wall with their painted dreams:
Over the next few days, the two artists who were staying with me at the residency house came by and painted their dreams too.
Paris-based American artist Lala painted her signature glasses with a globe and a paintbrush, and Estonian filmmaker Madli painted a film strip with images from one of her project.
Bringing Them All Together
After I had completed my painting in the center part of the wall, it was time to fill in the spaces between the children’s dreams, and tie everything together to make this mural one cohesive whole.
I painted other things I’ve painted before: penguins in penguin-planes, a castle on a cloud, a flying penguin, spaceship penguin…
…penguins in sailboats, an igloo on a cloud, penguins flying with heart balloons…:
I even added in a penguin and a whale together as a shout out to one of my biggest fans (my boyfriend).
I also painted a purple penguin submarine, which was based on a submarine character I had illustrated for a children’s book in early 2018.
It was almost as if everything I had drawn or painted before was meant to prepare me for this mural.
And after adding in many stars around the white spaces, “The Kintai Dream Tree” was finally completed on 10 Jun 2019:
It’s All Part of The Journey
It’s normal to feel that we’ve spent too much time working on something that wasn’t really our passion, or working a job just to pay the bills, or wasting time and energy on a relationship that didn’t work, and perhaps feel regret that we could have done something different and made better use of our resources.
In the process of painting this mural, I was reminded that none of this is ever really a waste, because everything we’ve experienced, worked on, and learnt has its part to play as the story of our lives unfolds. I was reminded of that again after I finished the mural and prepared my Powerpoint slides for a presentation of my work on my last day at Kintai Arts Residence.
This was the first time ever that I was giving a presentation of my work to an audience, and besides showing pictures of the three earlier Dream Tree murals, I didn’t know what I was going to say or share (well, besides “Here’s Dream Tree no. 1 in Spain, here’s no. 2 in Singapore, here’s no. 3 in Latvia…”).
Yet somehow in the process of putting my presentation slides together, I realized that this wasn’t about sharing my work for the murals that they are, but using these images to tell the story of my journey.
And it’s not a story about being an artist, it’s not a story about travel and drawing inspiration from different places, it’s not even a story about Dream Trees… and it’s not even really my story at all.
It’s a story of a human being who chose to follow her dreams, and allow them to take her to places she hadn’t imagined, and to paint with people who otherwise wouldn’t have participated in such a project. It’s a story of how each person has their possibilities too, waiting for them to reach out and take it, waiting for them to make their dreams come true.
An Unexpected Next Step
After the presentation, Audra and I got into her car and drove 3 hours to Vilnius (where I would spend the next ten days painting “No. 5: The Užupis Dream Tree” in her driveway).
During this long drive, we had many conversations, and what struck me was Audra’s vision for my work. She shared that she could see all of these Dream Tree murals being published into a book that people will want to read someday, and advised me to start keeping a journal to record all that has happened on this journey toward 100 Dream Trees. “It’s not that you won’t remember what has happened,” she said, “but you will forget most of the details along the way.”
Strangely, just a few days earlier, I had a chat with Lala who suggested that I write something about each of the Dream Trees and the stories that come with them, perhaps to compile them into a blog. She herself has been blogging for nine years now, and used to publish weekly for the first seven years.
I said that I didn’t really know what to blog about on a weekly basis, and she shared with me how in the beginning she mostly didn’t know what to write about either, but the more she wrote each week, slowly the story of a mad artist in her laboratory emerged, which is now the characteristic writing style of her blog.
It’s strange to have two people telling me within the same week that I need to write about it all. For the past year I haven’t kept up with my blog because I’m always stuck on what to write about, how to present something that’s of value to my audience, is it going to be good enough… and suddenly I see all of that doesn’t even matter.
The only thing that matters is that I write what needs to be written from this journey, that I write to sort out and share my learnings, realizations, insights and discoveries from this journey. If not for anyone else, then just for myself.
And who knows maybe one day these writings could be published in a book or a blog about the challenges and joys of living a life of making dreams come true…
Because this isn’t just my story. It’s ours.
4 Dream Trees up, 96 more to go!
Check out the time-lapse making of “The Kintai Dream Tree” on YouTube here:
- Kintai Arts Residence
- The 10 children collaborators