WHO IS THE YOUNG FILIA TODAY?
There are many engaging and accomplished young women who have joined Korp! Filiae Patriae’s Toronto chapter in the last ten years and it would be hard to choose one for a profile. However, I have settled on Lehti Keelmann in order to publicize the members’ art exhibition of which Lehti is the curator. The exhibition will be mounted in Tartu College to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the sorority and can be viewed on Sunday, October 24 in conjunction with a ceremonial concert starting at 2:00 p.m.
We can read today about our founders, the indomitable young women who in a man’s world wanted to start a korporatsioon (fraternity on a German model) for women in 1920, just after Tartu University had declared itself an Estonian university. They succeeded, and founded Korp! Filiae Patriae which flourished in the new republic for twenty years until the Soviet authorities closed all korporatsioons in 1940. Nevertheless many members managed to flee abroad four years later, and revived their korporatsioons in exile. The Toronto chapter of Korp! Filiae Patriae, for instance, was formed on October 26, 1952. The restoration of independence and with it Korp! Filiae Patriae in Estonia has given us a second wind.
Who is the young Filia in Canada today?
Perhaps a look at the life of 24-year old Lehti Keelmann, a doctoral student in the Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan will yield a partial answer to that question.
Lehti’s father, Väino Keelmann, a financial analyst, was born in Australia in 1950, her mother, Anne Liis Keelmann, an educator, in Toronto in 1953. They were only the second generation in Canada and yet they were able to provide their two children with the same opportunities and advantages as families whose roots in Canada reach back several generations. As the children of the first generation of postwar Estonian refugees we remember being urged by our parents, like it or not, to take up something practical, like medicine, engineering or teaching, to earn a living. There were exceptions , of course. The third generation of Estonians in Canada can more freely follow their own interests and inclinations in choosing a career. This is what Lehti is doing.
While growing up in the greater Toronto area, Lehti was exposed to a variety of Estonian experiences. She was a girl guide, she participated in gymnastics, she attended the Estonian Heritage school for 10 years, and was a camper at Jõekääru and Kotkajärve. In other words, she was given the best exposure to Estonian culture that the Toronto Estonian community could provide. However, what she calls “the defining moment in my life” came in 2004, when she went to the song festival and toured Estonia with the Estonian Heritage school choir. As she says, she realized then that she “possessed a great desire to integrate my heritage into my university studies”.
There was the strong Estonian grounding, but there were also strong Anglo-Canadian influences. For nine years she attended an Anglican private school which encouraged character-building and values, as well as scholarship. She had always loved horses, went to many riding camps, and rode competitively after the age of 12. In her high school years she rode her beloved “Cha Chi” in many eventing competitions (where dressage, cross-country and show jumping are emphasized).
Always keenly interested in world affairs and the recent developments in Estonia she went on to Queen’s to study history through the study of art. She majored in art history with a minor in history and graduated with a B.A.H.(Honours).
The summer of 2006 was an eventful one for Lehti. She went to Estonia by herself for four months during which she did an internship at KUMU, the brand-new art museum in Tallinn. She was present at the opening of a major exhibit, that of Paul and Kristjan Raud, learned the Estonian art terms in her training to be a docent, and translated documents for the Museum library. She also took a course in advanced Estonian given as a summer course at Tartu University and learned the difficult art of conversing in Estonian about economics, politics, culture, health and even real estate.
Now Lehti is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, and we are communicating by e-mail. Her field is late medieval and early modern northern European art. Her specialization in the art production of the Hanseatic League will eventually result in a thesis. “Presently I’m interested in the materiality of art, moreover altarpieces,” she explains. “I am very much an art historian who is keen to embrace newer methodologies and technologies such as scientific methods to examine art, as well as object-based, socio-historical analysis based on Michael Baxandall’s notion of viewing art through a “period lens” (the eyes/original context of their creation versus making value-based, stylistic assertions).”
When asked how she saw her connection to Estonia developing in the future she gave a long and well-considered reply:
“By virtue of my field…I believe my connection to Estonia will continue to flourish. My eventual goal is to market myself in the job field as not only an art historian of late medieval and early modern art, but also an art historian of art of the Baltic Sea region spanning all time periods”.
And then she stated the goal she has set for herself:
“I hope to expand the field of art history, geographically speaking, within the context of North America. Therefore I see a North American connection to Estonia, aiming to make Estonian, moreover Baltic art, relevant within mainstream art historical scholarship – something which has not yet been sufficiently done within the Baltic context by native Baltic scholars. I believe I possess a unique position, as a Canadian-Estonian with a North American education – with its emphasis on critical inquiry and awareness of larger narratives/worldly notions, to more readily advance Baltic art history in larger narratives of art”.
And there is no doubt that Lehti’s time has come. Compared to the post-war years we live in an era of prosperity and peace. After all, the Baltic republics only enjoyed two decades of independence between the wars, and the post-Soviet decades have been given over to intensive reconstruction in the aftermath of Soviet rule. Overseas the main task of the refugees was to rebuild their broken lives. There was no time for original research and scholarship.
What drew Lehti to Korp! Filiae Patriae? Well, for one thing, her mother is a member. But apart from that, Lehti has investigated the sororities, and found that the oldest of them, Korp! Filiae Patriae is well respected, with many prominent members. She feels that it attracts a certain type of woman, who might be described as patriotic and independent and who wants to make a contribution to society. She might well be describing herself. She pointed out that many members of the Toronto chapter have taken on leadership roles in the Toronto Estonian community. She also feels that young women join because Korp! Filiae Patriae provides young university women with an Estonian background scattered in universities all over Ontario a connection to one another, as Estonian women.
The final word is Lehti’s:
“I’d like to take this opportunity to invite “Akadeemilise Kodu” members to the “Rakendus-ja Tarbekunsti Näitus” which I am curating for Korp! Filiae Patriae’s 90th anniversary at Tartu College on Sunday, October 24, at 2 p.m. I am proud that many of our artistically talented members are exhibiting a selection of their work:
Annike Andre-Barrett – photography
Tiina Hubel – architecture
Riina Kindlam – photography
Viive Kittask-Leppik – landscape architecture & painting
Merike Lainevool – interior design
Maarika Lepik – painting
Kaarin Lupp – photography
Ene Migur – interior design
Heili Paluoja – graphic design
Eneri Taul – architecture
Carmen Vagiste – media arts
Ellen Valter - metal & leather crafts
Linda Valter Aug – architecture
My gratitude is extended to vil! Mall Puhm who is helping to coordinate this exhibit!”
On the eve of Korp! Filiae Patriae’s 90th anniversary… (1)