The Latgale Culture and History Museum (LCHM)

Una Sedleniece, Culture Theorist

Published in visual arts magazine Studija No. 73 (August/September 2010).

Translator into English: Uldis Brūns

“What could be the expectations, hopes and assumptions of the various museum visitors about a particular museum? What are mine?” the attentive museum visitor silently asks himself and then answers.(1) Arriving in Latgale around the time of the summer solstice, I am enticed by the multi-coloured clay hillocks covered in flowers and the refreshing lakes, but any critique or the airing of deep rooted preconceptions and the re-evaluation of values is far from my mind. I want to be carried away, to go with the flow and to marvel, but in the end – I also want to discover and understand. Because Latgale is such a special part of Latvia, and it is not only strangers but also other residents of Latvia who often lack information about this region. The museum institution in itself doesn’t guarantee the direct and immediate acquirement of knowledge. However, a museum experience can awaken emotions, satisfy curiosity and in this way – foster understanding and increase knowledge.

The profile of the Latgale Culture and History Museum in Rēzekne is similar to many other Latvian local history and art museums. However, it is not only the cultural and historical custodian of the city, but also the whole region, as promised by the museum’s name and mission statement: “The Latgale Cul¬ture and History Museum exists to shape the image of Rēzekne as the heart of Latgale, through museum related means, and to reflect its history from its very beginnings until today, to research cultural and historical processes in Latgale, in this way creating interest about the area in the whole community and thus becoming a significant tourist attraction.”(2)

Initial information about what is on offer at the LCHM can be obtained at the city council’s website Although the substantial and visual quality, scope and topicality of information on the website des not disappoint, one is soon convinced that the museum, which positions itself as an ambassador of Latgale’s culture and history, urgently needs both modern printed information, as well as an individual identity in the virtual environment.

The LCHM exhibitions and expositions are to be found at three sites in the city centre. In the main building at Atbrīvoša¬nas aleja 102, extending over two floors, there are permanent displays about Rēzekne’s history and Latgale’s ceramics. Next door, at Atbrīvošanas aleja 100a, is the exhibition building where frequently changing visual and decorative arts exhibitions are shown in the two halls, in addition to travelling exhibitions from the museum’s cooperation partners. There is also a reading room, where visitors can acquaint themselves, for example, with the unique Latgalian literature collection of around 28 thousand items, which is almost half of the total collection held by the LCHM.(3) The third permanent site is at 18. novembra iela 26, the Art House of the Rēzekne Art Secondary School, where the treasures of Latgale’s pro¬fessional painting collection can be seen in the one place.

It turns out that during the Soviet period, Rēzekne’s most ornate late 19th century wooden mansion housed the war commissariat. Over the past decade the building has once again been opened to the public as the Art House, and the LCHM and the Rēzekne Art Secondary School sensibly care for its quality as a cooperative team. While the students have painstakingly restored the wooden detailing and interior of the building, the LCHM has created an impressive display of Latgale’s paintings, which with its approximately 150 works of art gives an insight into the period from the 1920s until today. Museums “don’t collect clocks so as to read the time from them, products of the plant world in order to eat them, coal to heat themselves with,”(4) and in the same way works of art aren’t acquired by a museum, for example, just to decorate the interior or for accumulating capital investment. On the one hand, the exposition of art works offered by the LCHM is evidence of careful selection and research. On the other hand, the densely displayed works of art inevitably compete among themselves, as well as with the building interior. At times it seems to the observer that the task of decorating the interior involuntarily dominates over the exposition’s museum-related story. For the more knowledgeable viewer, there is an absence of contextual information about the art works on show, while for those who aren’t familiar with art the display may provide a pleasant pastime without really broadening their knowledge of art.

One of the fundamental keys to understanding Latga¬le’s culture and history is the relatively recently opened Latgale ceramics exposition, with the poetic title ‘The miracle created by metamorphosis of clay and fire’ on the second floor of the museum’s main building. The investigative, visual and communicative quality of the exposition elevates the pro¬fessional achievement of the LCHM employees head and shoulders above many similar attempts to inform about pottery and ceramics as sectors of art and craft in other Lat¬vian museums. That’s why it is surprising that, neither at the beginning nor at the end of the exhibition, the authors are not named, although they really are worthy of mention. This display reveals to the viewer the entire broad determinant and connection palette between utility and beauty, playfulness and seriousness, the everyday and the festive, fantasy and pragmatism, physics and aesthetics.

The exposition is clearly structured in six parts, from the beginnings of the potter’s trade to Latgale’s ceramics today. In addition, finding one’s way around the exposition is helped both by the excellent system of references and annotations (in Latvian, Russian and English), as well as sound, colour, lighting and other simple, but effective stage elements of the display, for example, the little clay footprints on the floor.

It is also possible to view the display with an audio-guide, in foreign languages as well, which brings closer the wish expressed in the museum mission to become a significant tourist attraction. The 45-minute long audio-guide narration, as well as the narrative tone in some of the written texts of the exhibition hasn’t however been able to escape overly dense text and cloying emotionality, which isn’t that difficult to lapse into when getting enthused about the “The miracle created by clay and fire”. But this definitely is an exhibition to which it is possible and maybe even necessary return, over and over again, because each time new levels of information are revealed, in this way forming and strengthening the visitor’s knowledge and understanding about the phenomenon of Latgale’s ceramics.

Over the next months the LCHM’s everyday life will be affected by major reconstruction work on the museum’s main buildings. The plan is to improve both the collection’s storage conditions, as well as to improve and widen the museum space so that visitors are no longer disturbed by small, mundane inconveniences. However, to modernize the museum from the outside as well as on the inside, substantial work has to be done by not only the builders, but also by LCHM employees. The participants of this and of all the next museum exped¬itions, now and in the future, have well founded hopes that in the coming years the LCHM external and internal point of reference and measure of quality will be that scholarship, skill and emotional tautness which has been put to good use in creating the structure, visual image and impact at the emo¬tional level of the ceramics exposition.

(1) Sal.: Lindauer, Margaret. The Critical Museum Visitor. Janet Marstine (ed.). New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction. Maiden MA, Oxford, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 203-225.

(2) See Latvia’s digital culture map:

(3) See the LCHM section at the National Museum collection’s joint catalogue at the online site:

(4) Vaidahers, Frīdrihs. Īsais kurss muzeoloģijā.[A short course in Museology] Rīga: Museum State Administration, 2009. p.19.