Vol 9: A Spanish Pilgrim to the Roerich House, Mongolia

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Editor’s Note: Since we began work on the restoration of the Roerich House in Mongolia back in the spring of 2009, we have been able to receive many wonderful Roerich enthusiasts from around the world.

            David Fontano was and is special among these many visitors. His dedication to the Roerich legacy is profound, informed, pure and vibrant. After his visit with us he generously accepted our request to be our website manager, and to help in several other ways. In brief, he has become an integral part of the Roerich Mongolia team.

            I would like to thank him for accepting our invitation to contribute a blog entry on his visit to Mongolia and the Roerich House. Although English is not his mother tongue, he threw himself into the task with the joy and enthusiasm that he seems to bring to so much of what he does in life. – Glenn Mullin, Blog Editor

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Five years ago I saw, for the first time, the logo of the Roerich Peace Banner in an article in a Spanish newspaper. The article had no stated connection to Roerich and his Banner, but the symbol caught my attention.  At that time, I did not have any idea who Nicolas Roerich was, and the symbol had no particular meaning to me. However, it stuck in my mind.

Sometime later I was listening to the radio. The program  was about travelers and adventurers of the world, and the name of Nicholas Roerich came up. The discussion aroused my interest, and I decided to do some research on the Internet. That was the moment I associated the two: the Banner and Nicholas Roerich.

It was also the day I fell in love with Roerich’s paintings. I became captivated by the beauty and light of his work, as well as the idea represented in the Banner. For several days and nights I researched further into Roerich’s life and work.

Roerich Museum, New York

Then in 2008 I made a trip to New York City, and while there I visited the Roerich Museum (www.roerich.org).

I was deeply impressed with the energy of the Roerich paintings on display there. Two of the works on show, “Madonna Oriflamma” and “Mother of the World,” drew my interest with special force. I also particularly liked the painting of the Himalayas, perhaps because I love hiking in mountains, and love natural settings. These paintings express the beauty which can be found in such places: mountains, sky, light, sunsets.

While in the Museum I had the good fortune to meet with Daniel Entin, the museum director. He told me about the existence of a Roerich Museum in the north of my own country, Spain, and gave me an introduction to Leonardo Olazabal, its director.

Several months later, after I returned from a trip to Nepal and Tibet, and also by that time knowing a little more about Roerich´s work, I decided to visit the Spanish Roerich Museum. There, thanks to Daniel Entin, I was able to meet with Leonardo Olazabal and his wife Petrie, the museum founders. I was deeply impressed with how they had dedicated so much of their lives to the study and promotion of Roerich and his work, mainly in Spain.

“Darjeeling” Sintesis and Meditation Center

This museum had been created in 1978 in association with the Darjeeling Raja Yoga Meditation Center. It is appropriately located in the peaceuful, beautiful and harmonious surrounding of the Bedia Mountains of Bilbao, allowing students to connect with the Roerich legacy in a natural setting.

To my amazement, Leonardo and his wife invited me to assist them in organizing a Roerich exhibition in Madrid, where I currently live. The exhibition was planned in connection with the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Roerich Pact. This exhibition indeed did come to pass. Interested readers can learn more about it on the following web link:

http://en.icr.su/news/index.php?news=927&print=yes

Siberian Roerich Society

But let me return to the account of my visit to the Roerich House in Mongolia.

Roerich had spent many years in Asia, and therefore numerous places associated with him are located there. I wished to visit as many of them as I could. I applied for and was granted a two month break from my job, and proceeded to make a plan to travel through Russia, Central Asia, Mongolia and China.

The excursion began in Russia, where I visited the Roerich Center in Moscow. After that I flew from Moscow to Barnaul, and hiked to the Belukha Base Camp. This mountain was very special in Nicholas Roerich’s mind. I then visited Novosibirk, Russia, and also the Siberian Roerich Society. (www.sibro.ru/en/). Finally I travelled from Siberia to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

It was a great trip and a great experience for me, and I was thrilled to see for myself some of the beautiful power places described by Roerich in his books and depicted in his paintings.

My plan in Mongolia was to visit the Roerich House in Ulaanbaatar, where Nicholas Roerich had lived and painted in 1926 and 1927 with his wife Helena and eldest son George. I had learned of the existence of this house through my researches on the web (www.roerichmongolia.org).

            Before leaving Madrid I had written to Glenn Mullin, a Canadian writer who is assisting Prof Bira in restoring the House and making it into a museum and art institute. I told Glenn about my interest in visiting the house, and he offered to help in any way he could.

Therefore when I arrived UB I telephoned him. He suggested that we meet in at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel, in the downtown area of the city. It could easily be found by someone new to Mongolia. I arrived at the hotel, and Glenn was waiting for me with several of his friends. They greeted me with big smiles, and I felt very at ease with them. Glenn was with a California man, Carl Olmstead, and two wonderful Mongolian ladies who were helping with the restoration work, Degi and Bolor. They received me like we were old friends. Over the following days in Ulaanbaator I found them to be delightfully friendly, and were always laughing and joking. I was very happy to be there and my limited English didn’t hinder us from getting along.

Roerich Museum Ulaanbatar

We drove to the Roerich House in Glenn’s little Suzuki Jeep, and I was touched by what I saw.  The house had been restored from its dilapidated state by enthusiastic volunteers and workers, people wanting to help preserve the legacy of Roerich in Mongolia.  For someone who was able to appreciate and value the beauty of Mongolia and its people, it seemed fitting to have the work done by people dedicated to love, peace and beauty.

            On arriving at the house I met Vedran Bolfek in the Museum. Vedran is a Croatian restoration artist, and had been working as a volunteer in restoring the house. To me, he was a very good example of someone who feels the calling. He had learned of the existence of the house when the restoration work was in the planning stages, and immediately offered to travel to Mongolia and help with the work. This was his second summer there, and much of the beauty and integrity of Roerich House Mongolia as it exists today can be credited to Vedran’s great talents and experience in the world of restoration work. He was completely dedicated to the task, with his mind only thinking about the noble cause and the satisfaction that comes from noble deeds.

            My friends at the Museum walked me through the various rooms, and explained the meanings of the paintings and art prints on the walls. There is a Shambhala Room, with copies of many of Roerich’s Shambhala paintings. This room is used for lectures and meditation. There is also a room called Altai Himalaya, named after Roerich’s famous book with that title. This room has copies of Roerich’s more famous Buddhist paintings, as well as his Himalayan and Mongolian works of a spiritual nature. Another room is dedicated to Roerich’s paintings on the Mongolian “great khaan” theme, with copies of his paintings on Ling Gesar, Chinggis Khaan, the Mother of Chinggis, and so forth. A fourth room has copies and art prints of some of the famous portraits of Nicholas Roerich, many by Svetoslav, and a fifth is dedicated to the Roerich Peace Pact. Finally, the two large rooms on the west side of the building are used as a café and “rotating art gallery.

The task of transforming the old house into an active museum and art institute is a work in progress, and it still continues today with the collaboration and support of people around the world (http://www.roerichmongolia.org/how_u_can_help.html ).

            I had been carrying a flag with the Roerich pax cultura logo on it, and created a documentary photo in all the places I had visited. Glenn suggested that we take a photo with this Peace Banner inside the Museum, in the Shambala Room, as a celebration of that moment.

In summary, during my first visit to the Roerich House I found a family joined together in the quest of well-being and hard work, with joy and dedication to the ideals of beauty and love.

For the next few days, Glenn and his friends made my visit to UB very exciting, and helped me organize my trip around Mongolia. I especially wanted to visit the South Gobi, Kharakorum, Khuvsgol Lake and Khamar Monastery in the East Gobi, that was associated with Shambhala.

When I finished my Mongolian tour and headed back to Ulaanbaatar, Glenn had another surprise for me. He had organized for me to meet with Professor Bira (who had been out of town when I first arriven in the city). Bira had been a student of George Roerich back in the late 1950s. It was Bira who had discovered the existence of the Roerich House in Ulaanbaatar a few years earlier, and had applied to the government to have it declared a historical site and thus saved from destruction by developers. Glenn organized a brief meeting with Bira and me in front of the National Library. It was a wonderful occasion, and we all took a photo with the Banner of Peace.

My visit to Mongolia and the Roerich House in Ulaanbaatar were wonderful experiences for me. Later, Glenn asked me to donate some of my time, and my skills as an IT professional, and take over the management of the Roerich Mongolia website. I was delighted and honored to be asked, and I immediately accepted. This is my own small contribution to the wonderful legacy of Roerich in Mongolia.

I would like to conclude this blog report by thanking Prof. Bira, Glenn, Vedran, Degi, Bolor and all my other new friends whom I met in Mongolia. You are all doing a great job with the Roerich House of Ulaanbaatar. I have no doubt that this work will be of great benefit for many generations to come, not only to the people of Mongolia, but to all the world.

David

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