TORONTO ESTONIAN HOUSE
HISTORY OF ART COLLECTION AND ART COMMITTEE
Estonian House in Toronto, Ltd.
In 1944, during the Second World War, Russia occupied Estonia, a small country of about 1.5 million people, located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, just south of Finland, west of Russia. Many Estonians escaped to other nearby countries, mostly to Sweden, Finland and Germany. Between 1948 and 1952, many of them immigrated to Canada and the majority settled in the Toronto area. As a result, Toronto became the centre for the largest, most active estonian community outside Estonia and continues to be so.
With the growth of the estonian community in Toronto, there was a need for a community centre and on April 1, l960, the Chester School at 958 Broadview was purchased. Renovations and additions started immediately, changing the entire outward appearance of the building and adding many new rooms. Currently, the Estonian House has a large hall which seats 400, a smaller hall with adjoining modern kitchen, a gallery, a large room on the 4th floor for the sole use of young people, a fully licenced restaurant (Estonian House Club), a photo gallery, and classrooms for students.
Located in the Estonian House are the offices of the Estonian Consulate, the Estonian Credit Union, Heinsoo Insurance Brokers Ltd., the law office of Johannes Järvalt, the Estonian Central Archives, and various Estonian organizations. Many other organizations and groups meet there regularly and hold numerous functions in the many rooms. The rooms are also available to non-Estonians who may wish to rent them.
The Estonian House in Toronto Ltd. is owned by shareholders and is administered by a volunteer Board of Directors elected each year for a one year term.
Art Collection and Art Committee
The Estonian House art collection was started in l960 by artist Joann Saarniit. The original collection consisted of 30 pieces of art from various Estonian artists. These were displayed in the coffee shop in the basement of the building. In 1987, Osvald Piil and Emil Eerme called together a group of interested individuals to form a committee which would care for the art and increase the size of the collection. At the first meeting of the Toronto Estonian House Art Committee, there were six people present – Osvald Piil, Emil Eerme, Abel Lee, Ingrid Piil, Mall Puhm and Piret Sarapuu. Emil Eerme agreed to be the first chairman.
Over the years, there were many renovations done in the coffee shop. Some of the art was, therefore, moved to the medium-sized hall, and some was put in storage. Later, when this hall was renovated, the art was placed into the hallways.
During 1990-92, when Mall Puhm was the chairperson, the constitution and bylaws were drawn up and the art was catalogued.
During 1992-2001, with Anne Remmel as chairperson, the activities of the committee were expanded. In addition to caring for the collection and displaying it in the Estonian House, the commitee organized numerous exhibits and art-related functions in the main gallery.
Beginning in 1994, annual photography competitions have been held in the main gallery. In 1999, a portion of the basement hallway was repainted and proper lighting installed to make it suitable for gallery use. Since 2000, most of the exhibits here have been of photography.
In 2001, the committee created its own web-page.
Over the years, the committee has consisted of artists, art collectors, art enthusiasts and young art students.
The original art collection has grown as a result of gifts from individuals, artists and collectors. A few worth mentioning are the collection donated by Karl Kuusik from the U.S.A. which consists mainly of Richard Martin Vasard’s work; graphic works from the collections of Evald Raid and Arved Vilms; pieces from the archives of Tartu Institute (Tartu College, University of Toronto).
The quality of the collection is uneven because it includes both trained and amateur artists. The collection consists of line drawings, watercolours, oils, acrylics, graphics and sculpture, a total of more than 300 pieces of art from 92 artists. Most of the artists represented have lived and worked outside of Estonia, mainly in the Toronto area, but a few are residents of Estonia as well.
This collection is important because it is one of the few collections of art produced by artists of Estonian background which is on view in a public place (on a rotation basis) - in the halls and rooms of the Estonian House in Toronto.
The Toronto Estonian House Art Committee is an independently functioning non-profit group which answers to the Estonian House Board of Directors. The committee itself is run by an elected Board of Directors. The art collection belongs to the Estonian House. The committee has free use of rooms for exhibitions, etc. Financial support has come from the Estonian National Foundation of Canada. The Toronto Estonian Credit Union has purchased art and donated it to the committee, and many visitors to exhibitions have made voluntary contributions. Artistic Woodwork (Johannes Vihma) has helped with framing.