Christian Avard / Staff Photo
Natalia Solzhenitsyn, widow of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, visits the new exhibit in Cavendish on her husband’s life there. Looking on is exhibit creator Julie Gignoux.
CAVENDISH — Photos and pictures from the life of a Soviet dissident came as a pleasant surprise to his widow and family, thanks to the work of the local historical society with support of the town.
On Saturday, Natalia Solzhenitsyn visited the exhibit and museum honoring her late husband Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent almost 20 years in exile in the tiny Vermont town.
“I’m very impressed to see what’s in the museum,” Natalia Solzhenitsyn said, through her interpreter and oldest son Yermolai Solzhenitsyn, on a visit from Russia. “I’ve never expected to see anything like this in Cavendish.”
Natalia Solzhenitsyn said she read about the museum in Vermont publications on the Internet that were translated into Russian.
“It was completely unexpected,” she said with a laugh. “I think it’s put together with great taste and is presented with correct choices of key stages of his life.”
Margo Caulfield of the Cavendish Historical Society was a driving force behind the museum and exhibit efforts. Her hopes were to have a place where tourists and visitors would learn more about Solzhenitsyn and the time he spent in Cavendish.
The town approved an article at town meeting to assume ownership of the Universalist Church, the permanent location of the Solzhenitsyn museum and exhibit, and the Vermont and Quebec Unitarian Convention agreed to turn the church over to the town.
The church will not be ready until renovations are complete, so Caulfield and Julie Gignoux of Cavendish created a temporary exhibit of photos, news articles and a timeline of Solzhenitsyn’s life.
“With the stone church project and the publicity surrounding that, we felt we needed something for this summer. We thought we could do a temp exhibit and expand on it for when the stone church is ready,” Gignoux said.
As for Natalia Solzhenitsyn, her family will help out in adding to the exhibit and museum in any way possible.
“Of course there will be a lot of new things because people don’t know that much about him,” Natalia Solzhenitsyn said. “We’re open to what people would like to help which ever way rather than impose our suggestions.”
According to his biography, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned by the Soviets for speaking out against the government. He was sentenced to eight years in a Soviet labor camp that was documented in his literary classics “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “The Gulag Archipelago.”
The Solzhenitsyns were exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, not long after “The Gulag Archipelago” was first published. They went to Zurich, Switzerland, and then to Palo Alto, Calif., where they stayed at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute.
Solzhenitsyn wanted privacy to continue his writing. The couple was told that New England would be a beautiful place to relocate.
The Solzhenitsyns moved to Cavendish in 1976 with their three sons, Yermolai, Ignat and Stepan. Solzhenitsyn continued his writing and the town of Cavendish respected his privacy.
Years later, Solzhenitsyn regained his citizenship and moved back to Russia in 1994, not long after the Soviet Union collapsed. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008 but by then efforts in Cavendish were under way to create a Solzhenitsyn exhibit and museum.
The Solzhenitsyn exhibit is open from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays, or by appointment. To arrange a visit call 226-7807 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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