Rakov is an agro-town in the Volozhin District, 40km from Minsk, but was once a large town: a cultural, religious and economic centre and the capital of the Oginski family’s earldom. Many sights from its glorious past remain and new attractions are appearing.
A complex of unusual red-brick buildings stand out among Rakov’s architecture. One bears a plaque, reading ‘Museum and Art-Gallery’. It’s worth visiting simply to see the bronze guardian of the courtyard: a large greyhound with an aristocratic look. The same sculpture is found in Nesvizh and both were created by Valeryan Yanushkevich, a brother of the museum’s owner. The latter — Felix Yanushkevich — is a restorer and famous artist whose pictures hang even in the Tretyakov Gallery. As I visit, he’s painting wet plaster frescoes in the entrance way, but kindly takes a break to chat.
Reed organ from piggery
Felix’s pictures and works by his talented brothers fill Rakov’s gallery, which also boasts a collection of ancient documents, furniture, musical instruments, ceramics and fragments of Slutsk sashes: over 12,000 treasures in all. Naturally, they offer insight into the life of our ancestors.
Among the truly unique exhibits are an ancient reed organ (discovered in a piggery in the village of Vygonovichi) and an authentic portable writing desk, once owned by Adam Mickiewicz. The latter is a family relic, as the Yanushkevich brothers’ great-great-grandfather was Yevstakh Yanushkevich: the famous poet’s personal secretary. The gallery also displays a tall plaster mould, used to cast a bust of Mickiewicz (erected in Novogrudok).
The museum’s collection began with ceramics collected by Felix for his thesis. “Over time, I’ve become used to this business,” smiles Felix. “After living in the city, I realised that I needed to return to my home town, where I was born. It holds the history of my family and my homeland. I’ve returned and am now inspiring others to follow my example. I show them my artistry and the rich history of Rakov.”
Mr. Yanushkevich can speak endlessly of Rakov. Interestingly, in 1921, the Belarusian-Polish border passed through, attracting smugglers of alcohol from Poland (into the USSR) and gold, furs and precious stones in the opposite direction. The 500-page novel A Great Bear’s Lover is devoted to Rakov’s ‘golden age’; written in 1937 by Sergey Pesetsky, it’s about a secret service agent who pretends to be a smuggler. Written while Pesetsky was imprisoned, it was later translated into 17 languages. Mr. Yanushkevich’s museum keeps a copy.
“Do you know what Rakov looked like until 1939 — when it was annexed to Soviet Belorussiya? It had 134 shops, 96 restaurants and hundreds of kilos of gold in circulation!” Felix surprises us; he is truly a wonderful guide and a good host. Apart from running a museum, he’s involved in eco-tourism.
Felix decided to set up his unusual museum after visiting the Dali Theatre-Museum, in Spanish Figueres. The trip inspired his return and his ‘treasury’ of art.