Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wild in art

Russian orphan’s paintings on display


Courtesy photo

Tatiana Mumm spent last week floating down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River enjoying some leisure time and probably feigning a little of the teen angst so popular with the 17-ish set. If she did, it was likely less than a normal teen because Mumm is not like most teens.

This week, she will have an art opening featuring expressions of long pent-up feelings that she began addressing through art to overcome her powerlessness from a difficult childhood and an inability to speak English when brought to the United States from a Russian orphanage.

Thanks to an affiliation with a Sun Valley-based program called Wild Gift, her work will be featured along with the artist herself on Thursday, Sept. 29, at The Coffee Grinder and Gallery in Ketchum from 5-7 p.m.

Wild Gift's website explains that the program was founded "on the belief that exceptional young men and women, who believe in inclusive societies that have integrity, practice sustainable lifestyles, and are mindful of their stewardship responsibility to future generations, are needed as leaders. These youth are grounded in an appreciation of their own individuality, their link to the natural world, and the interdependence of all life. They follow their own transforming ideas and ideals rather than conform to the status quo. They are better world entrepreneurs who work in industry, the arts, education, the environment, politics, and the professions to build communities whose citizens live in harmony with each other and wild nature."

It must have been a true act of the universe for Mumm to find her way to Wild Gift given her circumstances.

She was unable to be reached for an interview because of her river trip, but a glimpse at her handwritten biography fills in the gaps.

Mumm was born in Russia to a young couple of little means who turned to her to care for three younger siblings while they searched for work and food. They lived in an apartment in an abandoned building, which caught fire, bringing the children's living conditions to the attention of authorities. Mumm went to an orphanage separate from her brothers before they eventually made it to a foster home together. They never saw their parents again.

"I lived in this foster home, at first happy to have food I'd never tasted, toys I'd always wanted, the opportunity to run and play ... and then the abuse started. I didn't understand what was happening until I grew older."

It was then that her foster father started threatening her to stay quiet. When she told, she was returned to the orphanage at the age of 8.

"The orphanage had an art studio. I learned to sew, knit, paint and draw. I spent most of my days in the studio."

She met Debbie and Dennis Mumm when she was 10 and learned of her brother Sasha, 5. Both were adopted and brought to the U.S.

"I remember my first glance at our new home. It was so big with a large green yard to play in. Initially, I didn't know English and used my art skills to draw out my thoughts, feelings and wants."

Her parents supported her with supplies and exposed her to artists who could teach her other media.

But her behavior caused enough of an uproar in the family that she was sent to a wilderness program called Open Sky in Colorado.

"Those months with nature transformed me and opened my heart to accept love again," she wrote.

She is now a student at a school in Omaha, Neb., that encourages her art as an outlet for her pain and where she was exposed to Wild Gift.

Mumm's art depicts scenes from her youth.

"Through artistic endeavors, I feel I am the most confident, aware and safe within my own head."

For more information on Wild Gift, visit www.wildgift.org.

Jennifer Liebrum: jliebrum@mtexpress.com




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