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Arts and Culture

Cross of Armenian Unity

On a side street near the holiest church in Armenia lies the Cross of Armenian Unity, an NGO that provides children, especially those with disabilities, education in art. We were led through the deceptively small gate by Grigor Machanents, a painter, poet, and collage artist who founded the organization when he was only a teenager. 

    “When you are seventeen, you fall in love,” he told us. “This was my first love, and I have dedicated all my life to it."

 Kids in motion at a drama class in the small existing theater.

Kids in motion at a drama class in the small existing theater.

 The future theater is being restored.

The future theater is being restored.

    Grigor’s dedication has more than paid off. What started as a little one-room schoolhouse now looks more like a village, and is still expanding. Grigor showed us the building that they are restoring to make a new theater for their many drama classes. He then took us to a workshop where the master woodworker practices his ancient Armenian craft and teaches it to the kids in the organization. 

 Master carpenter in the woodworking shop.

Master carpenter in the woodworking shop.

 Narine, master weaver at Cross of Armenian Unity, Echmiadzin, Armenia.

Narine, master weaver at Cross of Armenian Unity, Echmiadzin, Armenia.

    We then went into one of the doors off the complex's main path to meet Narine, a deaf woman who began as one of Grigor's early students, and now works as a master carpet weaver. I watched in awe as her hands flew on the loom, creating every detail of the carpet's intricate design. 

 Young painters at work in the studio.

Young painters at work in the studio.

    Our next stop is a painting class, where little girls and boys sit at easels, capturing their world in bright colors. In the classroom next to them, a group of kids learned to work with clay, molding creations that will eventually be sold in the organization's shop. Grigor showed us the shop, which is lined with some of his own mixed media pieces along the walls, with a table filled with the children's work in the middle. Looking over the table, my eyes were greeted with the vibrant colors of animals, scenes, vehicles, and clay dolls in traditional Armenian dress. Anahit and I decided to buy a ceramic mouse poking its head out of a bag.

 The student artist who made the whimsical sculpture we chose.

The student artist who made the whimsical sculpture we chose.

 Handmade ceramic figures in traditional dress in the shop selling the student artists' work.

Handmade ceramic figures in traditional dress in the shop selling the student artists' work.

 Pottery classes, where young artists make figures like the ones above.

Pottery classes, where young artists make figures like the ones above.

    The shop is one of the many creative features that Grigor has included to make the complex an interesting site for visitors. Next to the shop, is a museum with a plethora of craft items and artifacts that Grigor has brought back from his trips to the country's historical land in Western Armenia. He told us that he also brought back water from Lake Van to put in the model of the lake that forms the center of the complex's main courtyard. 

 Grigor Machanents, founder of CAU.  The rug on your left is a unique design of ancient pagan origin.  On your right is a rug with important symbols of the Armenian Christian church.  Both are important parts of the long, rich history of Armenia.

Grigor Machanents, founder of CAU.  The rug on your left is a unique design of ancient pagan origin.  On your right is a rug with important symbols of the Armenian Christian church.  Both are important parts of the long, rich history of Armenia.

    The organization also has a guesthouse where donors can stay to watch the amazing work they are contributing to, and a restaurant where we were served amazing dishes cooked by some of the organization's students. Even as we ate, we were surrounded by art. On the wall behind our table, Grigor showed us two rugs, one brightly colored one with an ancient pagan design of dragons and other symbols, and another, made of undyed sheep wool, that features important symbols from the country's Christian history. During our lunch, we were also treated to a concert by Narine, a woman on the organization's main staff who is also a professionally trained singer. 

    After listening to Narine's breathtaking renditions of traditional songs, we followed Grigor to a gallery where he showcases some of his own work along with the work of a group of artists from different countries who came to the organization for an international conference. He also took us to his studio, a simple but nice room where he works on his many creations. He also has a small house on the organization's grounds. 

    “It’s time management,” he says. “I calculated that if I spend 80 years here, I will save 6 years of my life.” 

    We finished our tour of this amazing organization at a building that they are now turning into a digital media center. As Grigor showed us the new facility they are building, I think of the exciting prospect of CAU's classes bringing Armenia's newest art into the country's future. 

For more information about the inspiring work of Cross of Armenian Unity click here http://crossaueng.blogspot.com

In Armenian http://www.cau.am

On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CAUNGO/

On YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3X3M1kZb7Q8