Leaving the familiarity of their native Russia, Valter and Anna fon Eynik packed up their lives and traveled across the world to the United States to create a new life on the Emerald Coast — for themselves and their unborn child.
When the couple made their pilgrimage to America about three years ago, Anna was nine months pregnant with their first child, making their journey even more daunting. They fled Russia to escape religious persecution and came to America with little more than each other and their strong faith in God, themselves and the American Dream.
Valter also brought a unique skill to his new homeland; a style of woodcarving that he refers to as "family style," because it was passed down throughout his family for generations.
The family style of carving has helped Valter connect with his ancestors and his roots, acting like a family picture album of sorts.
"I never met my great-grandfather; he was killed by a communist Soviet government," said Valter, as his wife Anna translated. "But I grew up seeing his work, and my grandpa and father taught me how he created his work."
The Destin Library is featuring Valter and his work with an exhibit in the Calhoun Room that will run for more than a month, until June 30. The exhibit is called the "Art of Woodworking," and will feature various pieces of Valter's designs.
The Artist’s Technique
Focusing mainly on religious carvings, Valter has been in the woodcarving business all of his life and even owned his own Orthodox studio while living in Russia; the Bezaleel Orthodox Workshop.
Valter used his studio space to not only carve one-of-a-kind works of art, but also to teach others how to do so. He wants to start teaching here in America like he used to do in Russia, but he told The Log that he doesn’t want to take money for teaching classes.
The exhibit at the Destin Library presents Valter with the opportunity to network in his new country and community, while also selling some of his artwork. Anna told The Log that everything on display at the library is for sale, and Valter is more than happy to take custom orders.
"In Russia, sometimes the wait for Valter's work would be a year or more," said Anna. "But here, it's harder to sell his work; we just want to get the word out."
Some of the pieces on display at the library include frames of all different sizes (complete with paintings that Valter did paint himself, but are re-creations of other artists’ work), crosses and other religious icons, small trinket and jewelry boxes and a small table with a drawer that would work as a nightstand.
Prices for Valter's work vary from $35 upwards to $5,000, depending on the piece and the time that went into it.
"Something like the large frame usually takes me about three months," Valter said. "The price on that is about $1,000."
The process by which Valter creates his pieces is time consuming to say the least. It is a monotonous process of sanding, warming, steaming and drying the wood for days between each carving session.
There's no lacquer, wood finish or paint used on his work. The color comes from the amount of times the piece comes through this painstaking process. Anna and Valter call this natural finish process "nature — only faster."
"The steam has to fill each hole in the wood for the wood to absorb the steam and the natural coloring," said Anna. "When Valter is done, you can really feel the tree … feel its past."
‘We left for a reason’
Although Valter doesn't speak English, the passion he has for his work is universal and leaps over any language barriers.
"We came here with no money," Anna said in her slightly-broken English. "We ran away from Russia because the government promised to kill or imprison anyone who wouldn't join their cause."
Because of his strong spiritual beliefs and his work with the Orthodox Church in Europe, Valter became a target and the couple began to fear that he too would be persecuted for not complying with the Russian government. They essentially came to America seeking religious and political asylum.
When asked how they chose Florida, out of all of the potential locations they could have chosen in the world, Anna and Valter told The Log it was because they had heard only good things.
"We knew that it was warm in Florida," said Anna. "Also, we heard there weren't a lot of Russian people living there," Anna laughed. "We didn't want to see too many Russians.
We left for a reason, and we're not going back."
But the biggest draw to America, according to the family, was the freedom to believe and practice their Orthodox beliefs.
"Most of all, American's live in peace — all religions; Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Jewish people…,” Anna said. “And I know that yesterday, today and tomorrow it will always be that way."
"There's more than one right way to come to Christ," added Valter. "Now our children (3-year-old Victoria and 8-month-old Johann) will grow up knowing that too."
View the art or take it home
For more information on Valter fon Eynik and his woodworking, visit his website wve720.wix.com/veseleil-workshop, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 650-835-8969.
"It's a labor of love," said Anna. "Everything he uses is wood; there are no metal nails or screws, he even hand-makes wooden nails. He also carves everything completely by hand, the way his family did, nothing electronic.
The Destin Library will be hosting the woodworking display until June 30, for viewing times call the library at 837-8572 or visit them online at cityofdestin.com.