Marina Forbes is a New Hampshire artist, but she’s perhaps most known here for her promotion of Russian art, history and culture in programs across the region.
Leading up to Easter, her focus the past month has been in art history, with presentations about Fabergé eggs in Nelson and Greenland this week.
“Spring is almost like the Fabergé season. And it’s so exciting to talk about Fabergé,” Forbes said via phone.
This is because of the mystery associated with Peter Carl Fabergé’s art, she said; the Russian master jeweler and artist created yearly exquisite Easter eggs for the Russian imperial family from 1885 through 1916.
The pieces contained hidden, jeweled surprises, but of the 50 eggs Fabergé made and delivered, only 43 are accounted for today. Her presentations contain details on the eggs’ history and their role in dramatic events during the last decades of the Romanov rule.
“It’s kind of like a detective story,” Forbes said. “The last one was found at an American yard sale and sold for $33 million.”
Other upcoming events are hands-on Matryoshka Russian nested doll painting workshops — the next of which is in Hudson April 3 — and presentations on Russian iconography.
She said via phone she’s been teaching the doll workshop “since last century,” and that it’s a two-part course, the first of which introduces the history of the doll. Then, Forbes turns on the Russian folk music (though it’s contemporary music, cool folk music), and the students get to work with acrylic paint, brushes of all sizes and hand-lathed Matryoshka dolls. The workshops are open to people of all ages and experiences; at recent workshops, students painted flowers, maps and Minions from Despicable Me.
Much of Forbes’ education on Russian arts and culture happened at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where she went through nine months of intensive training to become a foreign tourist guide.
When she moved to the United States in 1993, she started the New England Language Center in Rochester with her husband, Bob Forbes. She keeps up to date on Russian culture during yearly trips to Russia as a tour guide.
Once, Forbes brought over a descendent of General Mikhail Kutuzov, who chased Napoleon from Moscow back to France. At one restaurant they visited, patrons lined up for autographs when they discovered the woman’s ancestry.
“It was so emotional. She didn’t realize, people here cared about and were passionate about their history,” Forbes said.
This year’s trip happens late spring during “White Nights” — when days are long, nights almost nonexistent.
“Every year I do my cultural tour in Russia, I get updated. I always love to learn something,” Forbes said. “And I love it when people get excited about my topics. … I think that, just because of the Cold War, people don’t know much about Russia.”
Forbes’s presentations have been gaining traction. Two years ago, she held one at St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Bedford, which drew a crowd of 130. She said people are often surprised to see how American and Russian history intersect.
“I’m sure you know a lot about John Paul Jones, but not everybody knows he’s a Russian hero,” she said. “When you go to Russia now, in St. Petersburg, we have a monument for him. … Alexander the Second liberated 20 million serfs two years before Lincoln liberated four million American slaves. They were corresponding, and in their correspondence … Lincoln wrote, ‘My dear friend Alexander.’ My dear friend! That’s how they addressed each other.”