Collage, cultural group, embraces differences and shares interests
Posted: February 19, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — The Collage Club of Winchester has drawn women from a variety of cultural backgrounds — Russian, Polish, French and American.
Each member of the multicultural social club brings her own perspective, experiences and language to the group, but there is one trait that transcends all their differences — acceptance.
When the group started in the fall, the members shared a love of art and a desire to show a side of their cultures that goes beyond stereotypes, said Mariya Perkins, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1998 and came to Winchester in 2007.
“Russia is more than nesting dolls, and the French are not just people with berets and bottles of wine,” Perkins, 35, said.
“You forget the baguettes!” French member Lydia Vergamini piped in with a laugh.
Such is the jovial attitude and atmosphere that prevails when the women get together. They can’t seem to help breaking into laughter and side conversations — sometimes in another language — when more than a few of them get together.
Discussions range from daily lives to ideas for events to questions about each other’s traditions, said Jane Funkhouser, 64, of Winchester.
“We all have a sense of humor and an appreciation for the arts,” said Funkhouser, an American who often shares traditions from her Irish roots.
Multiculturalism and fellowship have been the foundation of the group since it started, said Irina Galunina, 54, of Stephens City. Many of the members met through a cooking club held at Irina’s Gift Shop in Winchester, which was owned by Irina Bosworth of Front Royal and has since closed.
The members loved sharing their native dishes, but they wanted to delve deeper and offer more to the community, said Galunina, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1999 and came to Stephens City in 2007.
The founding members also hoped to appeal to people who do not like cooking but want to learn about different cultures and share their own skills and outlooks, she said.
Nataliya Self, 39, of Front Royal fit that description. She is not a big cook, but she liked the idea of a group that would offer “more friends, more interesting projects, more intellectual growth and cultural awareness.” She came to the United States in 2003 and moved to Front Royal in 2009.
Collage members usually meet once or twice a month, though they are not on a regular schedule, she said. The group accepts new members interested in sharing and learning about different cultures.
“It is such a pleasure and joy to be part of a group so rich in talent,” Galunina said. “We have all kinds of skills, and there is nothing we cannot do.”
When Collage started, there wasn’t a clear idea of what the group would be beyond the initial buzz words “arts” and “culture,” she said. But after they met a few times and began to work out what each person wanted from the group, the ideas started flowing.
For its first project, the group put together a table on Russia for the Oct. 6 International Children’s Festival at Jim Barnett Park, she said.
The table had information on the nation and different activities to engage the children, including a paper folding craft created by Vergamini, 53, of Herndon, to let children make their own nesting dolls.
“I was looking for something easy to make for the children and low cost,” she said. “Nesting dolls are very popular, so why not look at a way of coloring them.”
Several of the members’ children also participated in a demonstration of traditional Russian folk dancing and songs.
Other activities members held included a dance class with music from different cultures and a night where members taught each other their favorite native folk songs, said Kristin Zimet, 64, of Frederick County.
The events are an enrichment opportunity, but they also have a “sense of homecoming” for some members, she said. Zimet is third generation Russian-American, but most of that heritage has been lost.
“I am recovering that sense of the past,” she said. “At the same time, I am bringing my Jewish tradition into a place where people don’t know them but it is welcome.”
One of the most important activities the members did when the group started was to share their dreams, Galunina said. Out of that exercise, they decided to help each other make them a reality.
So far, they have made a good start. Russian member Nina Vassallo, 67, who came to Winchester in 2004, dreamed of having an exhibit of her counted cross-stitch.
Members helped find a possible venue and she put together “The Art of Cross Stitch,” which is on display through the end of this month at the Virginia National Bank, 186 N. Loudoun St.
“It was a nice feeling,” she said. “I had help from everybody.”
Perkins wanted to have a Russian New Year’s celebration, so the group planned one for all of their families. This allowed them to share with their children or grandchildren different traditions such as the figures of the Snow Maiden, Father Frost and Baba Yaga.
The last is a folklore character who steals the children’s presents and they have to earn them back by doing games and activities the group planned, she said.
“In Russia, we had a lot of holidays that include games, dancing and singing,” said Perkins, who dressed up as Baba Yaga. “That catches the children’s attention.”
The group organized another event for Jan. 7 to celebrate Epiphany as celebrated in France and the Russian Orthodox Christmas, Vergamini said.
Other projects the group has discussed are a poetry event and storytelling and singing festivals that would be open to the public, Zimet said. They are also working on details for a Maslenica, or Pancake Day, event in March.
Members want to celebrate culture with the community and not just confine it to their group, Galunina said. Many have started attending other groups’ cultural events because they have friends with whom they can share the experiences.
Collage, a multicultural social club, is accepting members who are interested in sharing and learning about different cultures. For more information, contact email@example.com.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org