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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

From Russia To The U.S.: Anna Kronick's Change Of Life

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Anna Kronick at work at Suncatcher Glass on Main Street in North Adams.
North Adams - Anna Kronick stood over a sheet of glass and skillfully cut shapes from the smooth surface. Her downtown Suncatcher Glass stained-glass artistry and instruction business was experiencing a quiet time, and Kronick was able to converse as she worked.

"I tell you in truth, I have never met a person who doesn't have some talent in some way," said the Russian native who earned a masters degree in fine arts in the United States. "A lot of kids are talented. Maybe a kid doesn't paint but maybe sings or dances beautifully. Maybe there is a great color sense. You have to listen, you have to talk to people."

Change Lives On the Good Stuff

"We are all so busy," she continued. "We have to make money, and there is so much opportunity we miss, that we don't use. The world is so full of beautiful things. The newspapers are always full of the bad, and we can't ignore the bad things but shouldn't we have some sunshine once in a while? Don't the children deserve that?"


This example of Kronick's paper-cutting was transformed from an art object to a children's book illustration.
"Maybe we could change lives on the good stuff."

It would be a mistake to conclude that Kronick's perspective is rooted within a pampered, protected dreamer who never faced hardships. Kronick's family history proves that she did not grow up living a cushy life.

Refuseniks

Kronick was born in Russia during the era of the Soviet Union and spent much of her childhood in Moscow. She attended a Russian pre-school until age seven, when she enrolled in grade 1. She then continued her education six days a week for about six hours a day for a decade, she said during a Dec. 26 interview.

"We didn't have electives," she said of the Russian education system. "We had to learn everything, spelling, math, physics, chemistry, literature...I tried to learn English."

The English portion of her education did not come easily to Kronick and she retained very, very little of what she was taught, she said.

Life was very difficult for her family during the late 1960s through to the mid-1980s, she said. Her family is of the Jewish faith and was not looked upon with fondness by Russian government.

"My parents were what were called 'refuseniks,'" she said. "My parents wanted to leave Russia for religious freedom but because they wanted to leave for religious freedom they lost their jobs and were not allowed to leave Russia for years."

A Scary Time

Kronick said that both parents were scientists who worked in medical and technical fields and were not exposed to former Soviet Union sensitive government information.

The treatment of Russian Jews who wished to emigrate led to job losses and although both parents were well-educated and extremely intelligent, her father was left to toil as a parking attendant and her mother did not work at all.

"She was not able to work so she stayed home and had another child," Kronick said. "It was a scary time in Russia. People were losing their jobs and you had people with [doctorate degrees] working as train conductors."

Emigration Green Light From Gorbachev

In 1987, after Mikhail Gorbachev claimed rule of the former Soviet Union, the family was permitted to leave Russia, along with many other families and individuals, Kronick said.

"There was no logic to it, it was just, 'OK, it's 10 years later' and we could go,'' she said. "There were three waves of [Russian] immigration, one in the '60s, one in the '70s, and one in the '80s. In the ten years between, maybe 100 people or so were able to leave."

When the family realized that they would be permitted to leave Russia, questions about how or why seemed unimportant, she said.

"By the time you are told you can leave, you are so happy you don't think 'why,'I mean, do you care 'why?'"

Kronick, her parents and a sibling emigrated to the Boston area. Kronick was 19 years old and unable to speak one word of English, she said.

"I Just Thought It was Much Easier..."

Kronick had been producing artwork and had been very interested in art since she was a child, she said. A woman who served to assist and help acclimate Jewish immigrants through a Jewish community initiative examined her work once the family arrived in Massachusetts and immediately encouraged Kronick to submit her work for review by officials at the Montserrat College of Art in Boston.

Kronick agreed, and when college officials offered her a full scholarship to the school, Kronick said she was pleased but did not understand the implications. In Russia, as long as a student could pass a grueling set of exams, higher education was provided for free.

"I was happy but I didn't understand how it was [in the U.S.]," she said. "In Russia, [higher education] was free but you had to be very, very good, very, very smart. I just thought it was much easier to get into college here."

"The Best Of My Life"

Kronick began attending classes and became determined to learn English.

"It can be hard for an adult to learn the language because when you are adult, you think [in a native language] while you speak," she said. "When you are a child, you learn by repeating. I came to a decision that to learn this language, I would learn like a child. And most of the people were so nice and so friendly. I repeated, and I asked when I did not understand and I had the most wonderful teachers. I had a teacher who, if I call him and say 'this is Anna,' he knows it is me."

"You know how people say 'it was the best of my life,' well, [college] really was the best of my life."

Her family struggled to find jobs with decent wages; her father found a low-wage job and purchased an old but functional vehicle that he used in part to help Kronick travel to and from the campus. Her mother found work in a small, neighborhood store but ultimately, a language barrier proved too big a challenge for her mother and store customers overcome.

A more suitable situation did present itself; Kronick's mother found work at a Harvard University science department laboratory, Kronick said.

Not A Rosy Place

Russian life during that era was probably better than portrayed in the American media but was not as nice as Russian officials depicted, she noted.

"It wasn't as bad as you hear but it wasn't a rosy place, either," she said. "In some ways, it is very similar to America, believe it or not. If you really want to get somewhere in life [in either country], you better be really, really, good or you better know somebody. And to deal with a government agency is the same, you never know where you stand."

So Much Food, So Much Color

Supermarkets held as much appeal for Kronick and her family as American cultural icons during their first months in the U.S., she said.

"We went to the supermarkets the way people go to museums," she said. "There was such abundance, so much food and so much color. In Russia you have one kind of potatoes and you hand-pick. Here, it was Idaho potatoes and Maine potatoes and white potatoes and yellow, and new, and that was just potatoes!"

"The first thing that got me was all the colors in the stores, and of course, all the clothes," Kronick said. "Of course, I am talking about the 70s and the early 80s. Things have changed in Russia, and the change goes fast. It is like a different country."

The Wisdom Of Hindsight

Kronick worked as a kindergarten classroom teaching assistant after graduation from Montserrat and planned what she believed would be her future.

"When I was young, I was naive, I think, and romantic; and I had parents paying the bills. And when you are in your 20s, and people are saying 'oh, you are so talented,' you think 'I am going to be a star.' I should have earned a masters degree in education instead of fine art."

Kronick earned her masters at the New York Academy of Art after the school awarded her an Andy Warhol scholarship for painting and sculpture. She learned lessons at the school and learned some tougher lessons through life, she noted.

"As I have gotten older, I see that in some ways it doesn't matter about your degrees; it matters how well you sell yourself."

A Return To Russia

Kronick met her husband Ivar Kronick, who is also an artist, at the New York academy. Ivar Kronick is a Williams College graduate whose father was a North Adams native. The couple spent one year living in St. Petersburg, Russia, and studied art.

"Ivar wanted to go to Russia and learn from the [Russian] art teachers," she said. "We studied at the Repin Academy of Art."

While in Russia, Ivar Kronick developed an interest in art conservation and he subsequently completed an internship at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, Anna Kronick said. There are significant differences between Russian conservators and American conservators, she said.

"In Russia, art conservators are required to be very good artists and have comprehension [about a a given artist's work]," she said. "In the United States, conservators must be good chemists."

Family Choices

The couple decided to return to the U.S. and make their home in the Northern Berkshires partly because of the region's proximity to New York City and Boston. They also appreciated the proximity to institutions such as the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Williams College Museum of Art, both in Williamstown, and the renowned museums located in the Central and Southern Berkshire region.

They hoped to build careers and lives as independent artists, she said.

Anna Kronick operates the stained-glass shop and is a paper-cutting artisan. Her paper-cutting art is delicate and intricate, and is created from single sheets of silk-screened paper that are cut and layered with additional colors to create a collage.

Ivar Kronick works in the field of computer graphics, she said. Their six-year-old daughter Faia is a student at the Hancock Central School.

Designing Woman

She is dedicated to art and believes that just about everything has an artistic component. Art's ability to impact and showcase life's many arenas are what make it an ideal element for youth and students, she said.

"Art is all around us and it can be applied to almost anything," she said. "It can be very specific. So much of what's out there is so general, and it doesn't have to be. Say you want to be an auto mechanic. There is a lot of car art out there. I think if there were art programs that were more tailored, there would be more participation. I think it is very important. I think art gives children something."

Kronick is hoping to design educational programs that would likely involve paper-cutting and story-telling, sculpting basics and some history, and stained-glass art for children. Programs developed would be based on student age, for example, students under age 14 would likely not be offered stained-glass instruction because of the delicacy of the glass and the sharp cutting tools required, she said.

"I would love to teach and illustrate books," she said. "I love children and I love color. I love art."

Information about the costs and times of stained-glass instruction at Suncatcher Glass studio, 63 Main St., is available by calling 413-664-4548.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 413-663-3384.
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