Estonian Cultural Garden

In 1966, the city's Estonian community unveiled a symbolic flame to Estonia--then a state within the USSR. Designed by Oberlin graduate and prominent architect Herk Visnapuu, the Estonian Garden features an abstract sculpture, an inscribed flame, at its center. Sculptor Clarence E. VanDuzer designed the inscribe flame that represented freedom from bondage, and hope for a brighter future. This was an especially poignant message in 1966 when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union.

The Inventory of American Sculpture describes the inscribed flame as being "a tapered cement shaft with curved tips. The top of the shaft is cut out in the shape of a petal or a leaf. The cutout area holds flame-shaped pieces made of wood. The sculpture rests on a raised mound surrounded by trees." The inscription on the monument is from Kalevipoeg, an epic poem written by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, a writer and physician (1803-1882) in the 1850s but originally published in 1861. Part of the broader awakening of nationalist sentiment in Europe, Kalevipoeg became a lightning rod for the creation of Estonian national identity, of self-confidence and pride. It reads: But the time will come when all torches will burst into flame at both ends.

It is believed that the first Estonian settler, Geo. Tammik arrived in Cleveland in 1903. About 35 more people were recorded as Estonian immigrants by 1945 with about 200 more arriving following World War II. They are still one of the smallest ethnic groups in the Cleveland area.

September 2010 marked the completion of the remodeling of the Estonian Garden's central area. A large, sandstone, boat-like planter surrounded by sandstone walks, has replaced the original walkway. The Baltic Sea is an important part of Estonian life and the boat suggests as much. Text incised in a paver at the boat's stern is also from the Estonian epic poem, Kalevipoeg.

Audio

"A Piece of My Homeland" Rita Tubalkain explains why she loves the Estonian Cultural Garden. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"Renewed Interest" Erika Puussaar describes the renewed interest people are showing in the Estonian Cultural Garden. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Flame Sculpture Designed and created by artist Clarence E. Van Duzer, the centerpiece of the Estonian Garden is the flame sculpture. It was dedicated at the opening of the Estonian Garden in 1966 and stands as one of the few non-representational sculptural elements in the Cultural Gardens. The flame is carved from golden oak, making it the first monument in the gardens to incorporate wood. Image courtesy of M. Clement Reilly Creator: M. Clement Reilly
"Kalevipoeg" Excerpt September 2010 marked the completion of the Estonian Cultural Garden's remodelling. A new feature was this text taken from the Estonian epic poem "Kalevipoeg." The flame reference in this excerpt was the inspiration for the Estonian Garden's flame sculpture that was unveiled at the garden's original dedication in 1966. Image courtesy of Bill Jones
Remodeled Estonian Garden, 2010 The original Estonian Garden landscape plan was remodeled in September 2010 to create a central area leading from the sidewalk to the flame sculpture. Image courtesy of Bill Jones
The Flame From Afar Image courtesy of The Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Location

The Estonian Cultural Garden is located on the west side of Martin Luther King Jr Dr, approx. 1/4 mile north of the stone bridge carrying Superior Ave over the road.

Metadata

“Estonian Cultural Garden,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 18, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/129.