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Nicholas Roerich Museum: A Hidden Treasure

Published on
October 4

When my friends and family congratulated me for being accepted at Columbia University in May, they were applauding my decision of pursuing graduate education as full-time student, but only I was aware of the enormous sacrifice I was about to make. Not only was I on the path to incur a financial commitment of large proportions, but I was also surrendering a more precious thing than money: my spare time over the next two years. How was I going to feed my humble passion for Art History? Would I have time to set foot in a museum or an art gallery during my time at Columbia? These were no superficial questions for an art aficionado. Since September 3rd I have been a full-time student of Public Administration at SIPA, in Advanced Management and Finance, a proud resident of Harlem, and now a fall student staffer of the Arts Initiative at Columbia University where I can explore new art and support a team of dedicated art managers at the same time.

This blog entry is my first modest contribution to share with Columbia students the opportunities to discover and enjoy new art experiences while keeping up with a demanding school life. Only 10 minutes walk separates you from a little treasure called the Nicholas Roerich Museum, in a beautiful brownstone house from 1898 located at 319 West 107 St. The Museum is a partner of the Arts Initiative and its collection and musical events are all free to neighbors of Morningside Heights and the entire Columbia community.

Nicholas Roerich was not an ordinary man and his collection of more than 200 paintings exhibited at the Museum reflect the milestones of an extraordinary life, from the landscapes captured during his exploration of Central Asia from 1925 to 1929, to the sketches of his theater designs for composers such as Stravinsky and Korsakov. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on October 9, 1874, into an upper-middle class Russian family, Nicholas dedicated his life to painting and design, art education, collection, conservationism, and the study of Eastern philosophies.

Three pieces of this Russian artist stand out among the packed walls of intriguing and at-times highly spiritual canvases. “Song of the Morning” and “Songs of the Waterfall” are two 92 x 48 inches temperas from a series called “Dreams of Wisdom” he painted in 1920. The composition and colors are just right for portraying what seems an oneiric scene charged with beauty and intimacy. The third piece is “Ashram” from the “Ashram” series, a tempera of 46 x 29 inches of a monastery hidden in rocks and calm waters that a monk accesses by rowboat; a small but powerful painting with spiritual connotations.

In addition to its mission of promoting the work of Nicholas Roerich, the Museum also offers a place for young musicians to perform. Every Sunday at 5pm there is a free classical music, avant-garde jazz or opera act. On October 13, Braude Ensemble will play violin and viola works of Mozart, Bach, and Dvorak; and two sopranos will perform a variety of works spanning a 300-year time period by a wide range of composers from Handel to Debussy.

A 10 minute walk from campus rewarded me with a glance into the cosmology of a Russian Master, but also with the assurance that balancing my full-time student life with my passion of experiencing art is not at all a fantasy.