City scenes, country landscapes, pictures of outer space and fairy tales. All of the pictures on display at the Children's Museum of Utah are painted by youngsters in the Soviet Union.
Betty Tatham arranged for the artwork to come to Utah as part of the "Soviet-American Friendship Program: Children's Art Exchange." She believes the smiles of children are a universal language, in the same way that art is a universal language.Bringing children and art together seemed to her to be a doubly good way to communicate. She figures children's artwork ought to build an effective bridge between two countries.
When she was about the age of the young Soviet artists, Tatham left her native Romania for Austria. World War II was ending. She and her little sisters almost starved.
"That's probably why I'm very much interested in the peace effort," she says. She knows what war does to children, how it rips families apart.
The idea for an art exchange between Soviet and Utah children came to her while she was looking at posters drawn by local children. Tatham, who works for the Utah Department of Social Services, was in charge of a poster contest for Gov. Norm Bangerter's first Family Conference.
"We had told the kids who entered that they weren't getting their posters back. But they were too good to throw away.
"So I thought, gee, it would be nice to send them to the Soviet Union."
Tatham called Col. William McNally, who is in charge of the On-Site Inspection Agency in Magna. McNally agreed to let Soviet inspectors carry the posters back to their hometown of Votkinsk. And the Soviet inspectors, who are stationed in Utah for two months at a time to verify that Hercules Aerospace is carrying out the INF treaty, agreed.
The Utah children's art was displayed in Votkinsk last summer. American inspectors in turn brought back artwork from School No. 10 in Votkinsk when they came home for Christmas.
The pictures will be on display at the Children's Museum, then go to schools throughout the state, says Tatham.
"I'm asking every school that gets the pictures to give me 30 or 35 pictures to send to another school in the Soviet Union.
"My goal is to eventually get 100 schools in each country involved in the exchange," says Tatham.
The Soviet children's art touches Tatham because it is so bright and so well executed. Some of the landscapes remind her of the Romania of her childhood.
She and her mother and sisters stayed with her grandparents in the country during the early part of World War II. Her father was in the city, running a textile factory, and was in charge of evacuating people from bombed and burning buildings.
Tatham remembers the war. Every night she watched the red glow in the sky and knew the city where her father lived was burning.
She and her mother and sisters came to Austria in 1944. "After the war we almost starved," she says. "We had 600 calories a day for a whole year."
For two years they didn't know if her father was alive.
He had gone to Germany - and before they learned what happened to him, helearned where they were and came looking for them.
The reunited family lived in Germany for three years in a displaced-persons camp ("We had more food there," says Tatham) before coming to the United States.
"I did, firsthand, experience the deprivations and difficulties of war. So often it's the children and old people and people who don't want to fight anybody who are caught up in it."
Tatham says, "By getting to know people of another country, that's how peace comes about."
With the Soviet paintings and drawings came a letter from their teacher in School No. 10. Vladimir Sautin is the leader of the school's international friendship club. He writes, "We think that friendship between our two towns will be stronger . . . Merry Christmas, dear friends."
Now that Soviets are moving toward the West, Tatham hopes Americans will make the most of the opportunities for peace.
"I hope we can appreciate each other's talents. These children share their souls, in a way, through their artwork. They share their dreams, the sights of their countryside and their city streets."
"Soviet - American Friendship Program: Children's Art Exchange" will be on display at the Children's Museum of Utah, 840 N. 300 West, through April 14.