The connecting of two cultures
Russian man's pastel murals depict American Indian life
September 5, 2004
By TIM McKENZIE
of the Peoria Journal Star
EDWARDS - The rhythmic sound of beating drums and the chants of
American Indian singers floated over the hills Saturday to where
Russian artist Leonid Kozintsev stood describing his pastel-colored
A Russian Orthodox Christian raised in Russia, Kozintsev is not the
artist one would suspect to be deeply connected with American Indian
spirituality, but he has developed a rich interest in American Indian
Growing up in Vladimir, Russia, Kozintsev began developing a
friendship with Peoria-area Indians after visiting the area as part
of an artist's show with his hometown's sister city, Bloomington.
After that visit, he continued to visit Peoria and agreed to paint
murals at the Seven Circles Heritage Center.
The murals are part of the Paint A Dream Mural Project. Koszintsev
painted the murals on the southern side of the center's building, and
Charley Armstrong oversaw a similar project on its northern side,
which faces Illinois Route 8.
The murals drew many admirers Saturday at the third annual Friendship
Pow Wow at the center on Illinois Route 8 near Wildlife State Prairie
Park. The powwow, which continues today, celebrates American Indian
culture through dancing and tribal gatherings.
As a child in his hometown about 200 kilometers east of Moscow,
Kozintsev became interested in American culture through reading
novels by Jack London and James Fennimore Cooper. However, it was not
until friends took him to a powwow in 1998 that he found the America
he had read about.
But his interest quickly grew beyond nostalgia. Kozintsev appreciated
the spiritual significance of American Indian culture - its emphasis
on the connection between humans and nature.
His wife, Lyuba Shur, interpreted for Kozintsev, saying: "We
Christians think about the soul and human relationships. Indians tell
us about nature, and you begin to understand the relationship of man
to nature. You begin to understand spirituality is everywhere."
The first experience that made him realize the connection was going
to a sweat lodge, which is depicted in about a 20-foot-long by 8-foot-
tall mural of acrylic paint.
The painting shows a fire, which has sacred significance because of
its similarity to the sun.
The fire heats the rocks used in the sweat lodge, which is a place of
prayer. Because the stones are believed to have witnessed the
creation, they are considered ancestors and called "grandfathers."
His second mural depicts the "River of Time" and the "Tree of Life."
The tree's bark is made of souls of ancestors, and the leaves
represent the living: green leaves for youth, orange for middle-aged
and yellow for the elder and wiser people.
So far, Kozintsev has spent 25 days painting the mural. He will
continue adding details until he is satisfied, he said.
In addition, he is working on sketches for a third mural that will
depict the creator overlooking paradise - or the Garden of Eden.
Visitors can see the mural today at the powwow, which continues with
a religious service at 10:30 a.m. and American Indian dancing between
noon and 5 p.m.