The long reach of Sister Cities
It may seem a stretch to connect a student exchange with our Ukainian Sister City, Kaniv, to an art opening in Sonoma 20 years later. The opening, Nov. 5, introduced the work of a Ukrainian-born artist from Vancouver. It certainly isn’t a straight line from the 1991 exchange between five students from Sonoma and six students from Kaniv to this show, but the opening of Collectors’ Art is a direct result of that experience.
Before the summer of 1991, I had precisely as much awareness of our interest in Ukraine as the average American, which is to say, zilch.
Then my daughter, Evie, asked me if she could go to Kaniv in the Sister Cities exchange led by Jim Tonery and Gary Green. I will forever be grateful that I took a deep breath and said, “Sure, why not?”
So Evie went and had a life-changing experience, which was equally life-changing for her entire Ukrainian family.
Some months later, the Ukrainian students arrived in Sonoma and Evie’s “sister,” Oxana Demeshko, came to stay with us. The minute we met at SFO, that was it for me. The sweetness, trust and sincerity in her eyes set in motion the adventurous course of my life from that day forward. I have been privileged to come to know many Ukrainians, both ordinary folk and citizens of some note, both local and national.
For the first 17 years, I was occupied with raising my family, traveling to Ukraine and trying to make a living. All along, I felt that I owed a great debt to Sister Cities, the organization that makes these exchanges possible. In 2008, I sponsored in Sonoma a Ukrainian cultural event, the celebration of the beginning of the school year that they call First Bell. Entire towns turn out to welcome the students and thank the teachers with poetry, speeches and music. Hundreds of people celebrated Sonoma’s first First Bell together in the Plaza in August 2008.
No student exchanges had occurred since the mid-1990s, and I was determined to revive them. On my last trip to Ukraine, I set about to spearhead an exchange, so I put on a series of Ukrainian dinners to raise money, attracted some great support from the community and this March three talented and personable young ladies from Kaniv, together with their teacher, spent three weeks in homes in Sonoma and attended Sonoma Valley High School. Many here had the pleasure of meeting them and enjoying their singing, dancing, cooking and warm friendliness.
So how does that lead to an art show? My former Sonoma neighbors, Mike and Melissa Curtin, knew about my Ukrainian connections and told me about a Unkrainian painter in Vancouver. So I went there to meet Yuri Padal, a phenomenal abstract artist who trained with an eminent Ukrainian who had worked with Kandinsky, Picasso and Dali. Yuri’s paintings are collected across Canada and in many U.S. cities. He loves to paint and hates to market, so he asked me to introduce his work to the West Coast.
Thus, Yuri’s colorful, exuberant paintings are on view here for the first time.
This is the story of just one person’s experience because of a Sister Cities exchange. Surely many Sonomans have been affected by their connection with people in one of our seven Sister Cities. This is the best outgrowth of person-to-person diplomacy, and it would be wonderful to hear stories from others to support continuing close relations with all our “sisters.”
Yuri Padel’s paintings are on display at Eric K. James tasting room in the Mercado, First Street East, Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.