Historical personalities, important events and unexpected artistic solutions – everything fits densely in the network of sculptures that covers the centre of Kaunas, the Old Town, and other parts of the city. As the greenery of trees has gone, it is a great time to take an urban hike and explore the identity of the city. Shall we?
Although modern Kaunas is not surrounded by a defensive wall, and no gates ever close its entrances, there are iconic sculptures that mark the places of first acquaintance with the city. For example, travellers starting to get to know Kaunas from the old part of Kaunas first greet the horses running in the so-called Castle traffic ring. The composition is called “Race” and was created by Tadas Vosylius. A much older guard is “Kanklininkas” by Robertas Antinis senior, which settled near Kaunas Castle half a century ago (and was actually meant for another location).
Guests often observe Kaunas from a bird’s eye view from the Aleksotas observation deck, and “Thunder” by R. Antinis meets them there. In 2005. this work came to Aleksotas from the opposite bank of the Nemunas because it had previously guarded the Perkūnas House, the Gothic pride of Kaunas.
In the largest forest of its kind in Europe, the Oak Park, runners, walkers, and other athletic city explorers are greeted by an auroch. This object is the diploma work of the sculptor Dalia Matulaitė, created in 1969 and moved to Ąžuolynas a decade later.
There are sculptures that are inseparable from the face of Kaunas – they are shown on maps, postcards, videos and even become souvenirs. First of all, these are the owls that have given a name to the whole area around them. As early as 1922, Kaunas Art School was opened in Žaliakalnis, and the owls were created and placed on the fence by its student, the sculptor Vincas Grybas.
One of the most important creators of Lithuanian national symbols is the sculptor Juozas Zikaras, whose house-museum can be found on the Owl Hill. As early as 1928, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of independent Lithuania, the statue “Freedom” was unveiled near Vytautas the Great War Museum. Demolished by the Soviets, it was restored in 1989.
The famous “Man”, highlighting the M. Žilinskas Art Gallery and the entire Independence Square, was created more than three decades ago. There have been several attempts to cover Petras Mazūras’ work, both ironically and seriously, and a smaller copy – more precisely, a partial copy – stands in the nearby restaurant “Nuogas”.
The sculpture “Dream”, floating in the air next to “Man”, seems to receive less attention than its naked neighbour, but it is no less attractive. This is the work of the famous sculptor Leonas Strioga, who celebrated his 91st birthday this year. You will find the pieces of this author in other places in Kaunas – for example, in Ąžuolynas. The artist has created many memorable monuments in Petrašiūnai cemetery.
“Sower” by Bernardas Bučas, located in the garden of the Vytautas the Great War Museum, is a perfect example of harmony between history and modernity. At dusk, the genius idea of the street artist Morfai is revealed – it seems that the sower is scattering the stars.
Historical accents aimed at honouring important personalities who lived in Kaunas, worked here and left a trace, are still emerging today. One of the newest examples is a composition created to remember the Japanese diplomat, the righteous nation of the world, Chione Sugihara. Martynas Gaubas, the author of a graceful accent of hope, put the sculpture next to the Metropolis Hotel, where a diplomat stayed and issued transit visas to Jewish refugees after the closure of the Japanese consulate.
The memory of Sugihara’s colleague, Dutch businessman and honorary consul Jan Zwartendijk, was immortalized by the artist Giny Vos by the former Philips office on Laisvės Alėja. The interactive object comprises as many LED lights as the Dutch issued visas for escaping from the Nazi-occupied lands.
The sweet prince of the interwar music scene, Danielius Dolskis, is also seen in Laisvės Alėja. A little further on, Jonas Vileišis, the first mayor of the city, who contributed a lot to the prosperity of Kaunas during the interwar period, can be greeted. The statue was made by Kęstutis Balčiūnas, the author of an upcoming sculpture dedicated to the first Lithuanian film, which will be installed by the Romuva Cinema later this year.
Not everything happens in the centre. While travelling on Savanorių Avenue at the so-called “intersection of the blind” with Taikos Avenue, you can delve into the meaning of the name – and visit the sculpture depicting Prana Daunys. In 1919, he became a volunteer in the Lithuanian Armed Forces. During the War of Independence, he was injured and lost his sight, partly his hearing. He did not give up – he studied, wrote articles, created music, conjured and inspired others with visual impairments, even adapted the Braille alphabet to the Lithuanian language, and was one of the founders of the Lithuanian Institute for the Deaf. After World War II, Daunys worked in the so-called blind factory in Savanorių Avenue. In 2015, in front of the education centre for the blind and partially sighted, a bronze sculpture of Daunys was unveiled (sculptor Jonas Gencevičius).
Many other influential and inspiring personalities have been immortalized in Kaunas. The monument to priest and poet Maironis next to his house, the current museum of literature, was probably seen by everyone. And did you know that his colleague Vaižgantas sits by his “workplace”, Vytautas Church, very close to the Town Hall? His sculpture is accompanied by the priest’s beloved dachshund, Kaukas.
Another worthy literary highlight of the route is the author of the first Hebrew novel, Abraham Mapu, who lived and wrote in Kaunas. Of course, the sculpture on the street named after him in the Old Town – step into the yard next to building no. 20. The author of the sympathetic object is the already mentioned M. Gaubas.
A design object that confirms that it is not always necessary to depict a specific person to remember his work is a deer, an ant, and a grasshopper are squatting behind Kaunas City Hall. These are the heroes of Vladislav Starevičius, the pioneer of puppet animation, who started his career as a museologist in this building.
There is also a sculpture in Kaunas that you can try. Called “Walking in the shoes of the Blessed One”, the bronze shoes are located on the stairs leading to the Benedictine monastery on the street of the same name in 2019. It is a playful memory of the Blessed Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis.
Unexpected – or long-awaited – sculptural objects have been popping up in Kaunas more often in recent times. The process allowing them to implement their ideas faster is the municipal Kaunas Highlights program, which has been successfully financing the concepts of street art, design objects, lighting etc., for several years now.
Before the program started, in 2014, a monument for routine popped up in the Old Town. According to its author, architect Audrys Karalius, it is a modest attempt to guess the ambiguous nature of routine and measure the routine temperature of Kaunas.
And do you know Bite? A dog that rescues drowning children rides a trolleybus, brings firewood and food from the market, really deserves a sculpture. And she has it! One of the sweetest highlights of Žaliakalnis is the bronze sculpture of Saint Bernard, who liked shopping at the nearby Zanavykai market. It was initiated by Algimantas, owner of Bitė, and the author of the work is Lukas Šiupšinskas. This sculptor has also created both a pine cone in Santaka Park and a puppet coffee lover at the Kaunas State Puppet Theater, who is currently on vacation.
The Little Prince is one of the most popular books of all time. You will find its trace in Kaunas, too. Called “Planet X”, it is located in the Vytautas Magnus University Botanical Garden. Its author is Tadas Vosylius, who also created a boatman hanging over Laisvės Alėja.