Has David Lynch ever visited Kaunas? Not that we’re aware of. The spiritual connection is, however, out there. The crooked streets of Žaliakalnis leading up the Owl Hill resemble the Mulholland drive, especially on foggy mornings. The owls themselves could definitely be used as props in the comeback of Twin Peaks, but, to tell you the truth, we’d prefer them to remain in Kaunas.
Photo by Rokas Tenys / Kas vyksta Kaune
Let’s start the story of the owls in 1923. This is the year when Kaunas art school, designed by Vladimiras Dubeneckis (one of the authors of the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum), was opened here. The first art school in Lithuania was the alma mater of many prominent artists. The first museum building in Lithuania, a temporary gallery for the works of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, one of Lithuania’s greatest painters and composers, was built near the school in 1925.
Kaunas Art School today. Notice an owl in the middle? Photo by peleduloftai.lt
The hill got its name in 1924, when the fence surrounding a 3.5-hectare area was decorated with a grand total of 108 owls. The sculptures were created by Vincas Grybas (1890–1941), a student at Kaunas art school located on the very same hill.
Grybas went on to become one of Lithuania's most important artists of monumental sculpture of the first half of 20th century. The statue of Vytautas the Great (its recreated version is now standing in front of the Kaunas City Municipality on Laisvės alėja) is among his greatest works. The Lithuanian artist and political activist who also studied in France was killed together with hundreds of Jews in 1941 in Jurbarkas, a city on the banks of Nemunas, where he resided before WW2.
Juozas Zikaras (1881–1944), the first professional Lithuanian sculptor and the head of the studio of sculpture at the Kaunas Art School, was one of the most famous residents of the Owl Hill. You can visit his house, a wonderful example of wooden architecture, today, too, as it’s a department of M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum.
Photo from turizmogidas.lt
'The creation of prominent Lithuanian sculptor Juozas Zikaras was influenced by his wife Anelė Zikarienė (1888–1963). She was the main model of his sculptures. We can see the face of A. Zikarienė in his first professional work “Mother” (1916), and the famous sculpture in Kaunas “The Independence” (1921)’, tells us an article by Rasa Ruibienė, published in ‘Kauno istorijos metraštis’ in 2014. Here’s what the room of Anelė Zikarienė looks like today.
Photo from ciurlionis.lt
We’ll definitely shed more light on Zikaras in our blog in the nearest future - stay tuned! Let’s get back to the owls now.
Photo by peleduloftai.lt
About 60 owls are still sitting on the fence of Kaunas art school, today Kaunas College J. Vienožinskis Faculty of Arts. A few sculptures were noticed in various places around Kaunas - it’d be nice of someone brought them back or paid for making new ones (approx. 300 Euros for a sculpture) but it’s also very important to preserve and restore the 60 that are still intact, together with the fence. There are also intense talks about installation of an observation deck as the panorama of the Old Town, Centre and Vilijampolė is simply breath-taking - and has served as an inspiration for numerous artists.
Kaunas. A Panorama from the Owl Hill. Vladas Eidukevičius, 1933 © Lithuanian Art Museum
An initiative by members of the local community called 'Aš esu pelėda', or ‘I am an Owl’ is dedicated to the preservation of the unique place, as well as to defending it from real estate moguls possibly keen on gentrification of the area (a new residential project on the hill has been planned some time ago already). The project also covers all sorts of artistic performances and happenings taking place on the Owl Hill. You’re welcome to visit the webpage and follow the initiative on Facebook in case you read Lithuanian.
View from the hill. Photo by Rokas Tenys / Kas vyksta Kaune
The Owl Hill is actually one of the highest points in Kaunas. Some historians say Napoleon also visited the hill when his army was moving towards Russia in 1812 (The ‘real’ Napoleon’s Hill, or Jiesia fort mount, is located on the left bank of the Nemunas, between the Panemunė and Railway bridges).
A historical drama movie called ‘Owl Mountain’ (we do call the Owl Hill a 'mountain' in Lithuanian, but only because our highest 'mountain' is 293,84 m high) about post-war Lithuania will premiere on February 16th, 2018, just in time for the centennial of the Restoration of Lithuania's Independence. Directed by Audrius Juzėnas, ‘Owl Mountain’ was shot in the neighbourhood, as well as other historic places in Kaunas. You can read more about the film in this article. Here’s a sneak peek.
We also recommend visiting a photography gallery called ‘Bright & Showy Kaunas’ - it's located right at the J. Vienožinskis Faculty of Arts.
P.S. A great place to recharge before or after the hike to Owl Hill is ‘Pelėdinė’, a burger shack located just down the hill and named after it. We recommend the vegetarian burger with pumpkin patty.