Team Tolstoy

 Lola Baltzell:  This project has a long history, depending on how far back you want to go.  Many of us -- Lynn, Otto, Christiane and I -- go back over 30 years knew each other in college at Grinnell.  I have been friends with Lucy Arrington for 30 years.  And team members Adrienne and Emma are becoming dear friends, even though we met more recently. Trish and I met in April 2012, but it feels like so much longer! In addition, our contributing artists are all friends of our circle.

I credit Lucy Arrington with giving me the idea to do this.  She knew of an artist who was making a drawing on found paper for every page of Moby Dick.  She told me about this in late 2009.  The idea grew into a curiosity, then a decision to do a big project of my own.  Or so I thought.  I had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in August 2008, and am living with an extremely poor prognosis, even though I am doing really well with no sign of cancer anywhere.  I decided to use my 30-year old version of War and Peace, and to use each physical page.  I made the first six on my own.  Then I gave up.  I wasn't particularly happy with them and had never worked on paper before.  Enter Lynn.

I asked her if she would be interested in picking up the project with me.  For some reason, she signed on!  And we were off and running.  We had already been spending Fridays together in our studio in East Boston.  We continued to work on our individual projects but over time began to focus on this one.  We invited others to join us.  And not we are Team Tolstoy.

At the risk of hyperbole, this project is one of the most fulfilling and exciting things I have ever done in my life.  And that's saying a lot!  We gather every Friday.  I bring my puppy Sasha.  We have a blast.  Thanks for enjoying this project with us!

Lynn Waskelis: Lola signed me onto this project without my actually agreeing in March 2010.  That's how it is with her.  "No thank you" was not an option.  I have loved most every minute of working side by side with her and the rest of "Team Tolstoy" at our cramped little table in East Boston.  The new medium of collage, artistic cross-pollination, sense of being part of something bigger, side-inspirations spurred by this collaboration, tensions--all of it--have been so interesting and rewarding.

I've been friends with Lola, Lucy Z-M, and an acquaintance of Otto's since college days.  Emma, now a young artist,  I've known since she was a little girl growing up on my street.  Adrienne and I share the experience of motherhood and now making art! Like Lola, I have faced breast cancer, and there's nothing quite like it to light a fire under one's backside and urge one to leap.  And leap I did into the studio, Tolstoy, and "The War and Peace Project."  Thank you, Lola.

Lucy Arrington: I feel like something of a cross between a real Team-Tolstoy member and a guest artist, (maybe con-artist) except that I'm not an artist.  I'm actually more of a writer, gardener, traveler, and dreamer.  Laura (Lola to the rest of the world, but I've known her for so long that I refused to make the shift when she turned to Lola) gives me far more credit than I deserve for this project, as with just about everything else in the world.  I merely sent her a link to a blog ( and the rest is history.

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of the War and Peace Project is the tension between the book and the project.  One could say that by destroying an unquestionably rich, classic narrative text to use the pages for our own version of artistic expression is sinfully self-centered and insensitive.  Do I really feel this way?  I don't know. . . BUT I do know that this is one reason I find the project so fascinating.  The struggle to make connections, find meanings, and ultimately to create something of value.  And of course, the collaborative fun we have in the studio and beyond!

Last spring I transferred from Lesley College to the Art Institute of Boston after discovering that art school was the place for me to be.  And last spring I got involved with the War and Peace Project.  The combination of the two has changed my life significantly.  I have known Lynn since I was in elementary school when my family moved to our lovely neighborhood in Jamaica Plain.  I have always been very close with Lynn and her family, but this project has connected me to her on an entirely different level.  It all started when I offered up some collaging supplies.  Lynn showed me the blog (which had just gotten started!) and I checked it everyday.  The first two collages I did from home.  Then during the summer I got invited to come to Lola's studio for the first time.  I felt so comfortable with her right away.  She brings so much excitement and energy to the room!  I came a few more times, met Adrienne, had a BLAST and then soon enough I was a part of the team.

As a new art student,  this project could not be more beneficial.  It has taught me the importance of being playful with your work and open minded to new things that are outside of your comfort zone.  Our studio is like a sanctuary where I feel fearless, and these feelings are beginning to translate to my other work.  I have been so invigorated by the War and Peace Project and I am eternally grateful to be connected to these wonderful people who all love this process as much as I do.  -Emma Rhodes 

Otto was born in Switzerland to a German father and an American mother in 1959. He grew up mainly in Washington D.C. and graduated from Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa. Laura "Lola" Baltzell, Lynn Waskelis and Chris Carney were at the college at the same time. He moved to Berlin in 1990, where he works as a freelance journalist and translator. He also paints, working mainly with acrylics and watercolors.

War and Peace is one of my favorite books, so when Laura told me about the project and invited me to contribute a few collages, I immediately said yes.  I read the book for the first time in college during a course on the works of Leo Tolstoy and a second time two years later during a long bicycle trip across the United States.  Last year, I read it for the third time after reading reviews of the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.  It can be a tough book to get started on,  but there comes a point when the reader cares so much about the main characters, especially Natasha and Nicolai Rostov, Pierre Bezhukov, Andrei and Marya Bolkonsky, that it becomes hard to put down.

History, romance, drama and action.  It's all there -- a real thriller.  -Otto Mayr 

After telling me about the War and Peace Project, Lynn invited me to meet her studio-mates and create collages with them one day.  That was in the summer of 2010. She asked casually, as if it didn't matter, probably knowing I'd freak out if I had to commit to returning to my art.  Lynn's steady and gentle demeanor always impressed me, and the project sounded intriguing.  She (they!) hooked me.

What a pleasure it's been to make these collages without pressure or scrutiny, the collaboration being the purpose, the end product being a gift that comes from friendship, positivity, and enthusiasm.  -Adrienne Wetmore

Chris and Lap at JFK, on route to Yasnaya Polyana
August 2011

Christiane Carney Johnson

Well I guess you could say it all started with a Russian name. Lola and I were Russian majors together at Grinnell College way back in the 80’s. I call her Lap actually. It’s short for Lapa - which is the English pronunciation of the Russian name Lara. (Remember Lara from Dr. Zhivago?) And what is so funny is that the word lapa in Russian just happens to be a real Russian word! It means a baby animal’s paw - like a kitten’s paw or a baby bunny’s paw. So Lola for me is Lap - even Lapushka which is really just so incredibly Russian! At Grinnell, Lap and I took Russian class together with an extraordinary professor - John Mohan. He was one of those professors that change your life. Senior year, we were a small class of 5 or 6 students sitting around a conference table. I can still see Mr. Mohan in his baggy blue grey sweater walking in holding a beat up stuffed Russian book in one hand and a steaming mug of black coffee in the other! He also taught Grinnell’s famous War and Peace class. i am not sure who was more famous - Tolstoy or Mr. Mohan! An entire semester of just that one book - and we were all in rapture. Everyone at Grinnell tried to get into that course.

That is where I met our own WPP artists and fellow Grinnellians Lynn Waskelis, Lucy Zahner, Otto Mayer. Ok so fast forward 30 years, and here I am living in the totally stereotypical developer made suburbs of Atlanta - isolated from my old friends and from any creativity whatsoever….and Lap emails me our of the blue about her War and Peace Project’s exhibit in Boston. I hopped right in!

And this project brought out the energy buried inside me. The project totally invigorated me and frankly brought me back to life. After completing my first few collages, I emailed Tolstoy’s great great grandson in Russia (Vladimir Tolstoy) who heads up the Tolstoy Estate in Yasnaya Polyana (about 100 miles south of Moscow near Tula), and before we knew it, we had a date to exhibit the War and Peace Project there! As the unofficial translator, I travelled to Yasnaya Polyana with Lap (and her husband (an excellent photographer) and co curator Trish Crapo - an artist herself) to meet the Tolstoy community in Russia and to scout for venues for the exhibit. Meeting Tolstoy’s great great grandson was just wild. It was like meeting a movie star!

And what is so uncanny about this War and Peace project is that wherever it goes, and whoever we meet, everyone involved is transformed. The people we met in Yasnaya Polyana all became part of our own Team Tolstoy - a team that continues to grow and grow. The definition of a true classic. That is the power of Tolstoy!

Trish Crapo

I met Lola on April’s Fool’s Day, 2011 when she and her husband, Mark, came to an art opening and poetry reading I was taking part in, in Orange, Massachusetts. We hit it off right away. Some of the work I was exhibiting included collages that combined text and imagery and perhaps that’s why Lola invited me – I believe that same night – to make some collages for the War and Peace Project.

The project was compelling to me for a couple of reasons.

A few years before, my sister Susan and I had vowed to read War and Peace together. I ended up putting the book down less than halfway through, letting other commitments overwhelm me. Susan finished it.

In 2008, Susan died of breast cancer. To learn that Lola had initiated the War and Peace Project as a response to her own diagnosis of breast cancer gave me goose bumps. My enthusiasm for the project was instantaneous Just a couple of months later, I was on my way to Russia with Lola, Mark, and another of the project’s artists, Christiane Johnson, to scout venues for a show at Yasnaya Polyana, the Tolstoy museum and estate.

Sure, I was drawn to all of it: the project’s sprawling audacity (it would take close to 750 collages to complete); the glamor of Leo Tolstoy’s great-great grandson Vladimir Tolstoy’s invitation to show at Yasnaya Polyana; the chance to brush off my very, very rudimentary high school Russian and learn a few tourist phrases; the opportunity to meet amazing artists both here and in Russia and to collaborate with my new, all-systems-go friend Lola not only on this project but on two other book-art projects that ended up being exhibited in the Boston area.

But the most compelling thing was being given a new reason to finish reading War and Peace, fulfilling my pact with Susan. Which I did! I read all of War and Peace. That remains the project’s biggest gift to me.