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The Architectural Marvels of Russia 'At the End of the Earth'

US Professor William Brumfield documents his passion - the rich cultural and architectural heritage of Russia's North

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This review originally appeared at Russia Beyond the Headlines

William Brumfield presented highlights and stunning photos from his new book, Architecture at the End of the Earth: Photographing the Russian North on Oct. 15 at the headquarters of the American Councils for International Education in Washington, DC.

During the presentation, Brumfield, Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University and Honorary Fellow of the Russian Academy of the Arts, showed his documentary work from the village of Oshevensk in the Arkhangelsk Region of the Russian north. He also discussed the fate of the Church of the Intercession in the nearby village of Lyadiny — a priceless treasure that was destroyed by a lightning strike in May 2013.

Presentation of William Brumfield's book

In the far northwest of Russia, the villages of the Arkhangelsk, Vologda and Murmansk regions are threaded by a root-like network of rivers that feed into the nearby White Sea. Dr. Brumfield is committed to documenting these and other cultural treasures of Russia’s history.

The book Architecture at the End of the Earth approaches Russian architecture primarily on its own terms, as an anomaly that does not fit into the traditional narrative of Western art and architectural history. 

“It’s interesting because it’s Russia,” Brumfield said in an interview with RBTH on Sept. 25, adding that in his view, “architecture is as much an expression of Russia as its music or literature. Although it’s rare to find any of the great novelists talking about the architecture of a church, for example, that ambiance is there.”

The book presentation was introduced by Dr. Dan Davidson, president of American Councils, who noted not only Brumfield's scholarship, but also his dedication to the documentation and preservation of Russia's architectural heritage, particularly in the Russian north. Brumfield, in turn, expressed his gratitude to Russian and American colleagues who provided support for his many years of travel and research in the vast territory of the historic region.

"There are few inhabited places on earth that are at once as beautiful and as bleak as the northern latitudes of Russia", said John Beyrle, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, who attended the event. "No one, American or Russian, has done more to rediscover and record the architectural wealth of this unique, isolated region than William Brumfield. His lecture and book presentation offered a compelling rationale for expanding the  artistic and cultural links between Russians and Americans that have always outlasted our political disagreements."

The book contains some 200 color photographs of legendary centuries-old structures and documents various aspects of Russian architecture, from log houses to grand cathedrals.

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