Adrenaline rush-seeker hooked on one-eyed guardians of the sea

  • 2010-08-12
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

THROUGH THE FOG: Aidas Jurkstas showing off a small part of his lighthouse collection.

Having stumbled upon an interesting, yet unseen lighthouse, he can hurriedly jump on a Japan-bound jet just to turn up for a few snapshots. Moreover, oh yes, this would also be for a sketch of the would-be drawing that will add to the existing over 1,000-plus-something lighthouse drawings collection. The Lithuanian’s exertion will wrap it all up in an exuberant search for the best souvenir of the one-eyed sea guardian of Japan. A jet-setter can allow for a lot, even a ten-hour first-class trip to Japan just for a trinket, but, oh, do not call by that name the souvenir that Aidas Jurkstas, the Palanga resort resident, darted to Japan to get hold of.

“Well, I am not that crazy anymore. However, that is right - I did fly to Japan to get a lighthouse model that I liked a lot. Nowadays, I have gotten much smarter, as I obtain desirable lighthouse models and souvenirs in auctions or dealing with other lighthouse model and souvenir collectors. Besides, lately I tend to draw lighthouses more often, as the activity gives a sense to my tangible collection,” Jurkstas chuckles. His lighthouse drawing, souvenir and model collections comprise over 1,000 items each.

Recently, during the Klaipeda Sea Festival, his newest exhibition, “500 Baltic lighthouses,” has been quite a hit, drawing hundreds of visitors. It was one of those rare events when attendees got a good lesson about something quite forgotten. Undeservedly?

Do you reckon your knowledge on the subject is more than average? Would you, please, take a quiz and describe the meaning of pharology. I could not, surmising that it is somehow related to the pharaohs. As my guess drew Jurkstas’ smile, he went on explaining, “The lighthouse of Alexandria, on the Egyptian island of Pharos, is the oldest recorded lighthouse. Hence the name of the science.”

Jurkstas, a restauranteur by day and an avid artist and collector at night, scornfully frowns on being called “a jet-setter,” however, admits to spending most of his income for the unusual hobby. “It is not about money. It is about being free and doing whatever you feel like you want to do,” he notes thoughtfully.

Differently from the other resort’s entrepreneurs, he cannot be considered as a fully-fledged Palanga resort resident, as he moved here from the capital, Vilnius, just fifteen years ago. It was when he discovered his marine passion for lighthouses. “When I saw Klaipeda Lighthouse for the first time, something tingled inside me, as I got mesmerized just looking at it. When I came back home, I could not get rid of the thoughts about it. I picked up an encyclopedia and started shuffling its pages. I read a terse passage on it with great curiosity,” he remembers, as he makes a pause in his narration.

“Do you know that it was built in 1796? Have you heard it is one of the first lighthouses in the Baltic’s northeast? Do you know that the first Baltic lighthouses were simple bonfires on the shoreline?” he peppers me with the questions I cannot answer. Then he continues, “Fire-generated lighthouses were replaced by ones that used the lever principle. These kinds used to beam longer, as their light was more intense. As technology advanced, prefabricated skeletal iron or steel structures tended to be used for lighthouses constructed in the twentieth century. These often have a narrow cylindrical core surrounded by an open lattice-work bracing, such as Finns Point Range Light. Sometimes a lighthouse needs to be constructed in the water itself. Wave-washed lighthouses are masonry structures constructed to withstand water impact, such as Eddystone Lighthouse in Britain and the St. George Reef Light off California. In shallower bays, screw pile ironwork structures are screwed into the seabed and a low wooden structure is placed above the open framework, such as Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse.”

He cuts it off here, pausing, “In short, I got hooked,” the 45-year-old grins. He had been involved in other hobbies before: collecting coins, stamps and postcards, but none of them stood up against the passion for lighthouses. “Quite honestly, I had collected thousands of stamps, but I felt it was not my true passion. Before moving to Palanga, I owned a design studio in Vilnius; moreover, my dad and uncle were kind of artsy guys, so with the artistic propensity, the lighthouses were the exact pursuit to assume,” the collector reasons.

Jurkstas moved to Palanga in the ‘90s, when ownership of his grandfather’s estate was finally reinstated. Having embarked on a restaurant business, he quickly realized he needed, as he calls it, to kindle a life in it. It occurred to him to put a part of his lighthouse souvenir collection on display in the windowsills of the restaurant. Once he counted over four hundred of them in the restaurant.

“The lighthouses have given purpose, meaningfulness and life for the establishment. It is so nice to see people walk in and start casting glimpses at them, wondering why they are here and what they mean,” the entrepreneur-at-day-artist-and-collector-at-night says. The more he collects, the more he draws, and the more puzzled he gets over their complexity and variety. His tenacity and moxie are the virtues many cannot grasp.

“Gosh, there are an awful lot of various lighthouses. I have attempted to sort them out. I have discerned 32 categories. I categorize them according to their shape, way of building, material, visual view, historical period, etc. I know the work will never be complete… Believe me, it is a very time-consuming and tantalizing endeavor. The pursuit gives me such a rush of adrenaline that I feel my blood rushing down my veins. I hope, some day, I will work on a thesis devoted to the lighthouses. Meanwhile, I am working on the encyclopedia of lighthouses. It is an excruciating striving,” the artist confesses.

I nod approvingly, wondering whether he has already drawn a conclusive disparity between Klaipeda lighthouse and the one in Japan he went out for. Upon the question, Jurkstas hushes for a second as if descending in the depth of his encyclopedic knowledge, finally uttering, “A lighthouse describes a location very well. Therefore, because of the abundance of earthquakes in Japan, Japanese lighthouses are quake-resistant, mostly made of solid lead and stuffed with electronic gadgets measuring seabed trembling. It is like a real miracle of the Japanese civilization. However, their lighthouses lack beauty; also, there are no historic lighthouses over there. Frankly speaking, European lighthouses are much more interesting to me, as they contain a certain portion of medieval history. Besides, they are made of bricks. Overall, each country’s lighthouses bear discernible attributes to the specific country. That is why it is so difficult to compare them and sort them out,” Jurkstas sighs.

Asked how far he advanced with his gargantuan striving - the encyclopedia - he claims to have done loads of the work. “I have sorted out and classified lighthouses of nearly most every European country. However, a hell of a lot of work remains to be done. I am looking forward to publishing it in two or three years from now,” he asserts. The man dedicates every single day for his hobby, claiming it has become his job. “It is the kind of activity you cannot take a break from. Something happens every day. Some lighthouses are demolished, while others are rebuilt. In order to record all of them, I feel like running a marathon – I am pacing steadily towards it, but with no sight of a finish line,” the collector says.

He considers collecting information on different lighthouses to be the most important part of his endeavor. “Gathering information is very inspiring work. The deeper you step in, the more you get bogged down – for hours, days, weeks or months,” the artist admits. Usually, it goes this way: once the information is available, he sits down for a few sketchy touches, until the lines turn into a shapely drawing. While putting the lines together, he may sneak a glimpse at a blurry Internet picture of the lighthouse or draw it just relying on a scarce mathematical description. Once the drawing is ready, he likely will thirst for obtaining a model of the lighthouse. However, sometimes it goes vice versa – model first, then the drawing.

Jurkstas has been in love with lighthouses for over fifteen years now, but before his first ever exhibition, last April, he fretted about it like a child. Put in the limelight, he remembers whispering words he was not prepared for, “Pythagoras loved mathematics for some reason, and I do love my lighthouses for some reason.” However, he admits to have not purposely planned an exhibition, but is giving in to his friends’ encouragement to put his pile of drawings on display for everybody to see. With two of the exhibitions in the past, he is pondering having another one – this time in the Oceanography Museum in Kaliningrad, followed by one in Saint Petersburg. With the drawing collection growing, he contemplates renaming it to “1,000 Baltic lighthouses.” And, yes, the encyclopedia is on the way.