In Russian and in English, the word talent means the same thing.
Talent is also the name of an artists' cooperative in Juneau's sister city of Vladivostok, Russia. Over the past few years, some local residents have befriended members of the cooperative and this week they've brought some of them to Juneau.
On Wednesday evening, an exhibit and sale of contemporary artwork by members of the Talent Cooperative will be held at Centennial Hall. Hundreds of small ivory carvings and 42 original oil paintings will be on display, the work of seven Vladivostok artists.
``These are very well-known, very professional artists who have done shows in several countries, including the U.S.,'' said Susan Moreland, chairwoman for the Vladivostok Sister City group and a board member of the Juneau International Relations Committee.
At a potluck Sunday evening, carver Vadim Khizhnyack and the directors of Talent - Alexander Doluda and Natalya Shakhnazarova - met with a dozen Juneau residents. Most are involved in the International Relations Committee and some are Russian-language students.
Janna Lelchuk, who teaches Russian at Juneau-Douglas High School and the University of Alaska Southeast, and her husband Anatoly Khmelev, translated.
After dinner, Khizhnyack pulled piece after piece from his bag until the table was covered with artwork - scores of thumbto-palm-sized ivory carvings with intricate detail. They included a toothy, laughing fish with human feet, a weary potato-digger with an eye on the sky, an Indian Yogi tangled in a Russian stool and surrealistic animals.
``There are many carvers with great skill, but Vadim has such imagination,'' said Doluda.
The directors of Talent hope to raise enough cash from the sale Wednesday to repay the sponsors who funded the trip, but that's not their only motive. They would also like to meet with contemporary Alaska artists and make contact with Juneau businesses and agencies.
Doluda said Magadan Airlines, which serves the Russian Far East, was a major sponsor for the trip.
``Russia is in such a difficult situation, these sponsors are hoping this kind of exchange can help,'' Doluda said.
He said Magadan already has a good relationship with the Talent Cooperative through past art exhibits and successful exchanges with other Pacific Rim countries. He added the airline also stands to benefit from efforts to increase travel and commerce.
Moreland, of the sister city group, has been to Vladivostok three times, and worked with Doluda last summer to set up this trip. After touring galleries in Vladivostok and reviewing work by artists at Talent, they discussed what to bring and what would sell.
Moreland said Russian contemporary artists are similar to their American counterparts, working in mixed media and collage and painting abstract and expressionistic works. While much of the work could be of great interest to other artists, Doluda and Shakhnazarova wanted to bring accessible artwork that had a good chance of selling. Most of the paintings are portraits, still lifes and landscapes.
They also brought samples of work by other artists with the hope of introducing them to Alaskans.
``It's such a depressed economy, buying artwork is not anyone's priority there. They're looking for outlets to sell their work,'' Moreland said.
Moreland said the International Relations Committee takes on three or four projects a year to help promote education, business and economics - any area that promotes better relations. One recent project was to help Vladivostok develop a department of tourism.
``This year, we helped set up an exchange with the medical profession between Bartlett and their hospital and medical professionals in Vladivostok,'' Moreland said. ``We're also continuing to work on an ongoing educational exchange with students,''
The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council also helped set up the exhibit, which runs from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Centennial Hall.