A mysterious poster of a mythical cannibal within the UAA/APU Archives and Special Collections leaves more questions than answers.
Baba Yaga is a mythical ogre woman from Russian folk tales. She lived in a forest hut that stood on chicken legs, flew with the use of a mortar and pestle and ate children that she abducted and cooked, according to Britannica.
The Baba Yaga poster was found within box UAA-0105, UAA, Theatre and Dance Department posters, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.
The box contained multitudes of original artwork from various theater productions, but one particular stack was different than the rest. “The Adventures of Baba Yaga” poster is a kirigami screen print, meticulously assembled from cut paper and ink.
The original screenprint had a small signature in the corner that appears to credit the poster to A. Gant. There was no Gant with the same initials in the UA directory. Further research found no matches.
The dates of the production are shrouded in obscurity. The original screenprint of the poster lists the dates of the play as Jan. 19-28, 1995. The UAA Department of Theatre and Dance production history page lists it as third in a list of productions categorized as 1995-1996. A previous TNL article cites “The Adventures of Baba Yaga” as a 1996 play.
“The Adventures of Baba Yaga” was written and directed by Fran Lautenberger. Lautenberger was born in New Jersey. She was a professor at UAA from 1986-2012, a total of 25 years. Theater, particularly costume, puppetry and lighting design, were Lautenberger’s specialties, reflected by her course list.
“I love the theater and puppetry, what can I say,” Lautenberger said in a 2004 interview with TNL. “Even in retirement, I can never picture myself very far away from it.”
Carl Lautenberger, Fran Lautenberger’s husband, served in the Coast Guard for 30 years. He received a posthumous medal for his public service in 2011. Lautenberger dedicated her final production “Bring Back the Sunshine” to her late husband. She spent four years writing the musical with assistance from UAA alumni Jonathan Minton.
“It was a big thing for me,” Minton said in a 2012 interview with TNL. “To have somebody whose opinion you respect and trust come to you and offer you something that really is a very personal project, and trust you with it, it’s an invaluable experience.”
Lautenberger has since retired to Cape Cod. In her retirement, Lautenberger has still not entirely forfeited teaching. As of 2018, she has been documented giving workshops on fraud prevention for AARP Massachusetts.
The lines of reality and mythology blur when information is not readily available. There is no documented Russian ogress who devours children, but without proper documentation, the sands of time devour facts.
The purpose of the University Art Analysis reflects the battle against the loss of information. With nothing but an initial, a dusty box and a retired professor, the mystery of Baba Yaga remains veiled.
Archives and Special Collections at the UAA/APU Consortium Library may be viewed on the third floor from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. For more information, visit archives.consortiumlibrary.org or call (907) 786-1849.
Have you seen art at UAA you want to know more about? Contact Robert Gant at [email protected]