TOWNSEND — Marina Forbes of Pepperell is more than an artist — she’s a storyteller. A native to St. Petersburg, Russia, Forbes was indoctrinated into the art world at the age of 5 when she was accepted into the Hermitage School of Art. Although she’s been living in the U.S. since 1993, Forbes’ work is inspired by her Russian roots, knowledge of which she like to share with all the pupils under her tutelage. Every year, Forbes takes students on tours to her hometown of St. Petersburg to educate them on her Russian heritage and the art community she was raised in; she also offers between 75 and 100 presentations and workshops both in Russia and the U.S. throughout the year.
“My mission is to promote Russian culture, Russian history, Russian art,” said Forbes. “Arts and culture is the easiest way to learn about each other.”
During her workshops, Forbes especially likes to focus on the unique folklore as old as the country it’s born from.
“What I’m trying to do is promote major Russian characters,” she said.
One such workshop was offered at the Townsend Public Library for ages 6 and up.
The focus of the class was the character Forbes refers to as the wicked witch of Russia: Baba Yaga. Besides being able to share the stories she grew up with, Forbes said Baba Yaga is an example of the difference between Russian and American cultural icons.
“Baba Yaga’s one of most interesting and famous Russian characters,” said Forbes. “What makes her different is sometimes she can be unbelievably kind.”
A far divergence from the well-known wicked witches of American folklore, Forbes said that while Baba Yaga can be unspeakably malicious, the wicked witch of Russia also possesses unique qualities to find in story villains: Empathy and aid to those of pure hearts.
“What happens if you’re a prince, and your beautiful fiancé, because somebody put a curse on her, turned into a great duck and flew out the window? …The only person who can help you is Baba Yaga,” said Forbes, adding that she will only provide assistance “when you have super human love that drives you, not fame, not money, not fear but love.”
At the end of the workshop, everybody leaves with a piece of artwork –their own interpretation of Baba Yaga.
Still, Forbes encourages people to attend even if they’re not confident in their painting skills.
“Not everybody is an artist,” she said. “I just want to make sure people have fun in my workshop.”
That won’t be a problem, according to Stacy Schuttler, the library’s director, who said that this will be Forbes’ fourth time instructing a workshop in the library.
“She is one of the world’s funniest women,” said Schuttler. “She’s made me laugh so hard every time she’s here.”
Schuttler said she always tries to make time to see Forbes in action.
“Usually I don’t participate in these kinds of things because I have to work, but I come to hers because she’s always so much fun,” she said.