The Life and Times of Jaroslav Lobanovsky

The Life and Times of Artist Jaroslav Lobanovsky, a Renaissance Man 1900-1992

Russia 1900-1917

Jaroslav Samuilovich Lobanovsky was born in Zhitomir, Russia on March 20, 1900 to Maria Pavlovna Lobanovsky, poetess and author, and Samuel Dimitrevich Lobanovsky, military officer and landed gentry of the Chernigovskaya Gubernia. He was the youngest and last of their ten children.

1905 – 1916

At the age of eight, Jaroslav was sent to attend the Kiev Military Academy. As a young cadet, he excelled in art, math and the sciences. It was there that he developed his abilities in sketching, portraiture and painting. Unknowingly, his art instructor provided the young man with skills that would serve him remarkably well for his entire life. Art was the vehicle Lobanovsky would use to record his daily living through sketches and later photography. His artwork earned him money in hard times, and allowed him to leave his family an amazing legacy.

1916- 1917

Upon graduation from the military academy Lobanovsky went to St. Petersburg for further training to join the Czar’s army in the artillery division. Due to unrelenting political unrest and ongoing turmoil, artillery specialization was shortened from 18 months to six. At graduation he was considered “prepared for full service,” and was posted along with other Junkers, mostly teenagers, to guard the Winter Palace. When it became apparent that the Palace must be abandoned, he and other soldiers were honorably discharged and advised to head home.

1917 – 1919

After a grueling journey by train with hundreds of people hanging onto the compartments anyway they could just to get out of the Russian capitol, Lobanovsky arrived back in Zhitomir. No sooner had he come home than his mother, during the sacred Easter holidays, advised him to leave the village “for a few weeks, until things settle down.” Due to the change of control from the White Army to the Bolsheviks alternating back and forth, Zhitomir was not a safe place for the young officer. Again he fled, as Ukrainian villages kept changing sides. By the time the Bolshevik takeover was complete, Lobanovsky had joined the ever- moving White Volunteer Army, which kept heading westward. Lobanovsky and his fellow soldiers ultimately came under German protection in 1919, and were designated as “military, displaced persons” in Berlin. But as Germans had their own growing problems by then, he and his group were finally told to leave their camp and “find jobs.”

Germany 1919 – 1939

There was no Internet to help with the job search in those days, so Lobanovsky made a logical leap. Since he had been a good gymnast in military school, he would now transform that skill into dance. With this in mind, he enrolled in the Nikolaeva Ballet Studio in Berlin at the age of 19 and became very skilled dancer. After his training Lobanovsky joined Mme. Nikolaeva as an associate instructor at the ballet school.  He went on to master all forms of dance, classical ballet, folk dance, and character dancing, excelling also in costume design and choreography. Years later, one of his students, Marion Iguchi, would become a prima ballerina in Montreal, Canada.

Under the stage name of Marinoff, he danced for Europe’s most colorful social set. His work won him a place in the renowned Viennese Ballet Company. After three years he formed his own dance troup and appeared before the wealthy and aristocratic set that moved through Paris, Vienna, London, Berlin, Geneva, Copenhagen, Prague, Brussels, Zurich, Oslo, and Madrid.

Watching Europe become destabilized by fascism, he left Germany for Denmark in August 1939. Joining other White Russian refugees, and the entourage of the Dowager Empress, Maria Fedorovna, Lobanovsky’s intention was to immigrate to America.  Upon arrival in Copenhagen, he bought a newspaper. The headlines read, “Germany invades Poland.” All borders were closed and any opportunities to escape Nazi Germany were over.

Denmark 1939- 1941

It was during the Berlin years that Lobanovsky started recording his life through sketches – of his art studio, his rented room, performances, German scenery, etc. But in Copenhagen, art became a vocation. As he waited for a visa different sponsors hosted him. That meant changing homes every few months or so. For cash he supported himself with his artistic skills, decorating phone books and album covers for Danish department stores, painting icons for the church, or working on other artistic commissions.

He was a follower of the contemporary art movement throughout his travels, and saw what artists were doing in France and other countries in Europe on his tours. As 20th century art evolved, so did Lobanovsky’s own artistic presence. He tried his hand at every style in every medium and was prolific in his production. However, for obvious and practical reasons, the only works he brought to the United States were his sketchbook and a few small watercolors.

America 1941- 1943

An opportunity to realize his dream of creating a life in America finally arrived in 1941. Since visas directly to America from Denmark had been constantly filled, he was assisted by his friend, Seda Zare (mother of Marion Iguchi and by then living in Montreal), to come to Canada. From there Lobanovsky entered the United States via Ellis Island, New York.  He finally arrived at his goal – America- with ten dollars in his pocket and a happy heart. He was absent a sponsor and command of the English language. He managed, however, to land a job at the Lion Match factory, which employed many Russian immigrants. Rumor was that the Russian Consulate purchased the factory as an investment with Imperial Russian money held in the U.S. at the time.

In New York, Lobanovsky turned from costume design to fashion design. He enrolled in Parson’s School of Fashion Design, evening division, and ultimately won a gold medal for his full collection of dresses, suits and gowns.  Regretfully, no jobs came from his gorgeous and timeless designs, many of which could still be worn today.

Work at the match factory caused him to suffer lung problems from the chemicals used in production. Following a doctor’s advice, Lobanovsky quit the job as well as New York City and joined his friend from Berlin, Eugene Alexandrovich Sablin on tour with the Don Cossack Russian Chorus, Lobanovsky as a dancer and Sablin as a tenor. Shortly thereafter Sablin, the quintessential entrepreneur, learned that the USO was expanding and establishing domestic units to entertain the thousands of veterans recovering in U.S. military hospitals. Lobanovsky and Sablin then headed for the golden state, California, to collaborate with another friend, Sergei Tavasieff, on a Russian ensemble, the Russian Revels, USO Unit 19. Off they went! The Revels traveled and entertained troops in every state for the next five years, Lobanovsky ultimately completing four tours of the continental U.S.

USO Unit 19    1944-1949

Following his arrival in the United States, Lobanovsky continued to document his life and find personal peace and satisfaction through creative outlets – sketching, painting and dancing around the country. He and USO Unit 19 entertained hospitalized GIs in small towns, large cities, on land and sea. Performances brought rave reviews from sailors on the aircraft carrier Midway, the Red Cross and countless other organizations and military bases. During the USO years, Lobanovsky added photography to his artistic repertoire and took hundreds of pictures of post war life, USO performances and travels, and Americana through the lens of his Leica camera. His sketchbook got fatter as he drew scenes and cartoons of rehearsals, tired artists traveling on the train to their next destination, the ladies ironing costumes or recuperating from an exhausting schedule. (Lobanovsky met Olga Nikolaevna Mamontoff in 1945 when she joined the Russian Revels as their classical singer. They fell in love and married in 1947 while still on tour.)

Lobanovsky’s USO group entertained soldiers into the post war years. Though Unit 19 was among the first domestic units to be activated, their popularity accounted for their being the last to be discharged in April of 1949. Manager William Wilson had high hopes of taking this talented ensemble on a worldwide tour after their USO contract terminated. But by then most of the group were road weary and wanting to settle down and start families. After bidding a fond farewell to his Russian Revels, Wilson looked elsewhere for an artist or artists to sponsor. He found his answer in the famous Flamenco dancer, Jose Greco.

He Left His Heart in San Francisco   1949-1951

By 1950, Lobanovsky decided to settle in San Francisco, his Russian wife’s hometown since her immigration to the U.S. from China in 1927. Once again he turned his attention to art and opened “Ballerina,” a ceramics workshop and studio-gallery in San Francisco’s Richmond District, located on Anza Street behind French Hospital. He sold some works through major art galleries and gift stores such as the V.C. Morris Gallery and San Francisco’s own treasure trove, Gump’s.  Sales from his own studio were sparse and did not carry him as far as he had hoped. The poor location, and perhaps the anti-Russian sentiment at this time due to the McCarthy Congressional Hearings, contributed to the studio’s quick demise. The beautiful original ceramic pieces and sculptures, belonging to his daughter’s collection today, are from from that brief period.

1951-1956

Having been unable to make art a viable career in America, Lobanovsky became a carpenter in 1951 and worked on residential and commercial buildings throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Projects and developments such as Westlake, Sharp Park, and the Broadway Manor Motel on Van Ness Avenue all received the benefit of his handiwork, until he finally landed a steady position as carpenter for Dominican College, now Dominican University, around 1956.

1956-1967

Lobanovsky thoroughly enjoyed his position at Dominican where he worked until retirement.

Throughout his career as a fine artist, he painted and drew the things he loved most: family, friends, everyday life, and flowers. He loved Sonoma County and spent a great deal of time at the Russian River home he built for his family in 1964. He could not get enough of the beautiful scenery, the agricultural treasures and his flowers. Many of his paintings are of flowers from the Russian River property, especially the roses, lilacs and peonies. Many others are of the river itself, the morning stillness, fishing, swimmers at Korbel Hole. Having tried many styles, he clearly developed his own. While he often worked in oils, he also experimented with every medium. Although there is probably a piece that appeals to everybody, his signature work is likely to be the life-size, sepia charcoal portrait of the dancing USO ballerina, Marilyn Stevens.

1971-1992

Lobanovsky continued to paint well into his 80s. His artistic career spanned more than 70 years, and he left a private collection that is treasured by friends and family. In 2004 he was recognized by the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in Sonoma, California for his reproductions of ancient byzantine icons, displayed in that year’s “Sonoma Collects” exhibit. It was an honor that would have pleased him immensely.  A second and larger showing of his original works followed in May 2005, as a part of Sonoma’s Cottage and Garden Tour, a community fundraiser sponsored by the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation. In 2011 Lobanovsky’s work and that of his artist daughter, Maria were exhibited at the Congress of Russian American’s annual fundraiser held that year at the Chateau Bleu in San Francisco.

Currently, reproductions of Lobanovsky’s work are being offered by his daughter through Atelier Lobanovsky, Fine Art and Photography, www.marialobanovsky.com.

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