Local tribute to sculptor

Paula untied the Latvian colours on the Tree of LIfe which she gifted the college.
Paula untied the Latvian colours on the Tree of LIfe which she gifted the college.

A tribute to a sculptor who survived a concentration camp and wartime prison has been unveiled in his adopted home of Midlothian.

Zigfrids (Zigi) Sapietis escaped the horrors of war in his native Latvia to settle in Newbattle, where he lived and worked until his death, aged 90, in 2014.

The unveiling of a sculpture by Latvian artist  Zigfrids (Zigi) Sapietis at Newbattle Abbey College, Dalkeith.

The unveiling of a sculpture by Latvian artist Zigfrids (Zigi) Sapietis at Newbattle Abbey College, Dalkeith.

Zigi’s widow Paula (75) unveiled one of his works, Tree of Life, in the courtyard at Newbattle Abbey College, which held a special place in her late husband’s heart.

“Zigi loved to walk among the beautiful trees at Newbattle - he connected with the woods; they were a very special place for him,” said Paula.

“Tree of Life combined his true passions - nature, education and creativity. He experienced some dreadful things in his early life in Latvia but he was not bitter; he was determined to turn his experiences into something positive, creative and special.”

As a teenager, Zigi was imprisoned for hoisting the Latvian flag following the Germans’ wartime invasion of Latvia.

Zigi was also an art teacher at Portobello High School for 20 years, and an unofficial teacher to anyone who dropped into his home.

Paula, who still lives in their Newbattle cottage said: “He was caught between the Russians and the Germans, fighting for freedom and the traditions of his country.

“He was imprisoned, beaten and very badly injured.

“He was later moved to a concentration camp and only the kindness of a German officer saved his life by helping him escape on a submarine. That took him to Denmark and he lived there for seven years before coming to Scotland in 1952 to stay with a cousin.”

Ann Southwood, principal of Newbattle Abbey College, said: “Zigi was a great lover and supporter of the college and it is wonderful to have this lasting tribute to his life and work.

“We are very grateful to Paula, who continues to visit the college regularly and sings in our choir, for gifting this magnificent work to us.”