From Russian orphan to artist

Sarli is pictured with her parents, who adopted her in 1997

Alina Sarli doesn’t know who her parents are, her birth parents that is.

And she doesn’t have any interest in knowing either.

Sarli was one of many orphans in Russia in the ‘90s who were given up because of the widespread poverty in the country.

She was adopted in summer of 1997, a year after she was born, by a family in New York, who were inspired to adopt from Russia because of a family history in Latvia and a local family near where they lived who had just adopted a baby from there.

“I know that I have a Russian heritage and that’s pretty cool, but my parents are my parents,” she said. Now, Sarli is a senior graphic design major with a studio art minor at Castleton University with big dreams to work as a graphic designer and pursue her art.


Getting adopted

After doing their research, Sarli’s parents knew Russia was where they wanted to adopt from.

“We just went for it right away,” Kirsten said.

They found an adoption agency in Washington D.C. and started the long process.

They had to tell almost every detail of their lives, including their income, lifestyle, jobs and they had to go through background checks the agency required.

Once they were approved, they were told when a baby became available they would be sent more information.

In order for babies to be adopted from Russia, the orphanage had to write they had brain damage on the medical records, so Sarli’s parents were told not to panic if she had that label, Kirsten said.

“It was kind of scary that you’re adopting a baby and you read that, even though it was not accurate,” she said.

Once they got the call, they got on a plane to Russia to pick up the perfectly healthy baby. When they got to the orphanage, they noticed Sarli was extremely active compared to the other babies, Kirsten said.

“Alina was trying to climb and wanted to get out and was trying to run around,” Kirsten said.

She never wanted to sit still and throughout her youth she was always moving, her mother said.

Sarli hopes she can adopt from Russia too someday, which unfortunately isn’t possible right now because of an adoption ban between Russia and the United States.

“I feel very grateful in the sense that I feel like I got more here than I ever would have gotten there,” Sarli said.


Her art is her passion

From a very young age, Sarli was artistic. She loved to play with crayons, markers and clay and she wasn’t afraid of the mess.

“She always loved messes like outside if it was puddles or mud she had no issue jumping in it,” Kirsten said.

She took art classes throughout her childhood and painting became her main medium, which her mom said is evident in Sarli’s bedroom.

“The wood floors have paint on them, there’s paint on her clothes, it’s all over,” Kirsten said.

In Sarli’s apartment in Castleton, the same is true.

Her roommate and best friend, Sophie Simmons, said almost every night Sarli is painting.

“Looking at all the pieces she’s created in her time here, you can see just how truly artistically talented she is,” Simmons said.

Art professor Phil Whitman has had Sarli in classes and said her style is very experimental.

He remembers a project she had for a class where the theme was the circus. She talked to him about how she bought essential oils to mix into the paints or soak the canvases in to bring the element of smell to the pieces, which he thought was interesting and unique.

He also said walking through her art studio in the Art Annex, it’s like a laboratory. There’s evidence of the different things she tried, like casting things in plastic or a dripping paint technique.

“It’s exciting to see that she’s taken it upon herself to play with the materials. There’s a sense of play in a lot of her work,” he said adding she has really become more thoughtful with her work during her time here.

Her cousin, Jessica Sarli, loves her art so much she had Sarli paint a few pieces for her, which are hung on her wall.

“They’re beautiful,” Jessica said. “I really appreciate the art that she makes for me.”

Another college friend, Dylan Gray, is amazed by Sarli’s dedication.

“The way that she cares about her art is really inspiring. She puts that before anything else and it’s something that she’s willing to do for the rest of her life,” Gray said.

When asked about where she gets her inspiration, Sarli said most of it comes from her emotions.

“I paint with my feelings mostly. I feel like a lot of how I feel in the moment is what gets portrayed in my art,” Sarli said.

Her passion for graphic design started her sophomore year of high school when she shadowed a student in a graphic design program at a technical high school and she said she knew it was perfect for her.

“I fell in love. I was like ‘I want to do this. I could be good at this,’” Sarli said.

Now she has dreams to work as a graphic designer in New York City.

Brigitta gough / Castleton spartan



Being an orphan was not the only hardship Sarli faced, having been diagnosed with Scoliosis in the fifth grade.

Scoliosis means there is a curve in the spine that should not be there – and Sarli’s was severe.

She had four different back braces growing up that she had to wear at night, even at sleepovers. She decorated them with stickers and designs.

“That was my best friend,” Sarli joked.

She ultimately had to get surgery to straighten her spine when she was 15 and now has two titanium rods and 19 screws in her back.

Sarli said after surgery she still could do most of what she had before with the exception of another passion, gymnastics.

“They were pretty much like, ‘you can’t flip after surgery.’ It didn’t mean I totally had to quit gymnastics, but it disheartened me enough to where it just made me sad,” she said.

Now she is a horseback rider and admitted even though she would have to fall a very specific way to really affect the rods in her back, she still worries about the possibility.

She started from a place of hardship and faced others as she got older, but her friends say her drive is undeniable.

“She has a dream and she’s going for it,” Simmons said.

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