Dary Dega, a native of Russia, found a home in Bryan with her husband and three children after immigrating to the United States in November 2013.
The 45-year-old opened her own art gallery — Degallery, which is now on Rosemary Drive in Bryan — in March 2016. Her love of art goes back to her childhood in a small city near Moscow. She attended music school and had aspirations to be an artist, but her family instead directed her toward medical school. She said she earned three master’s degrees and her doctorate by the time she was 24.
Dega met her husband, Grigory Rogachev, after her father worked with him in physics studies. Rogachev came to Bryan before Dega, and is now the head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M University.
“It was hard for both of us because we both had top positions,” Dega said of the staggered move. “He was a professor and I was a health manager and neither of us wanted to break our career. I didn’t want him to break his career because he was a father and husband.”
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Dega knew no English upon arrival in Bryan, and learned through Rosetta Stone software and children’s books. She said she was unable to work in the medical field because her Russian education was not accepted here. That led her back to art, through painting and teaching at the gallery.
The studio has exhibits and art classes for children and adults. She also started her own nonprofit, Dega International Art Association, to help children study art and earn scholarships.
Russia has changed significantly since 2013, Dega said, especially after the invasion of Ukraine in February. That and the COVID-19 pandemic have meant not seeing her family in almost five years.
“Right now it is even hard to communicate through [social media],” she said. “We don’t have communication and we don’t know if we can meet each other anymore.”
Dega said she was scared to go into work the day after Russia invaded, but was greeted with kindness and understanding from her students. She said it has been hard to keep a positive attitude, but she continues to teach art and promote peace in her classes.
“After that horrible day, I went to work and a couple of my American friends and students who take my classes sent me cookies, flowers and notes,” she said. “We all just sat together and cried together, and all of my students are very supportive of me. Every morning and night I pray for peace around the world; for people to understand each other, support each other. We are all brothers, sisters. It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat, Republican, Aggie, not an Aggie. It doesn’t matter your gender, color. Doesn’t matter. I just pray every day for peace.”
What differences do you see in Russia today versus when you were growing up?
Russia now, even 10 years ago and 40 years ago, there is a huge difference. When I was born, it was a bad time for Russia. We had a lot of deficit, economics were done as I was born in the Soviet Union time. And after they changed and separated into different countries — and in the Republic they started to become Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and 15 different countries — it was so huge and big and a bad time. After Perestroika [political and economic reforms], the country started to grow in 2003-2005 in business and in size. Everything changed, and it became clear that a lot of big and small cities in Russia were the best cities for a tourist visit. … Between 2000 and 2013, everything was wonderful. We had good salaries, good economics. … But right now it is exactly trouble, because it is just bogged down for all people: no travel, no shipping, no messages, no communication and everyone is so scared. There is a constant up and down, up and down [with Russia]. Maybe right now this is down, and maybe sometime we will be up again.
If you weren’t an art teacher, what would you want to be doing?
Even when I was in medical school — even now that I am doing art — the important thing was to help people. When I was a physician in the medical industry, it was important to help people and make sure they weren’t sick and to help them feel better. Even after I opened the gallery, I started a nonprofit to help kids, artists, to feel more comfortable growing and helping people sell their art and support scholarship for kids. It doesn’t matter if I do art or work in the medical field; I just want to help people.
Do you have plans to go back to school?
A couple of days ago I applied for a master’s program in art after I was invited to the program through the Northwestern State University in Louisiana, and I was accepted. It will be more distant education, but I will travel and meet my professors and do studio art. I am so glad to be a student in the United States because all of my education is international. I am glad to be a student again. I will take ceramic, sculpture and so many other classes. I plan to use what I learn to increase business here and teach all kinds of classes. I love it and I am very excited.
What has been your favorite part about Texas?
I told my husband once that maybe in my previous life I was born in Texas. There are a lot of things I like in Texas and I feel here that I am home. I love horses, guns, and I like my cowboy boots, my poncho. I like so many things. The people here are very nice; everyone hugs each other, and it is not like the North. I am also an American citizen, and my husband always reminds me that I need to feel like an American Texas girl, and I feel like an American Texas girl already.