FOLK ART OF SUBCARPATHIAN RUS'
A large part of SubCarpathian Rus' is wooded. The Verkhovyna is covered with forests almost continuously, except where it is varied by pasture land. There is a fair number of meadows along the banks of the Uzh and Latorytsya rivers but the farther we go to the east the more impenetrable become the forests and from Vyshniy Synyovir onwards there are great expanses which are completely uninhabited and thickly covered with pines. This region extends right up to the north frontier and to the south as far as the upper reaches of the Tysa River, where the Hutsul wood industry begins.
The chief occupation of the Hutsuls, besides sheep-breeding, is that of floating down the rivers rafts made during the winter of enormous timbers. This industry was developed since the construction of large reservoirs at the source of the Black Tysa, which enable the level of the rapidly flowing water of the river to be raised for the duration of some hours. It is not for nothing that from time immemorial the axe has been the emblem of the Hutsuls and the subject of their ancient songs. Although they have not always had a major wood industry they are habitually forest dwellers. Not being agricultural they never became serfs and through the freedom which they have enjoyed they have always had enough leisure for art. They lived in good circumstances and had no masters. They bred sheep which provided them with food and clothing and built their huts on the slopes of the mountains and in the valleys. If they sowed at all it was in their gardens and their free time, of which they had much in winter, was devoted to home industries. The Hutsul art flourished greatly while wood, naturally enough, became the chief material which was worked upon.
There is splendid wood in this area. The powerful ancient oak with its black bark and gleaming foliage, the spreading willow, the abundant alder, the leafy beech and yoke-elm, swaying in the wind, the willow nearer the water, the ash, wild pear, apple and plum trees, the popular and more rare, the maple and finally the typical tree of the Hutsul country, the plane tree with its hard, smooth, non-porous surface which acquires a beautiful dark color with age. Farther up in the hills there are coniferous trees: firs, pines, both green and blue, with resinous bark, and larches and spruces, some them more than two hundred years old. How could the art of the carver help developing in the midst of this abundance of material?
Wood carving has been the domestic trade of the Hutsuls for a long period. There are icons from the XVII century with plainly carved crosses on beech boards. Altar crosses of about the same period are also known. Another large example of this talent was found in Yasinya dated 1758. The figure of the four pointed orthodox cross with projections at the ends was borrowed from another part of Ukraine but the charm of the wooden construction and the feeling with which the craftsman has performed his task, the undeniable taste revealed by him in simplifying the details of the original, cannot be resisted. The typical Hutsul forms of decoration are already evident: the frames consist of strips which are adorned with pictures the Crucifixion, the Baptism, St. Luke, Cherubim, the Savior with the Bible).
A wooden carved Hutsul cross dated 1758 - Yasinya
These decorative strips are repeated on the Yasinya cross of 1758 . We see the lightning-shaped strip beneath the Crucifixion repeated at the back, above the Mother and Child, another ornament in more simple form, round the figure of Christ, combining these two, and finally two rows of little "teeth." This cross, splendid in its primitive simplicity, has a design which already bears the local impress; it has eight points or, to be precise, seven, since there is no projection above the cross-piece at the top. Some of the crosses which are now in the Naprstkovo Museum in Prague have also this ornamentation; one bears no date and the other two are dated 1827 and 1841 respectively. The last has an original form: a large figure of the crucified Christ in the centre and at the sides smaller figures with those of the thieves added, resting on a light cross-piece. Two other crosses resemble these first ones in their general style, although they are not ornamented. One was carved at the end of the XVIII century and another much later. The age of such examples is judged better from the weight and condition of the wood than from stylistic details which over a period of nearly two hundred years have remained unchanged.
This shows the conservatism of the village. For two hundred years the same design was passed unmodified, the same representations of the crucified Christ and the Virgin Mary against a background filled by the apostles standing in a circle (to be exact only one figure is represented on each side, the other being shown by vertical furrows), the same simplification of anatomy and the conversion of the lettering on the horizontal cross-piece into ornament (it rarely stands for anything), the continued use of the same simple tool, the short peasant's knife, his inevitable aid in all sorts of emergencies in life. And just as with the embroideries, so with the crosses, never have two identical ones been made. Each has its own "soul." This is the product of art in the full sense of the term. One collects them as unique objects.
The Hutsul crosses have now become rarities but there are still many of them in the churches of Subcarpathian Rus'. The most beautiful are said to be preserved in the wooden churches of the Yasinya. Most of them no doubt emanate from Galicia but it is not at all impossible that such crosses were formerly made in the upper reaches of the Tysa. The tradition of carving has not completely disappeared in that region even today. In many huts some distance from the main road one may find plates, jugs, chests and spinning-wheels with carved designs and there are still Hutsuls who are capable of constructing these things with the same decoration as the old ones. The extraordinary talent of the peasant, his innate taste and technical skill is striking. Even up to a short time ago there were living and working veritable virtuosos in this field.
About a year before the first World War there died in a small village near Yasinya a carver by the name of Yuriy Mykhalchuk whose specialty was the manufacture of wooden flasks, small ones holding about a pint and large ones holding a quart, single and double in type and.decorated with carving. The wood he used was that of the plane tree, firm and hard. He carved magnificently, never splitting the wood. His carving was shallow, not sharp, and done with a short knife and a chisel with a half-moon-shaped blade. His decorative patterns were extraordinarily simple and repeat themselves on all the flasks made by him and other carvers of his school: a stripe, straight or curved, of half-moons cut with this little chisel. Two stripes, one opposite the other and divided by a furrow, form a sort of knotted ribbon which is in conformity with the whole style of the object. The Yasinya master arranged these different ribbons in various ways on the rounded surface of his flasks; at one time in close concentric circles in rows of four and five, at another in little circles, in rows of one and two, in an effect which recalled the sunflower, and in the form of half circles.
Shepherd's wooden carved flasks - Black Tysa
The flask itself was hollowed out and had thin bands around it. They were put on wet and drying afterwards clasped the vessel firmly, thus preventing splitting. The double form of flasks rest directly on hoops at the bottom. To the round single one four little legs were very cleverly attached in this manner. Under the rim between the bands were two carved ribbons of the type which has been described and each pair of them opened out at the bottom into paws with two legs.
Yuriy Mykhalchuk probably had no small number of predecessors in this form of decoration. Both in age and individual style there are considerable differences among the Yasinya flasks. In execution the oldest are the most beautiful. Also found in Yasinya are other flasks more curved in shape, almost circular in fact, of smooth manufacture and made on a lathe. These are of extraneous origin. Through their eastern form they carry us back to very distant times.
In the villages one hears of the existence of many carvers but it is not easy to see their productions. Even if they have been preserved they are dispersed about the mountain huts and it would take years to search them out. Near the village of "Black" Tysa (adjacent to Yasinya), at a spot in the mountains known as "White Cross", in the hut of a very old woman the most interesting wooden bedstead was found decorated with carving. In another place were discovered a number of wooden spoons with typical Hutsul ornamentation. Here we have tiny triangles and lozenges, cut with a small knife, taking the form of sharp-toothed bands, the edge of the spoon being beautifully shaded with this delicate fluted design. The wood itself is extraordinarily beautiful, with warm red coloring as if burnt and very smooth to the touch. This is the result of the maple-wood having been polished with olive oil a long time before, and in order to make the pattern stand out more clearly fine powdered charcoal is rubbed into it and adheres so strongly that it will not wash off. These objects were all made by the owner's late husband. Of native origin also was an originally constructed comb for wool with a hand wheel. It was found in the same neighborhood along with a number of plates and jugs of the types still preserved in the older households.
It is now more common to come across a form the design on which is not carved but burnt in with an iron instrument. To this type belong the vessels portrayed on page 13, right. It must be said, however, that even this simple type of ornament is not devoid of charm. The arrangement of triangles, crosses, little stars, circles, traditional six-petalled roses, which are disposed in a circle, is sometimes extraordinarily tasteful. The stamp of the individuality of the craftsman is not less apparent than in objects which have been carved. Although the decorative elements are poor the combination made of them are numberless, each example being unique. It is evident that some time ago there was a great demand for wood ornamented in this fashion. About thirty years ago lived a man by the name of Ivan Markulchyk who every week took to the market in Yasinya a vessel ornamented in this way which he had made himself at home in his wretched hut. His work found about the huts - drinking jugs, milk pails, etc. -- show that Markulchyk had followed an artistic tradition. This tradition has preserved itself better than anywhere in the Kosivska Polyana, whence come the beautifully formed paskovtsi shown on page 87 and the milk churn and spinning-wheel (depicted on page 61). This tradition of burned-in ornamentation is not scorned either by those Hutsuls who have served their apprenticeship in the town, like, for example Kurelo who made the wooden maces with handles in the form of axes which are reproduced here and also the similar objects reproduced on page 67.
Wooden churn with burnt in ornamentation. Wooden spinning wheel - Kosovska Polyana
The Hutsul maces are worth special investigation. They are the ancient emblems of the woodcutter. It is only a short time ago since the rod with a symbolical axe was for the Hutsul what a sword was for the courtier. The symbolical axe is still preserved in wedding ceremonies. Having knocked at the door of his betrothed with his mace the bridegroom hands it over to her brother. (Is this a vestigial form of marriage by capture?). "One cannot marry without a mace," they say in the village. The maces are handed on from family to family. They were originally made of metal with engraved designs. They are often very striking and decorative in form, resembling the real axes which the Hutsuls use to this day, broad or narrow with long blades, a form which recalls examples from the Bronze Age.
The bridegrooms in the Hutsul area still have engraved symbolic axes. But there are none of the metal objects used for other purposes of the type which may be found on the other side of the Galician border, such as buckles, in the style of the kurgan "fibul", crosses worn around the neck from the same period, sometimes whole necklaces made out of crosses, awls, needle-cases, nut-crackers, powder horns, wallets. They abound in decorative circles which are often concentric, arranged in series and recalling Neolithic volutes. All the familiar elements are there: cicatrices, ferns, ears of corn, plums, curls, wedges, etc. On the large objects, such as wallets and powder-horns, the six-petalled rose in a circle continually recurs. Here, on the other hand, we certainly have a kurgan element, perhaps from the Bronze Age, from reminiscences of La Tene culture and on the other the influence from the Caucasus. Borrowings of this type are more or less episodes though a general link with the East seems evident. Asiatic themes have been preserved from the remote past.
Three Hutsul wooden axes, ornamented with carving and burt in ornamentation - Yasinya
The example of the distant past had a contagious effect on the new renaissance of the Hutsul wood carving which was inspired by the art of a whole family of carvers from Galicia -- the Shkryblyakivs: the father, Yuriy, and his two sons. The beginning of the renaissance dates back to the middle of the last century when Yuriy, who had learned the trade of a turner during his long service in the army, brought it with him to the Hutsuls. Having set up his own workshop he began to turn vessels for meat, tumblers, flasks, boxes for tobacco, etc., giving his objects a rather "town" form but carefully adhering to the tradition of his forefathers. The decorative motifs, made fresh by the natural tradition, were worked out magnificently by him, a great variety of combinations being produced. It would seem that there are a large number of these primary motifs but actually there are not more than ten. Shkryblyakiv introduced special chisels for the work, manufactured with his own hand. At the same time his assistant, Marko Megedynuk, has the honor of having invented a special form of incrustation on wood with perforated colored beads. The method of decoration was a new one which had not been used before. But it is easy to see in comparing the glasses reproduced in this work (page 75) with the metal objects with engraved designs and incrustation of mother-of- pearl that the beads pierced by Megedynuk with the help of an ordinary drill resemble the circles and wheels which are so favored by the Hutsul engravers.
The sons of Shkryblyakiv followed the example of their father. The three of them together founded a unique type of home industry to the products of which one cannot deny national coloration and technical perfection. In its time the Austrian government instituted two schools for the development of this industry, in one of which instruction was gjven by one of Shkryblyakiv's sons.
The Shkryblyakivs, perhaps, are not purely peasant but their art was appreciated amongst the people, found followers and became a tradition; a convincing example of the way in which an individual gesture may become a collective one. One cannot deny to the village the capacity of following the old traditions with inspiration and that of assimilating new ones if, for some reason or other, it finds them sympathetic. One may thus explain the extraordinarily rapid way in which the native taste is sometimes corrupted by alien influences, for it is profoundly wrong to imagine that village industries are static and fixed in a definite form once for all. We have other elements of Galician carving penetrating into Subcarpathian Rus'. If we compare with the fine Hutsul products the work of villages like Volovets, Vyshni, Rostoky, Zborovets, the coarsening of the form strikes the eye at once. Here is a vessel very similar to those coming from Yasinya and also made on a lathe but more heavy, more rudimentary in its features and unornamented. Another object is similar to a Yasinya flask but with an ungainly shape and the whole ornamentation consisting of six-point stars or roses arranged in concentric circles.
This type of ornamentation, which has already been referred to several times before, is found in other regions of Ukraine and in other countries, both Slavonic and non-Slavonic, and if we trace it back through the ages it will lead us to ancient Assyria. However, all this does not point to the designs having been borrowed but rather to the borrowing of the instrument with which it was made - the compass. This figure is produced by making six circles which meet in a point which is in the middle of another circle having the same radius, the centres of these circles being equidistant from one another; all done, that is to say, by a compass. The instrument itself leads to the creation of the pattern of the six-petallled rose wherever and at whatever period it may be found. This applies also to the eight-pointed star.
This rose, which without due foundation is sometimes described as the "Slavonic sun," is constantly met with on pastoral birchbark pipes on which the shepherds of the mountains sometimes play whole melodies, especially on carved productions in the villages along the valley of Turya. It is also found on tables, cupboards and, rarely, on beds which they have inherited from their forefathers. Sometimes there is no decoration. Sometimes they are bordered with familiar forms of ornamentation: ears of corn, small crosses, small circles etc. The carving in the region of Uzhok, Lyubna, Kostryna in most instances is more primitive. Decoration is limited to toothed designs on spindles or spoons of domestic manufacture. Wooden reed pipes with six apertures but unornamented are met with everywhere.
On the Turya there are fewer people who do carving than there are on the Tysa. New objects are found more rarely, lightly decorated with a simple design. They are all for domestic use: salt-boxes, shelves for spoons, milk pails, chests, rollers for linen, etc. The form of these objects can be extremely individual. For example large troughs for maize, full in shape, have four projecting segmental edges. Unfortunately we have no photograph of these objects but the elements of ornamentation are somewhat similar to that of the distaffs shown on page 78. The spinning-wheels are provided with a shelf on which the manipulator sits. They are covered with ornament from top to bottom, lightly carved so that the hemp may be laid on it easily.
The patterns on the spinning-wheel are of the most simple type. The ornamentation is a striking example of the way in which folk art as it were generates itself. A vague desire to adorn the object induces the peasant to make with his knife, which is used for every purpose, these elementary notches and broken stripes on the wooden rod, parallels, sharp angles, star-shaped forms. But even here the instinctive, primitive decoration of the peasant is infused with the tradition of hundreds of years, which has not evolved by itself but has taken over, together with the whole way of existence, the whole national culture, from a mysterious past. It is impossible to trace the influence of tradition in every detail, even in the most elementary ones, but it may be said that the greater part of these details are individual to a fair degree and that most always stylistic analogies prove to be something more than casual coincidences. It is the same thing with distaffs from Vorotsiv. Their carving is elementary but at the same time by no means an affair of chance. It is so and not otherwise. It is associated with the Subcarpathian Rusyn and Galician racial tradition generally. The patterns are disposed in the form of little belts separated one from another by spaces. The names of these patterns are often similar to those used in Galicia. But there are other patterns which are not found on the Tysa: sharp angles meeting at a point, a pattern of grains, of maize, and others. The similarity in the names given to them by the peasants points to a common origin for the design. Certain forms, like those known as kryuulky and zubchyky, although they appear to be widely distributed decorative emblems, are actually more ancient than this or that adaptation in a given place.
The manner of carving in the valley of the Turya is practically the same as that in the Hutsul area. In both cases the calving is made on hard wood -- plane tree, ash, oak, pear -- is not deep and the methods of decorative treatment are very similar. Deep carving on hard wood offers almost insuperable technical obstacles. Hard wood is really unsuitable material for artistic work. On the other hand the simple style of the Turya ornamentation, its absence of richness, agrees very well with the character of the surfaces which are used and is in effect an expression of artistic taste.
In order to gain an idea of this carving the best thing is to examine the remarkable sketches of the architect A. Reikhart. The sketches show a large number of decorative details which have been preserved from the past in the churches, peasants' huts, store houses, on doors, etc. in the Turya valley and in the neighborhood of Yasinya. More than revealing the nature of the architecture in Subcarpathian Rus' -- of the churches for the most part -- these details reveal the innate good taste of the population.
This, perhaps, cannot be said of all the wooden churches but there are those which are the inspiration of the native soil delighting one with their national character and at the same time with their relation to the orthodox churches of Eastern Ukraine. Such are the churches of Yasinya which are supposed to be the oldest, the ground-plan of which is in the form of a cross and which are adorned with small cupolas, similar to the many churches in Galicia. Then there are the churches of Uzhok, Kostryna, Nyzhni Studeny built pagoda-like in three tiers. Thirdly there are the churches of almost the same type but with a trace of the baroque in their style, such as are to be found in Sol, along the river Turya, in Obava and several other places. Less national in style are the churches the architecture of which shows the gothic influence as in Danyliv, Sandriv, Saldobos, etc. And even those churches whose style embodies features copied, perhaps uncouthly, from the Charles Bridge and Powder Tower in Prague show not only the borrowing but also the peculiar modifications in accordance with local tastes. Nevertheless this architecture shows the influence of racial tradition. One forgets about baroque and gothic and thinks of the wooden edifices throughout the whole of Ukraine. There are many churches in Volyn, the Kiev region and Galicia which, as regards plan, the form of the shingled roof, the gjlt domes, etc., are almost identical with those in Subcarpathian Rus'. The resemblance, of course, is explained by the similarity of material employed and the extremely simple methods of architecture.
Wooden church in Lazeshchyna - Yasinya
The characteristic feature of the style of all these churches, whatever types they may recall, especially by their various external ornamentations, is a rectangular framework a beam or half a beam in length. The framework of the building is erected directly on the levelled ground without any foundations being laid. The beams are arranged lengthwise and joined by swallow-tailing. When each side of this framework is extended, a similar framework being added to each, a five-roomed building resembling a cross is obtained, of the type seen in the churches of Yasinya. Three low frameworks with smaller ones at the side arranged on the same axis give another characteristic form, the Verkhovyna three-roomed type. In order to obtain from this the type of St. Michaels church at Uzhok a second tier has to be added, a lofty belfry at the front, and frames arranged like a Chinese pagoda above the centre of the church and over the altar. Then it is only necessary to crown the building with octagonal or quadrangular shingled roofs, cover all the projections with similarly covered roofs and to extend the bottom roof supporting it by pillars to form a verandah on three sides of the church. Similar sort of shingled roofing is found everywhere on the farm sheds and over the shrines which sometimes are ornamented with lofty crucifixes, as for instance at Irshava.
The churches of the Verkovyna style are extremely picturesque and fascinatingly primitive. But apartt from that they furnish rare examples of purely constructed architecture free from any superfluous element. There are only a few examples of this altogether in Subcarpathian Rus'.
The artistic taste of the village is also undoubtedly expressed in the interior decoration of the churches although neither the modern and ancient icons, the occasional decorative painting, the iconostasis, nor the furniture of the church can be considered as products of folk art. Nevertheless the local church baroque is often decorated in a very gracious style. Quite magnificent, for example, is the carved iconostasis, ornamented with heavy vine branches, dating from the middle of the eighteenth century in Poroshkiv. Very interesting also is the iconostasis obtained from a ruined church in Verkhovyna. The holy gates which are reproduced here (page 88) and are extremely typical of the country were removed from another ruined church in Shashvary.
Inside the churches there may often be found amongst the objects with which it is furnished several which undoubtedly bear a local stamp. Besides altar crosses which have already been referred to one may find a tablet with a picture of the invincible St. George with the writhing dragon beneath him or a decorated banner done by some crude native artist, or a tall candlestick on voluted legs, or a three-branched carved candlestick on one side of which is depicted the crucified Christ with the sun beneath him and on the other the most naive cherubim. The three-branched candlestick depicted on page 85 is characteristic of the older examples and possibly dates back from the eighteenth century. This form continues to inspire the craftsman, all the more so since the favorite themes of the local carvers are all to be seen here: the six-petalled rose, the fern, the teeth. The tradition of the Trinity is greatly respected in Subcarpathian Rus', just as it is by Ukrainians everywhere, and the peasants carve it to this day. Very individual types of candlesticks are to be found in the neighborhood of Yasinya but the carving resembles that of the school of the Shkryblyakivs (page 81).
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