The people of Subcarpathian Rus' are extremely fond of ornamented pottery. It is rarely that one comes across a peasant's hut in which there is not a shelf of decorated vessels of different sorts and this peasant pottery completes with the play of its variegated ornamentation the effect of the red and white stripes of the towels, tablecloths and bedcoverings which have been woven at home. Although the Slovakian and Bohemian potteries flood the country with their glazed enamelled domestic utensils the cheapest products are those of the craftsmen in Uzhhorod, Khust and Sevlyush. On market days each craftsman brings everything he has made during the week to the market place and arranges irregularly on the bare ground the pots, plates and cups of different sizes, decorated with his own hand and only just fired and glazed. The technique and form adopted by the different craftsmen is the same but each one has his own genre, his favorite colors and patterns.
Radiating from the centres mentioned above the pottery of Subcarpathian Rus' penetrates into almost every village. In addition to this in two or three places of the Marmorosh district a vessel of the most simple type is manufactured. It is without decoration and unglazed. The following is the method of its manufacture: the craftsman sets in rotation, with his feet, a large wooden circular plate to the axle of which, level with the hands of the worker, is attached another wheel, much smaller and rotating at a much greater speed. This smaller wheel serves for the turning and polishing of the objects which take form under the skillful hands of the operator.
The pottery of the town of Uzhhorod is known outside the country. It has found a market abroad, even in America. Unfortunately the most popular types of this pottery are not the most artistic but those which appeal to buyers who visit the country. Not far from Uzhhorod is the village of Kapusyana where much of this pseudo-folk pottery is made. The many-colored design consists of irregular flowers threaded, as it were, on strings of bright beads. The favorite colors are dark brown, dark blue, black. The glaze is bright so that the strings of beads stand out in a decorative manner. It is not known who first invented this "blistered" style but the pottery manufactured in this manner is exotically modern, although motifs are occasionally used which are derived from the local traditions.
The other pottery which is sold in the market at Uzhhorod is much simpler in style and proportioantley cheaper. Its cheapness renders it accessible to the villages who, instead of the exotic products of Kapusyana, prefer to buy the unstudied products of the Uzhhorod potters, who have no thought in their heads of the prettiness appreciated in the towns and who sometimes instinctively adopt primitive style which is so valued in folk products.
On page 95 are three plates which are instructive in this sense. The combination of wave-like stripes, points, and circles -- on the edge of the first plate -- with the dull star-shaped figure at the center must be considered as the successful resolution of a decorative problem, primitive and not free from ancient influences. For are not these zigzags and circles the first written speech of man, the first decorative confession of the cave in far-away Bronze and even Neolithic times? Long ago, but we know that in order for this speech to be evolved there had to be a yet more distant period when decorative patterns did not consist of geometrical stylization but of direct representation, perhaps of a cuneiform character, of nature and the animals which were the first friends and enemies of mankind. Perhaps this white zigzag on a brown field found on Uzhhorod plates may have been originally a snake and this triangle a bat. Thus do the significant forms of folk art lead back into the dim past of pre-historic times.
Top - Plates made by unknown Uzhhorod makers. Bottom left - Pot made by Stefan Grevnyak, Uzhhorod. Bottom center - Pot made by Yanosh Pyushpeka, Sevlyush. Dottom right - pot made by Bembovyk, Uzhhorod
Actually there are certain elements in other types of decoration to be found on contemporary pottery in Subcarpathian Rus' which surprisingly recalls those jugs and amphoras, covered with broken and intersecting lines, which are found in the area dating from the Bronze Age. Naturally there is no question of direct tradition -- the Bronze Age was in its flower here a thousand years before our era - but do not these coincidences in form and ornament point to a common artistic psychology, as it were, and, further, to decorative elements which have been indirectly adopted by the craftsmen and which go back to the most distant past, although not a local past? It must not be forgotten that a thousand years is a fabulous period from the standpoint of the quickly changing European town but means much less to the village which has absorbed a culture which has been spreading from the Asiatic East from time immemorial. There is the striking similarity of the Hutsul decorative themes to the Mycenian style on the bronzes of Subcarpathian Rus'. The potter's wheel of Marmarosh, which has already been described, is practically the same as that which was used in the La Tene period. Does not this suggest a borrowing? The symbolical value of certain village customs takes us back still further into pagan darkness. Even if the primitive motifs of folk art were not borrowed from memorials of the past by a long indirect path they have been followed nevertheless throughout the centuries through the instinctive taste of the craftsman with his reverence for the traditions of his forefathers.
A characteristic trait of Subcarpathian Rusyn decoration, geometrism -- the absence of decoration which portray nature immediately -- can be seen by turning again to the plate on page 95, bottom, second from left. Here we have the combination of a geometrical design (concentric circles and a wavy curve) with the depiction of a flower. The plate third from left has a border of "firs" and the traditional six-petalled rose drawn within a toothed circle. The plates shown at bottom of pages 96 and 97 are more primitive. Here we have stars, large and small circles, crosses and zigzags. The tradition is patent in the design of the objects shown on page 95, extreme left and extreme right. It is more uncommon to find examples of a consistently geometrical pattern in the Khust pottery for it is almost completely dominated by the Hungarian flowered stylization (pages 96 and 97). Nevertheless the vessels made by the craftsman, Lenovych, shown on page 94, are ornamented in the same primitive style. And in the case of the other pottery from Khust and Sevlyush these primitive designs are as it were an indispensable accompaniment to the colors of the tulip, carnation, iris, daisy, etc., with which the pots, which are simple in form and generally of a magyarized pattern, are adorned. The coloring varies, each craftsman choosing it according to his personal taste. If, for example, we find with the Uzhhorod potter, Grevnyak, a particularly delightful combination of white and green and dark blue and coffee color, Petrovchyk excels in dark brown backgrounds with a white or blue pattern and Bembovyk in white stripes and dots on an orange field, etc. The work of other craftsmen recalls, more than anything else, majolica. The harmony of the grey-white background with the blue and orange pattern reveals innate taste, although the designs of wild carnations and tulips are less happy (page 93, bottom).
Top - pottery from Khust by unknown makers. Bottom - Plate by unknown artist, Uzhhorod
The most interesting ceramics are again to be found in the south-eastern corner of the country in the Hutsul area. These are the plates (more rarely, jugs) of Galician origin, which give a particular coloring to the huts which lie at some distance from the roads in the regions of Yasinya, Kvasy and Bohdan. The old-fashioned plate reproduced on page 100, top left, was obtained from "White Cross." Round the edge large teeth alternate with palm branches and the whole of the middle part is occupied with a picture of a cow in rather fantastic surroundings. Here and there among the decorative scrolls is to be seen a small eye with lashes radiating in all directions (perhaps derived from a spell). On another plate of the same type from Bohdan (page 100, top right) is depicted a bull. The whole shows a combination of green, brown and yellow on a white background. Not less interesting are two other plates from these villages (page 100, bottom), the decoration of which approximates to the geometrical style, while completely "eastern" in appearance is the wheel shaped jug with the same colors shown on page 101. Finally there is also reproduced a series of jugs the predominating color scheme of which is a dark blue pattern on a white background (pages 98 and 99).
Hutsul plates of Galician origin
In all these cases there is evident influence from the heart of the pottery industry for which Western Ukraine was famous, having traded in such objects as early as the seventeenth century. In the middles of the last century (the utensils which are reproduced here date approximately from that time) there were more than eight hundred master potters in Western Ukraine, 387 masters and 649 apprentices in the district under the Chamber of Commerce in L'viv and 219 masters and 317 apprentices in the district of Brody.
At this time there were four major pottery works and as many as forty places where glazed pottery was manufactured. In whatever spot in the Yasinya district plates with designs of this delightful greenish-brown color are found they all agree in their character with the general artistic style of the Hutsul area.
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