09 February 2011

Hutsul and Pysanka Museums

We are in the city of Kolomyia (Коломия), in south-western Ukraine, just where the land begins to rise up into the Carpathian mountains. The region is the historic home of the Hutsul people, who still make up a large part of the population, and their influence can be felt in everything from the food to the style of dress. There are two interesting museums here in town - one very famous one, another more interesting one. The first is the Pysanka museum, shown above, which is dedicated to the art of egg-decorating. The second is the Hutsul folk-art museum, which we thought was much more engrossing.
"Pysanky" are eggs that are decorated by covering parts of the shell with wax, dipping the egg in dye, covering different parts, dipping again, then melting the wax off to reveal the colors (the technical term for this process is "wax resist" or "batik"). In America, they are often referred to simply as "Ukrainian eggs," and the technique is pretty popular around easter. The specific designs are associated with different regions and tribes, and some have changed very little over the past few centuries. The museum has eggs from all over the world, but its focus is on the Ukrainian pysanka, and its history. The iconic building was built in 2000, and looks itself like an egg - it's made the town quite famous in Ukraine, and it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country.
The museum is the largest of its type in the world, with over 10,000 examples in its permanent collection and eggs that date back to the late 19th century. We came because we felt we had to - several months ago, while on a skansen in Ciechanowiec, Poland, we were shown the second largest collection in the world. Perhaps because it was in a building on a deserted museum, because we didn't have any idea that it was there, because our guide had to unlock the building for us and because it was so uniquely surprising, the Ciechanowiec collection is still our favorite. The museum here in Kolomyia is interesting, but it isn't as amazing as we had jokingly hoped it would be. Quite a bit of the collection has been damaged by improper lighting, there are quite a few tourists and it feels a bit artificial.
Much more interesting was the museum of Hutsul folk art, a few steps away. The pieces in the collection are truly astounding, and they really illustrate how glorious a culture this region espoused. The museum has a large number of metal, wood, ceramic and woven artifacts, as well as some paintings and photographs done by or depicting Hutsul people. The metal-working was very intricate, with a lot of work done in brass and a focus put on inlay. This is a powder horn (how they described it, I don't see any actual horn) and it was one of my favorite pieces.
One of the characteristic belongings of a Hutsul man was a hand-ax, mostly in the form of a long ax-cane. Many of them were purely decorative, but there were more businesslike versions, apparently. This one was not sharp, and was inlaid with hundreds of tiny beads.
The ceramics are almost all decorated with green, yellow and brown glaze. Their purpose was less utilitarian, as most Hutsuls dined on and with wooden plates and utensils, and more decorative. It was a flourishing art until around the second world war, when it began to fade in the region. Today, Hutsul pottery is less known and less collected than the other arts, but it's still very unique.
Probably the best known and currently most practiced Hutsul crafts are weaving and embroidery. There are still a lot of people here who work with textiles, and collectors pay quite a bit of money for new pieces by skilled artists. This is a traditional wedding outfit, with many embroidered ribbons and a finely-decorated dress.

1 comment:

  1. very much enjoyed the selected few choices which you made to share with your audience...although, not looking forward to any unfair advantage in easter egg decorating in the future:)