Folk Designs of Ukraine

Author:  Mykhailo Selivachov

Edition:   1st

Format:  Paperback

Pages:  64        

Language:  English

Illustrations:  B/W drawings

Publisher:  Bayda Books  (Doncaster, Australia, 1995)

Availability:  out of print

Acquired:  Polish Art Center

ISBN: 978-090-84-8030-2

This is not a book about pysanky as such; rather, it is a book about motifs commonly found in Ukrainian folk art. The author compares design elements found in various mediums: embroidery, beadwork, wall painting, wood carving, kylyms (rugs), textile prints, lacework, weaving, ceramics, wood burning, paper cutouts and pysanky.

Selivachov points out the importance of folk art in shaping the national culture in Ukraine.  In many other European nations, and particularly in the west, folk costume and national culture were based on the upper classes.  In Ukraine, which was split between the hegemony of Poland and Russia for many centuries, the upper classes (and urban populations) identified with the rulers, becoming Polonized and Russified. This resulted in the intelligentsia turning to the folk traditions of the peasants and kozaks for a national identity.

The Ukrainians are a nation which love to decorate things.  Any surface and any object in the home that can be decorated in some fashion will be.  Walls are painted with bright floral designs, and hearths covered with majolica tile. Colorful kylyms can be found on the walls and on the floors. Wooden objects, whether architectural elements or utilitarian items, are ornamented with carving, inlay or wood--burning.  Intricately designed ceramic plates hang on the walls of the kitchen, and decorated pots and boxes line the shelves. Carved and painted spoons are used to serve and eat the borscht.

There are gorgeous textiles, too.  Rushnyky can be woven, printed or embroidered, and are draped over furniture, and around paintings and widows.  Pillows, both large ones for sleeping and smaller cushions for display, are riotously embroidered. And, in a place of honor in each house are a pair of icons, encased in gold, and draped with the finest rushnyk.  Near them is a bowl full of pysanky, set out to protect the house from danger, demons and catastrophe. 

What these items all have in common is the folk motifs used as decorative elements.  Selivachov points out that there are thousands of different motifs in Ukrainian folk designs.  What he has done is chose some 40 or so “dominant” motifs, i.e. those that are similar in shape and name across the entire territory of Ukraine.  For each of these he has given numerous examples from multiple mediums, and explained the origins and meanings of the various motifs. 

Variations on the “vazon” (flowerpot or tree of life) motif found on embroidery,

pysanky, wood carvings, wall paintings and kilims

This a wonderful and useful little book, and well worth a spot on the bookshelf of anyone who enjoys traditional Ukrainian handcrafts and wishes to understand the designs and motifs a bit better.

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