I bought and old classic views of Poland book 20yrs ago, all very Communist.
The photos that caught my eye were of a wicker painted barn in the village of
Zalipie. It was hand painted with peacocks and flowers. I photocopied it and put
it on the wall for inspiration.
On my second visit to Poland in 1994 I was determined to find the barn and village.
We found a translator and driver in Krakow and set of in the direction of Tarnow
South/east to the flat lands eventually crossing a river by manual pontoon and
shortly arriving in the village.
I had seen a room in the Krakow Ethnographic Museum decorated by the women of the
village but to see the village itself was something of a fairytale to me.
We found the barn in the book somewhat delapidated and then the house it belonged to
all painted to like most houses in the village.
The house belonged to Stephania now in her 80`s and considered the `mad woman ` of
the village. She did a lot of shouting from her back door but somehow our guide managed to
persuade her to invite us in. We spent an hour with her and saw her amazing interiors
paper decorations for weddings and paper pattern cut sort of net curtains.
She did little now but had done so much folk ritual art of all kinds in between working
the small farm with her late husband and children all now abroad. I took photos when
I could without being intusive.
She used to make brushes from her cows tail hair and boil up pigments and dyes with
dumplings to give body to the paint. This natural paint faded each year and was repainted
after a particular religious festival when farm work was`nt so pressing.
All this house painting was done by the women and is said to have started in the 1800`s
when the fire was open, whitewash for the exterior was used to make patterns etc on
the smoke blackened ceiling. With the coming of the enclosed stove and chimmney it
devloped into a folkart form at times with amazing colours.
Stephania had even painted sunflowers on the trunks of he fruit trees and outside her
door in the garden were bits of old dolls and plastic flowers.
She had obviously been a leader in folkart in the village and teacher to.
The newer houses were a bit more formal and did not have Stephania`s richness or touch
and they were done with modern paint now.
The Communist government had built a typical small concrete building for the women
to persue their arts and crafts.
Stephania must have passed on now sadly but for me to see her world and meet her
was one of the magical moments of my life. A real peasant woman who created things
for a world now gone and residing in museums now or tourist pastiche tat.
I like to think I just glanced the close of day when folkart was real and important in
village life and truly the art of the people.
Stephania gave me one of her flower pattern drawings and signed to !
Zalipie is on the web now and youtube its a tourist destination