The Hutsuls an ethnic group of Ukrainians populating the Eastern Carpathian Mountains at the intersection of three present-day regions: Ivano-Frankovsk, Chernovtsy and Subcarpathian Regions. Here, in the area known as Hutsulschyna, in conditions of geographic isolation, the local specifics of the material and spiritual culture of the Ukrainian Highlanders have developed.
For centuries the life of Hutsuls has been based on subsistence production. A Hutsul individual has constructed houses, made tools, pots and pans, and clothes. The universality of mastership and gained experience have been transferred from one generation to another. Later some trades became subject to specialization developing into crafts. The most talented craftsmen emerging from the farmers’ environment reached artistic perfection in their works, and the Hutsul art gained certain stylistic features. In the second half of the XIX century there were dynasties of wood carving, weaving and pottery craftsmen.
Painted ceramic is one of the most significant phenomena of the artistic creativity of the Hutsuls. Here the ancient art of burnt and painted ceramic is marked with rare peculiarity.
An intensive development of the painted ceramic started in the late XVIII century in the bottom-hill villages of Hutsulschyna under the influence of traditions developed in the neighboring, more ancient Ukrainian centers of this art, primarily in Kolomyia. At first the village of Pistyn became the center of this craft and in the early XIX century Kosov emerged. Its growth became possible when the road connecting it with mountainous villages was constructed.
The XIX century was the most favorable for ceramics and, as it happens, for the art of Hutsul overall. From the end of the century the impact of a number of historically conditioned social factors resulted in a durable artistic decay that has not been surmounted as yet in the folk art 157 that led to the loss of the remarkable creativity of the pottery painting. With the goal of this book being the identification of the best essential traditions of the Hutsul ceramics, the author shall not go beyond the works of masters of the XIX century.
Touching upon technologies of the Hutsul ceramics, we shall point out that the molding of pieces is similar to the one commonly used. As for the painting, under glaze, with a double baking, there are a number of techniques characteristic of local ceramics. At first a pre-dried pot, a glaze tile or another piece is covered with a fine layer of white engobe (clay), engraving a pattern over it, covering certain portions with red and brown engobe, and completing the first baking. Then the painting continues with ceramic paints (metal compounds): green and yellow; poring glaze onto the piece and baking it for the second time. There is also another method used to make a pattern: with a stick of an ox horn with a plume or a straw attached to one end. In contrast to engraving this method, called ‘rozhkovaniye’ (horn work) or ‘fliandrovka,’ produces a rich line made by a little spout of paint from the filled horn plume.
There are various objects different in their purpose or sizes that become subject of ornamentation – from tiled stoves to children’s penny whistles. Ornamented plates, bowls and jugs – wide-neck milk jugs and narrow-neck pots for oil are widely spread in everyday life. Small vessels for wine – plate-shaped pleskanka (swasher) pots and ring-shaped kalach pots worn on wrists like bracelets. Pipe candle stands and ceramic triple horn stands that appeared later in imitation of wooden stands were also ornamented. It is not rare for a potter to combine the functions of a utilitarian object and decorative sculpture in one piece. He makes a plant pot in the form of a ram with a pot on its back and a money box in the form of a pig. Covered primarily with decorative ornamentation. these pieces fascinate with their charming looks.
The ornamentation uses a wide range of geometric and floral patterns. The first include angles, taps, circles, rhombs, direct and wavy lines, ladders, herring bones and runners. Crosswise creasing known as “acicular script”, such as in wood carving, is often used. The pattern is applied freely; the master never marks it out, and, drawing it in a circle, cares not about whether the figures would come together: he knows he would always link the ends, stretching or reducing the list elements.
The flora patterns associated with common traditions of a Ukrainian floral pattern to a great extent also reflect direct observations of a peasant artist sensitive to the beauty of nature. However, a master does not in the least merely reprint its forms. Taking only some features from nature, he creates his own world of decorative images. Like a fairy-tale gardener he grows sunflowers, bellflowers, daisies and lilies of incredible shapes on one stem. Following the techniques developed in the Ukrainian decorative art, the master often depicts flowers and buds sort of cleaved, revealing their inner parts hiding behind a corona. Inflorescences and bouquets in vases are full of intricate fantasy; the wavy stems encircling the tops of vessels and garlands of blooming branches along the tiled stove cornices are fanciful.
However, the most wonderful details about the Hutsul ceramics are subject ornamentations showing the living nature, human beings in the environment, their activities and a complicated world of their ideas, clearly in the way the imagination of an artist dictates.
A master applies scenes with people and animals on various pieces, as long as there is sufficient space. One can see them on swashers, plates and dishes where the concave disc of a “picture” is framed with an ornamented wreath. It is not rare that the plot develops on the body of a jug. The tiled stoves allowing an artist a rectangle of a flat plane like canvas are particularly good for ornamentation. The potters, therefore, use them most often for their exciting fables. It is appropriate to mention here that the tiles make a complicated voluminosity of the composition that a tiled stove presents. The latter has preserved the main shapes of its prototype – a plain clay-walled hearth, but the ceramic tiling has completely transfigured its looks, giving it strict ordonnance and extraordinary fanciness at the same time. On the whole a Hutsul tiled stove is the rarest model in the peasant art of the architectural, pictorial and decorative basics merging in one piece of work.
The circle of topics covered by ornamentation is vast. It seems as if a Hutsul’s whole life is depicted in small, ingenious like cheap popular print pictures where the reality and fantasy, the prose of everyday routine and dreams of happiness are entwined. They render farmer’s work, folk festivities, fair shows and amusements. They are full of humorous pictures of Polish or Austrian nobility. The artists are also inspired by the world of fairy tales with funny folk characters.
A ploughman follows his horse-driven plow; above them there is a huge flower pouring the joyful light of spring onto the man and his animals like the sun. A shepherd and his goats walking over a log bridge across a stream with fish in it. A miller watching the stone mill and the flow of grain from the bunker. The work is in full swing in a weaver’s shop; the figures of the craftsman working the shuttle and the apprentice overburdened with the yarn that he fetches. The author also depicts his craft showing himself working at the wheel and his apprentices assisting him and creates a composition giving a sense of diligence at work.
The master shows vivid interest to his everyday surrounding. The household routines, the village street with its taverns and shops, with the quietude of routine life, disrupted by the sound of the post office horn, the roar of a dashing landlord’s turn out or a row between tipsy Hutsuls. Beside the peaceful scenes depicting a plain farmer’s meal or a shop owner serving his customers, one can see a gendarme convoying speculators in irons; the artist is evidently not indifferent to social events in life.
There is a wide range of topics dedicated to music and entertainment. There are couples moving to the violin playing: lords in tail coats or brave hussars dancing with dressed up damsels. Hutsul men dance their farmers’ dance of Highlanders with violent zeal. There is music everywhere, they play the long trembita wrapped in elm and miniature mouth drymba, bagpipes, bandura and cymbals, clarinet and violoncello, playing alone or in duet making breaks for a snack.
The joyful world of traveling comedians comes to life in the ornaments. The folk humor is inexhaustible in the pictures with a bear dancing, smoking the pipe, imitating a lord or an old man with a stick by order of a Hutsul man or a bearded gypsy man. Looking at those funny plain scenes one can vividly imagine the laughter and appreciative exclamations of the crowd at the fair.
The topic of love and jealousy also appears to be presented in ornamentations. The artist depicts a beauty with a flower, an entertaining couple raising their glasses and kissing in the shade of a tree. Funny scenes with two rivals fighting with their axes in the presence of the dame. At this the lady either stands aside watching the fight, pulls the fighters apart or helps her darling.
Many plots associated with military topics reflect the artist’s observations related to the life of a local garrison and his own memories of the military service. We see hussars with pistols and sables galloping their horses, uhlans with pikes, cannon gunners, the soldiers training in bayonet action, the lines of soldiers with an officer or a drummer ahead of them. There are also dramatic episodes of murder and marauding, the artist’s reaction to the events of WWI.
The most popular subjects in painting are horse-driven carriages: a postman riding in a carriage announcing his presence with a horn, a lord having a ride and his cabman sitting in the carriage driven by two pairs of horses harnessed in tandem.
Religious paintings are interesting by a peculiar interpretation of the icon images by the masters. The Mother of God and the infant, Saint Nicholas honored by people for protecting the poor and patronizing the crafts, Saint Catherine and Barbara appear in the paintings more often than others. The master adds more tops to the laconic architecture of the Hutsul wooden hipped-roofed temple and generously ornaments the crosses. The image of bell ringer skillfully handling the choir of bells is full of living expression.
Special interest is shown to the plots associated with animals. There is the subject of hunting close to the mountaineers and the duel of a hunter and predator: a Hutsul man hitting a bear hunting for a calf with his ax. A deer is often seen: the masters took to liking its slender majestic image with its head tossed and big branchy horns. At times the painting of an animal is full of humor: a bear playing the musical instrument or a smoking goat believed to be a parody of a narrow-minded lord. Sometimes biblical subjects are conveyed: a lion with a human face playing the lute personifying the image of King David. A number of patterns with animals and birds have been borrowed from publication sources. There are paired paintings of lions and innumerable interpretations of the heraldic double-headed eagle.
Development of the subject painting in ceramics has been stimulated by exclusive interest of the Hutsuls to the depiction and particularly to the image of a human being. This interest is shown earnestly in the cult wooden plastics (adoring crosses, trinities, hand crosses), and also, glass painting. However, while a religious character of sculptures rather restricted the topics, ceramic ornamentation gave masters space for figural compositions.
The language of paintings is brief and plain. Their authors amaze with surprising clarity of their artistic sight. There seems to be nothing for a potter that he would not depict or that is hard for him to paint. The whole complication of nature with its foreshortening forms and inconceivable plentitude of details seems to vanish before the imperious and wise sight of an artist. The complicated becomes simple and everything insignificant and minor fades away and droops, and getting free from fortuities the significant features of a subject, marked and stressed by the decisive hand of a master, become even more significant.
The pictures of people and animals are flat. Turned in their profiles, they gain an easily readable silhouette like the images of a theater of shadows. Same with the plant shapes: flowers and leaves, thoroughly stretched like in herbarium, spread along the background indicating the beauty of contours. In ceramics, and particularly on tiles, this has its special logic. The painting bereaved of the illusion of the volumetric capacity and deep-laid spaciousness preserves the extent of flatness that is necessary to preserve the shape of the piece that it covers.
A compositional talent of masters capable of finding the relation and clear organization of elements in their work also appears in painting. The living chaos of nature and eternally changeable interrelations of its forms give place to the order staged by the master in his painting. Obedient to his will, animals, people and plants take the very position enabling them to express the action in the picture in the best possible way like in a mise en scene. The master determines the required scale of figures, watching that they do not jostle one another breathing with ease. The elements of painting are rhythmisized to a certain extent and we clearly sense the regularity of lines, forms, color spots repeating in certain sequence or contrasted against one another, but sounding in accord. A composition that is quietly static, inwardly tense or full of swift motion is balanced and complete.
The works of Hutsul masters of the past are anonymous in their prevailing number. It is not always possible to link the names of the masters whose names have been preserved with individual painted pieces. It is easy to identify the works of Oleksa Bakhmatyuk, Petro Koshak and some other potters. As for the other names that have become habitual in literature, such as Petro Baranyuk and Dmytro Zintyuk, the authorship of works of a certain creative manner can be conventionally ascribed to them due to the absence of pieces with their signatures.
We may believe M. Kovalskiy, whose name is inscribed on the ceramic plates with the paintings of Holy Virgin and Saint Nicholas, dated 1811, to be the oldest of the masters known to us. In contrast to the earlier ceramic commonly painted with a horn, the painting on these plates was made by engraving, but not only the technique – the very character of the painting, the color, and what is the most important – expressive human images forestall the main features of subsequent paintings.
The latest research of Yu. Laschuk, a researcher of Western Ukrainian ceramics, has discovered the name of Ivan Baranyuk, a potter (died around 1860), whom he suggests is the author of the pieces formerly ascribed to Petro Baranyuk and who was considered to be the master of a later period, though never mentioned in the archives. The works of this master, most of them piles, have clearly expressed the author’s specifics in painting. Their characteristic features are plastic roundish contours of human and animal figures, and plentitude of plant sprouts in the background. The coloring is enriched with light red engobes of brick tints – rarely seen on other masters’ works – concealed within the pastose contours beside the spreading greenery. The live picture and rare richness of color in the works by I. Baranyuk make it possible to include them in the best samples of the Hutsul ornamented ceramics.
The painting reached the peak of development in the works of the famous Oleksa Bakhmatyuk (1820-1882), also known by ascribed works under the name of Bakhminskiy. The son of a potter and a pupil of Ivan Baranyuk, he had an unusual talent and was popular with the Hutsuls and beyond the region. The subject paintings of Bakhmatyuk, enriched by the materials of life to which he ascribed his own meaning, are particularly valuable. In the numerous works of the master we keep getting excited about the story of a human being and nature as much as his contemporaries did a half century before. Bakhmatyuk was the first of the Hutsul masters to depict farmers’ work. Ploughmen, shepherds, weavers and potters painted on tiles determine people’s character to a great extent and the democratic character of painting. His characters are socially concrete, are often distinguished for the witticism of character and always – for their humor, so captivating in Russian cheap popular print.
Bachmatiuk`s painting is extraordinarily expressive. A confident line fluently flows around human figures, profiles of their tossed heads rendering the vivid and slightly surprised look in their widely open eyes. The paintings of human beings and animals are remarkable for plasticity of forms, natural and characteristic position, and the composition is dynamic reflecting the temperament of the artist. The works of the master are also interesting from the decorative point of view. He is infinitely inventive in ornamentation, richly decorating the background with it harmoniously linking the ornamental patterns with images of human beings and animals in the melodious arabesque. Feet firmly standing on earth, free wide movements of arms, volutes of animal horns calling up with the tendrils of plant motives, – all of this, supported by rich stains and runs of paint makes a rich ‘baroque’ pattern of his painting, characteristic for the master. The authorship of Bakhmatyuk can be easily recognized by specific motives used by nobody but him. They are intricate inflorescences with radically placed wavy stalks, triangle leaves with scalloped edges and flowers in the shape of palmette. A big sunflower surrounded with a yellow zigzag aureole is extremely characteristic of his painting. The master used impaired this kind of motives, painting them in inflorescence that potters gave the name of ‘banminschina’ to it on plant the pots.
The creative works of Bakhmatyuk had a notable influence on the masters of subsequent generations. The best known of them are representatives of the Baranyuk dynasty: Mykhailo (1834-1902), Iosif (1863-1942), and also, Gnat Koschuk, whose major works came up in the 1880s. Along with Bakhmatyuk, they represent the Kosov School of ceramics. Their paintings, most of them with subject lines, are remarkable for the graphical accuracy of the picture, clear characteristic of images, and are full of the sense of life.
The Pistyn village near Kosov developed its own school of ceramic ornamentation with its own peculiar resourceful techniques. There is also a subject painting here, but in contrast to the Kosov School, it has a more conventional form, at times quite distant from the customary concepts of the objective world. While a potter from Kosov truly tells about an event with enthusiasm, the existing reality serves an artist from Pistyn not so much a subject to painting, but an occasion to create decorative compositions.
Development of Pistyn School is linked to the dynasty of three generations of the Zintyuks, and mostly with Dmytro, the oldest of them, whose activities occurred in the 1840s-1860s. Among the works ascribed to Zintyuk, a group of bowls with the painting marked by hyperbolism of forms, acute contrasts and contrapositions stands out. It is distinguished for depicting animals with a big, almost rectangle body, thin legs and a miniature head, human figures with shifted and hardly conceivable parts of faces, plants in the form of gigantic ears, big ring-shaped flowers in the aureole of fine leaves. The constructivity of compositions where the bodies of humans and animals are strongly gripped with a brace of arms, legs, horns and stems is amazing. In another group of paintings that were probably completed later, the lines are smoothened and less strict in their structure, though the measurement scale is preserved. The fullness of the composition is supported by the colors: sound yellow and green paints seemingly not fitting in the narrow boundaries of the contours spread on the background revealing their tonal richness.
The features of Kosov and Pistyn ceramics seem to have mixed in the painting of the one-of-a-kind stove in the hut of V. Samolischuk in Sokolivka. Every tile in it is an impressive folk primitive. The broken and bluntly dislodged forms associated with Picasso images give a feeling of the decisive and strong hand of the master in reproduction of the world completely deprived of an illusory vision. Those cut, sort of applied straight off and boldly shifted from the prescribed position extremities of human beings and animals, create compositions capturing with their inner tension and dynamism. Regretfully, only a little over a dozen of the tiles of this master have reached us proving that he was greatly popular during his lifetime. Meanwhile, in the light of modern evaluation of the painting on the Sokolivka stove present the phenomenon of folk painting improvisation.
Besides Kosov and Pistyn, where the main artistic features of the Hutsul ceramics developed, another big hearth of the pottery trade was Kuty. However, here the subject painting did not develop, mainly cultivating the ornamental traditions of the Kosov School.
Speaking about the pottery painting of the Hutsuls, we cannot help mentioning the Kolomyia ceramics, to which, as we have mentioned before, the sources of the Kosov school lead. The tiles from museum collections in Kolomyia, most likely made by Voiceh Sloviczki (1800-1885), a representative of the local dynasty of potters, give some idea of it. In his paintings the human images of a violinist, a peasant woman with rakes and a young couple are made with light green stains of clouds in the background. The figures are turned frontally. Full of grace, they sort of flow before a spectator in a slow dance, staying within the limits of a tile for an instant …
In the late XIX – early XX century a general artistic decline of folk art showed boldly in the ceramics. The Kolomyia pottery school opened in 1876 where foreign tutors trying to introduce the academic basics in the folk art emasculated any live sources from it that could improve the situation whatsoever. However, even at this time there were talented artists among the potters of Kosov and Pistyn. In Kosov the families of the Sovizdranyuks, Voloschuks, Tymiaks, Mykhailo Biletskiy, Grygoriy Tsvilyk, Vladislav Urbanskiy, Iosif Tabarkhonyuk were quite popular. Though in their paintings the features of the two schools grew dim, a lot of individuality and interesting dynamics can be found with each of them.
Among the masters of the late XIX and early XX centuries, Petro Koshak (1864-1941) from Pistyn was particularly well known. At first fond of ornamental painting, he turned to human images more and more in the later period, as if summarizing his lifetime observations. His gift of a painter reveals in the painting of tiles full of compositions based on the reality particularly depicting the plots related to WWI events. The paintings of this master are most concrete. The scenes of Hutsul life truly render the character, costume and curious ethnographic details as in no other artists’ paintings, but still Koshak remains in the shadow of his famous predecessors. The traces of studying in the Kolomyia School tangible in many of his works marked with the sign of eclectics. The shapes of pieces of works are mannered at times, the geometric ornament is dull like a drawing, and the subject paintings that are still stories sometimes lack plastic expressiveness. However, it would not be fair to belittle the significance of the findings of Koshak the artist based on the fervent interest of the master to a human being and his deeds.
Among the masters of the following generation after Koshal Pavlyna Tzvilyk (1891-1964) stands out. Her small pieces painted with floral patterns intertwined with the motive of an animal and sometimes a human image do not excel in particular brightness and tell about a strong, but restrained temper. In the forms of subjects slightly playing with irregularity of contours give a feeling of the sensitive anxious hands of the mistress, and it seems there is life glimmering in the clay. Same with the painting: the picture of rosettes, leaves, blooming branches covering the surface of a piece with a continuous lace pattern, deer, hares, and roosters looking like clay toys is a little anxious and timid. Her images, naive and poetic, are suffused with human warmth.
The XX century was a period of the progressive encroachment of modern culture into the life of Hutsuls. The last existing tiled stoves are disappearing. The painted plates on the shelves are replaced with factory-manufactured faience, but the art of ceramics still lives. The pottery is in demand in villages and to a great extent beyond the region where their decorative merits are highly valued. Fresh forces of graduates of the Kosov College of Decorative Applied Arts join the guild of ceramists. Among them there are talented, anxious artists capable of giving this art a new impulse.
The Hutsul ornamented ceramics is an invaluable fact of folk art. It reflects the mastership and delicate taste of its creators, spontaneity of a farmer’s soul, love of life and invincible yearning for painting. And it is extremely important that in our time, when the world of art is captivated with a search for new images and artistic personification, we do not cease to feel the edifying and inspiring strength of heritage.