Fedir Panko, folk master of decorative painting who comes from the famous village of Petrykivka, is known far and wide, even abroad, for his truly creative works of art. During the last few years, his paintings have been exhibited and won high acclaim in 37 countries.

The son of a farmer, Fedir Panko was born on February 21, 1924, in the village of Petrykivka, Dnepropetrovsk Region. In his childhood he was surrounded by delightful pieces of decorative folk art — colourful rugs, wooden and earthenware vessels with ornamental painting, and embroidered towels (rush-nicks) made by his mother and sisters. Even when very young, the boy was most observant of the local flora and fauna of his native countryside: he later used them as subjects in his creative works. Even now, one can find them in his decorative paintings: a cuckoo bird on a guelder rose tree, quails in a field of rye, and the courting dance of cranes. Horses always were, and are, a favourite motif in his compositions. The boy began to draw at an early age.

At first he used paints made from coloured clay, then he made them from plants. He made his own brushes from cat’s hair and applied the colours on pieces of paper. After finishing secondary school, Panko enrolled in the Petrykivka School of Decorative Painting and graduated in 1941. Guided in his studies by Tetyana Pata, Merited Master of Folk Art of the Ukrainian SSR, Panko mastered the principles of composition basic in Petrykivka ornamentation. Later, the talented student even further developed the skill and traditions of his famous teacher, and passed on his knowledge and experience to the younger generation of Petrykivka artists. Today, following the example of his teacher, Tetyana Pata, Panko teaches composition, traditional to Petrykivka ornamental painting, at a local children’s school of art.

In 1958, Panko was in charge of the workshop for painted and lacquered articles at the Petrykivka “Druzhba” Factory of Handicrafts. Dating from 1970, however, he headed the experimental shop of Petrykivka decorative painting attached to the Dnepropetrovsk Art Products Plant. Fedir Panko is also director of the Petrykivka Museum of Decorative Folk Art.

Fedor Panko - The Petrykyvka Cherry Tree. Panel. 1971. Tempera on cardboard

Fedor Panko – The Petrykyvka Cherry Tree. Panel. 1971. Tempera on cardboard

Fedir Panko first exhibited his creative works of art at a Republican Exhibition of Decorative Art in 1946, and later in 1948 at a USSR exhibition. His works may be found in many museums in the Ukraine, and are often on show in various countries abroad. From 1958 he has been a member of the USSR Artists Union.

For his creative and pedagogical achievements, Panko has received many awards: a Diploma of Honour in 1960 from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR; in 1966 — the Medal for Distinction in Labour; in 1970 — the Jubilee Medal of the USSR’s Festival of Amateur Art devoted to Lenin’s birth centenary; in 1972 — a silver medal and a Diploma, 2nd class, at the USSR’s Festival of Amateur Art devoted to the 50th anniversary of the formation of the USSR. Panko is inclined to painting in egg tempera on paper or cardboard, to lacquer-coated painting on wood and also to ornamental murals. His decorative panels, placards and greeting cards are regularly issued by the Mistetstvo Publishers.

Breaking the boundaries of the traditional Petrykivka school of ornamentation, Panko began to create magical flowers that had nothing in common with nature, and designed fantastic birds and animals, as well as thematic compositions. These paintings axe extremely varied and original, reflecting the artist’s fantastic inner world, his personal interpretation of actual reality. Incidentally, Panko’s three one-man shows reveal certain definite stages in his work as an artist.

His first one-man show was held in the summer of 1971, in Dnepropetrovsk — a recognition of his 25th anniversary as an artist. The focus of attention was his panel “50th Anniversary of the USSR”, whose joyous and triumphal tones, primarily red and gold, created a special mood of festivity. As for the artist’s ability to resolve complex psychological subjects through the bewitching wiles of art, one has only to refer to his series of panel paintings in tempera on cardboard bearing the general title “Legend of the Petrykivka Cherry Tree.” In this series, the painter made special use of the emotional effect of colour with, one might add, exceptional artistic taste. Without doubt, such an approach to a subject is something new indeed in Petrykivka painting.

Fedir Panko - Bandura, with painting: Cuckoo Bird on a Guelder Rose Tree. 1976. Lacquer-coated tempera.

Fedir Panko – Bandura, with painting: Cuckoo Bird on a Guelder Rose Tree. 1976. Lacquer-coated tempera.

Panko’s second one-man show in 1974 was also held in Dnepropetrovsk, in honour of his 50th birthday. Of his new paintings executed in 1973 and 1974, the attention of viewers was drawn to his triptych “Art Belongs to the People” featuring Lenin’s portrait in the central panel. In this case, the Petrykivka floral ornamentation served not only as a frame for the portrait but played the role of a dynamic background. The two side panels representing traditional subjects — “The Cuckoos Have Come” and “Flowers” — are executed on wood in tempera colours that are toned to harmonious restraint. Another set of decorative panels takes as subjects both folk songs and Soviet popular songs. The paintings do not illustrate the contents but rather express the emotional mood of each song: they convey the main idea through colour and symbolic motifs (e.g., a red guelder rose means a girl).

Panko’s third one-man show in honour of his 30 years of work as an artist was held in 1976, in the exhibition hall of the Taras Shevchenko Museum, Kiev. This was particularly apt, for Shevchenko was the main subject of the show. Paintings on wood with lacquer coating prevailed throughout the show: portraits, decorative panels, ornamental dishes and vases, cups, bowls, spoons and so on. Two portraits of the great Kobzar were of special interest. In one, Shevchenko was shown in a fur hat and sheepskin coat against a background of flowers; in the second he wears an embroidered shirt and is surrounded by golden sunflowers. The panel “Haydamaky” is painted in a riotous gamut of fiery red tones, which make it symbolic of the explosion of the people’s anger against their age-old oppressors. His panel “The Mighty Dnieper Roars and Moans” with its cool blue-green tones is a typical example of the decorative landscape. Panko also exhibited a decorative wooden platter and vase featuring Shevchenko’s portrait in a harmonious surrounding of floral ornamentation. Several vases and also a bandura were decorated with scenes based on verses written by the great Ukrainian poet and revolutionary. In his creative searches Panko is especially attracted by the idea of introducing Petrykivka ornamentation into architecture, particularly in using it on ceramic tiles. He also considers the problem of rejuvenating the art of Petrykivka rug-making and embroidery. Always seeking the new, Fedir Panko has attained full maturity as a really creative artist.

Nataliya Gluhenka, 1978