The Guzuls, who form a small ethnic branch of the Ukrainians and inhabit the eastern spurs of the Carpathians, have long been known for the originality of their folk art. Everything that was made with the mountaineer’s own hands—his wooden house and its interior decoration, colourful national costume, utensils and implements—is of high artistic value and follows ancient traditions.
Among the Guzul handicrafts special part is played by ceramics. Its production was concentrated in three villages: Kosov, Pistyn and Kuty. This art flourished in the second and third quarters of the XlXth century.
The technique of making the Guzul pottery does not differ from the usual one, but the method of painting has its own specific features. The decoration is carried out in two stages. First, a design is incised with an awl on a white clay фcoating, then it is painted in red-brown clays, after which the first firing takes place. Then the decoration is continued in green and yellow enamel colours (metallic oxides), glaze is applied and the whole work terminates in the second firing.
The Guzul pottery shows great variety and is characterized by unusual and exquisite outlines, even if lacking ornament. Quite incomparable, however, are those wares in which the beauty of form is enhanced by painted decoration. These are specimens of pottery of various purpose and size ranging from very small whistles for children to large tiled stoves. Painted decoration appears on bowls and dishes, jugs and mugs, vessels for wine shaped in the form of rings or disks; it can be found on flower pots and candlesticks, on fascinating and most amusing figurines of animals.
A whole world of decorative images is revealed in pottery-painting. Geometrical motifs are numerous. Still more usual are plant motifs deriving from the traditional Ukrainian flower ornament and to a great extent inspired by nature itself. However the best in the Guzul pottery-painting are subject-pieces depicting man and the complex world of his ideas according to the peasant-artist’s imagination. Scenes with the representations of men and animals may be found on all kind of wares. But especially convenient for this purpose are stove tiles, the artist having at his disposal in this case a rectangular surface, even like canvas, and thus more than anything else fit for the display of the artist’s entertaining stories.
The scope of subjects appearing in pottery-painting is enormous. The whole life of the peasant seems to be reflected in small pictures, unsofisticated like a cheap popular print. Reality and imagination, the prose of everyday life and the dreams of happiness are combined in them. They show the labour of the ploughman, the shepherd, the artisan. Also the artist does not fail to mention his own profession representing himself at the potter’s wheel. There are pictures of folk festivals, fair-booth performances with a bear and its leader, Guzuls playing national musical instruments, dancing couples, postmen in their carriages and fat landowners in their coaches drawn by several horses. Notable part is played by religious and particularly by military subjects, such as representations of equestrian uhlans, marching soldiers, scenes of military exercises. Sometimes historical events which really took place in this territory are shown. The peasant-artist also finds a source of inspiration in fairy-tales with funny folklore characters.
The astonishing clarity of the master’s artistic vision is striking. It seems there exists nothing which he would be unable to represent or which would be too difficult for him to show. The complexity of nature:
its three-dimensional forms and perspective, its incredible variety of components, — all seems to vanish under the commanding and wise look of the artist. Complex things become simple, all which is unimportant recedes. And now that everything incidental is eliminated the most important features become still more notable. The potter seems to be unaware of the devices of three-dimensional rendering and also of the rules of perspective. He simply does not need them. The painted decoration being deprived of the illusion of space and depth, keeps the amount of flatness which is necessary to make it conformable to the shape of the object it covers. The spontaneous and expressive style developed in pottery-painting reflects a definite system of the perception of the world typical of the folk art.
The Guzul pottery which we have inherited has not yet been exhaustively studied. In the majority of cases the works are anonimous. However, not a few names are known which more or less for certain can be associated with definite pieces of pottery.
One of the most outstanding artists of the past is Petro Baranyuk from Kosov (1816—1880). His work is characterized by sure drawing and intense colouring enriched by the red clay coating to which the paint is applied. Pottery-painting reached its climax in the work of Baranyuk’s pupil Olexa Bakhmetyuk (1820— 1882), also known under the name of Bakhminsky. Along with unusual interpretation of subjects which had existed earlier, he created new ones, drawn from life itself. He was the first to depict on a large scale the peasant labour. Bakhmetyuk was an artist of great temperament which can be traced in vivid and dynamic characters created by him. His heroes possess definite social colouring and are always full of humour. Later in the XlXth century Mikhailo Baranyuk, Gnat Koshchuk and some others stood out among the potters of Kosov.
The potters of Pistyn, a village in the neighbourhood of Kosov, created their own style. Unlike the Kosov decorations which always show the artists deep sense of life, those of Pistyn are more stylized. While the Kosov potter would be carried away by a true rendering of events, the artist from Pistyn is likely to regard nature not as an object of direct representation, but as a possibility for building up a decorative composition.
The best in the Pistyn ceramics is associated with the name of Dmitro Zintyuk, who was active in the 1840’s—1860’s. His work is extremely stylized, rich in sharp contrasting forms and is caracterized by clarity of composition. The followers of Zintyuk including his son and grandsons somewhat softened his style having laid stress on the colour.
The end of the XlXth — beginning of the XXth century witnessed a notable growth in the output of pottery along with the decay of the artistic standard. This was due to the development of the capitalist system in the Transcarpathians and also to the intrusion into the pottery manufacture of all sorts of dealers and traders who induced the artists to satisfy the cheap taste of the city customers. And nevertheless, there were at this time not a few talented artists. It would be enough to mention the widely known Petro Koshak (1864—1940) from Pistyn, an extremely prolific artist who enriched the folk art by interesting subjects, though he himself could not withstand the decadent spirit of the time.
A notable part among later potters is played by Pavlina Tsvilyk (1891—1963). The last two decades of her creative career belong already to the Soviet period. Images created by her are spontaneous and emotional and have an aura of poetry and human warmth about them.
The ceramic manufacture of our days is concentrated in Kosov. Both artists of the elder generation and the younger ones are working here. Many of them graduated from the local folk art school. Their work is marked by the tendency of carrying on the artistic traditions of the best masters of the past.
At no other time was the interest taken in the art of ceramics so great. Due to the activity of research workers and amateurs first-class works of folk art—many of which otherwise could have perished—were concentrated in museums and private collections. Everything we know nowadays about the Guzul ceramics testifies to a great aesthetic value of that amazing heritage contributed by the Ukrainian mountaineers to the cultural treasury of the peoples of our country.
The specimens of Guzul pottery reproduced in this album belong to the Kolomyia State Museum of Guzul Folk Art, to the State Museum of Ethnography and Artistic Crafts, Academy of Sciences, Ukrainian SSR (Lvov), to the Kosov Folk Arts School, and also to the collections of L. M. Datsenko, G. Z. Levin, S. G. Mayofis, N. G. Eysmont, D. N. Goberman (Leningrad), E. and Z. Sagaydachny, A. G. Solomchenko (Kosov).
The author and the publishers wish to express their gratitude to the authorities of the museums and to private collectors who have kindly given the permission to reproduce in this volume the specimens in their custody or possession, and also their deepest thanks to the Candidate of history E. I. Mateyko (Lvov) for the assistance in connection with the work on the present edition.