This year, Poland celebrates 100 years of independence. Having been partitioned by the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian empires, Poland had ceased to exist for 123 years. The end of the First World War brought Poland back onto Europe’s map.
The material in this online exhibit, researched and written by Ogniwo volunteers, examines the role played by Winnipeg’s Polish community in the fight for Poland’s independence. It was first presented as a pop-up exhibit at the celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of Poland’s Independence organized by the Canadian Polish Congress, Manitoba Branch, on Nov. 10, 2018 in Winnipeg.
The essential need to clothe ourselves—to join pieces of animal skin or fabric together—required the ingenuity to combine thread and stitches that were both functional and decorative. Evolving over centuries, these stitches became known as embroidery, or “haft” in Polish. Their use strengthened the construction of a garment by reinforcing seams and areas of highest wear, as well as becoming ornamental, often characterizing class, station, and place.
The need to clothe ourselves still exists, but machines and factories have largely replaced the individual labours of the home tailor and embroiderer. It is the artist in us that looks at traditions and pushes the boundaries to create something new. In this virtual exhibit, a companion to our on-site exhibit, we shine a spotlight on traditional embroidery and how it can be repurposed (𝙍𝙀-𝙏𝙃𝙍𝙀𝘼𝘿), as well as on artists locally and across the world who are reimagining embroidery and pushing this art form into new realms (𝙀𝙈𝘽𝙍𝙊𝙄𝘿𝙀𝙍𝙔, 𝙍𝙀𝙄𝙈𝘼𝙂𝙄𝙉𝙀𝘿).
We use the term embroidery to describe several different types of ornamentation including woven, cross-stitch, flat stitch, open work (often called “Richelieu”), lace (crocheted, woven and bobbin), and appliqué. These stitches were initially functional: to strengthen the construction of a garment by reinforcing seams and areas of highest wear, such as collars, cuffs and shirt fronts. Eventually they became ornamental and characterized differences in class and station, region, and urban and rural environments.
Initially, the basic elements of daily clothing for peasants were a cotton or linen shirt and trousers held up by a string belt. A woman’s clothing was similarly a cotton or linen dress or blouse and skirt. However, a special, festive and formal dress was the rule for weddings and other special occasions including attendance at church and government offices. This formal dress or costume was a way of investing and protecting capital, was made to last a lifetime, and was often handed down from generation to generation. Thus, the costume drew attention to the personal qualities and distinct identity of the wearer, as well as demonstrating, especially to the neighbours, wealth, economic independence, social status, as well as geographic area or parish.
The fabrics from which clothing was made – wool, flax and hemp – as well as the type of cut, thickness and colour, were basic factors that shaped the great diversity of costume and embroidery type throughout Poland. In areas where the economy was heavily based on natural resources, costumes tended to be of simpler design and simpler embroidery such as a woven stitch, cross-stitch, and chain stitch. Motifs tended to be geometric and often of single coloured thread. In regions where industrialization and economic prosperity were obvious, costumes were more ornate, made of ‘elegant’ fabrics – fine wools, silk, satin and velvet, as well as laces. The embroidery as well was generally more free-style and employed floral elements and multi-colours to a greater degree.
As raw materials and construction techniques improved, the embellishment and embroidery of the costume became more important. The height of costume development and decoration was during the 19th and early 20th centuries, ending about the time of World War II. By this time, the proliferation of machined fabrics as well as a dramatic shift in lifestyle meant that the ornate handmade folk costumes became less commonly worn.
The use of embroidery techniques was practiced in every home, most often by women. Young girls would learn from their mothers and grandmothers how to set stitches in the traditional themes and styles of their area. The embellishment of table and bed linens, clothing, tapestries and wall hangings was both necessary and fanciful. Every woman, both rich and poor, had a dowry that included linens and clothing pieces. Often whole extra sheets of cloth or linen were included for possible future use. Even women of affluent and aristocratic families used embroidery as a suitable and productive pastime. Thus, the embroidery of tapestries became an art form in itself.
Today, this art form continues to evolve. Some artisans and hobbyists enjoy working with traditional themes and methods, entrenching tradition and reflecting regional and cultural diversity. Others incorporate traditional elements into modern designs and applications. Mirroring the art of embroidery itself, a staple of handicraft and folk artistry, contemporary artists are weaving new threads into existing ones, re-imagining, re-hashing, and keeping the tradition alive—while showing that folk art is anything but static.
In recent years, embroidery has enjoyed a revival, and embroidery artists around the world have been pushing this art form into new realms by applying modern themes, imagery, media, and methods to a traditional art form. Here, we shine a spotlight on three artists from around the world who are adding to the embroidery body of art in unconventional, powerful, and beautiful ways.
Born in Hokkaido, Japan, Takashi Iwasaki studied Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba and has been living and working in Winnipeg, Canada, since 2002. Takashi’s art practice diverges into many mediums, from embroidery, paintings, collages, and sculptures, to public artworks; inspired by things and events which surround his daily life as sources of his creation.
Takashi’s embroidery works are either a visual recording of his daily life or visualization of his imaginary worlds or landscapes that no one would ever see unless otherwise depicted. Most shapes and colours have meanings and origins that are very significant to him in the way he feels them; therefore they represent and reflect his state of mind.
“I want viewers, including me, to feel joy and positive feelings when they look at my work. Often the media reports negative things and tragedies partly because happy stories aren’t as sensational; and it is true that there are those things out there in the world. It’s easy to be trapped in negative thoughts and worry about things especially when we’re exposed to those issues so often. Thinking about problems is a good way to solve them and to make the world a better place; but I think thinking positively and realizing that there is also joy in the world helps that, too, and is very essential. I want my work to present a more joyous side of the world for this reason.”
Titles in Takashi’s works are often made up of fragmented words from several languages, including Japanese, English, Chinese, French, and others. While they remind him of what he was depicting, the odd combinations of word fragments usually don’t give the audience enough clues to decipher them. He likes to encourage the audience to delve into the world of their own imagination. But he’s happy to answer to their questions about the titles and other details when he is asked.
A selection of Takashi’s embroidery works are currently on display at Ogniwo Polish Museum.
Rufina Bazlova is a Belarusian artist living and working in the Czech Republic. She studied illustration, bookmaking and sculpture in Pilsen, but she has a passion for various media and techniques, including costume design, photography, public art installations, mural restoration, theatre scenography, and embroidery.
In the summer of 2020, Rufina began her series titled THE HISTORY OF BELARUSIAN “VYZHYVANKA” in response to the widely-contested results of the presidential election and the crackdowns on political protest against the regime. The play on words takes place between the letters “S” and “Z”. The traditional technique of Belarusian embroidery is called Vyshyvanka, from the word Vyshyvat = to embroider. However, when you change “S” for “Z,” you have Vyzhyvanka, which originates from the verb Vyzhyvat = to survive.
“Belarusian ornaments are in a way a code for our national history, that could be read as a text…The national awakening simply demanded this technique of national embroidery. The events of the past months represent a portion of our great history. Belarus changed, woke up… big changes are coming that must be written into the code of embroidery!” — Rufina Bazlova
Rufina’s work weaves together aspects of old and new. “Historically, women who made traditional Belarusian ornaments couldn’t read or write, and embroidery was the only way to depict surrounding life. For that reason, they created special geometrical signs and predominantly used red colour as a symbol of blood and life on a pure linen background, which symbolized freedom and purity.”
This series is created via digital collage, a contemporary method of creating traditional imagery while reflecting the urgency behind the political situation in Belarus. “Embroidering is not a very fast process, it needs time and calm. These days are full of different events and there is no possibility to meditate with a needle. I hope that a time of freedom and calm will come soon, and I will once again make original embroideries…Folk embroidery was traditionally used as a talisman against evil spirits. I would like to believe that it has not lost this power in our days!”
JUSTYNA WOŁODKIEWICZ // NIBYNIEBO
Justyna Wołodkiewicz is a self-taught contemporary Polish artist and textile designer living and working in Poland. She creates one-of-a-kind multimedia works by combining traditional embroidery stitching techniques with tiny handmade polymer clay sculpture. By incorporating modern design and non-traditional media into her embroidery work, Justyna is exploring this traditional Polish handicraft in novel and exciting ways.
My art is often an expression of genuine joy. How can you explain that simply staring at colorful threads already brings ideas of how to use them? Creating enhances my vitality and gives a sense of fulfillment. At the same time, it seems to be pure play with the universe. That’s how I love creating…All those eyes and masks and beaded dresses, abstract landscapes, colorful stitched shapes are manifestations of my soul. I make them to express myself – to communicate to the world the very good energy. What will the world do with that energy? It is up to them. —Justyna Wołodkiewicz
This virtual exhibit is created as part of Culture Days Manitoba 2020. It complements the exhibit in our physical space at 1417 Main Street, Winnipeg, which runs now through Spring 2021. We invite you to come view embroidery from across regions and cultures. Serdecznie zapraszamy!
This virtual exhibit was created by Ogniwo Polish Museum, with contributions from the following:
Curator: Christine Tabbernor Contributors: Magdalena Blackmore, Marta Dabros Photography: Mirek Weichsel, Natalia Weichsel Videography: Natalia Weichsel Models: Bénédicte J. V. LeMaître, Natalia Weichsel, Julianna Zwierciadlowska-Rhymer Special thanks to contributing artists: Takashi Iwasaki, Rufina Bazlova, Justyna Wołodkiewicz.
Rights to all works presented here reside with their creators and are used with permission.
The story of Huta Różaniecka, Poland, as told through seven decades of correspondence
In 1927, Władysław (Walter) Ważny set his sights beyond his home village of Huta Różaniecka, Poland, and embarked on a new life in the Canadian prairies. Departing by sea from the Port of Danzig, Władysław arrived in Canada on June 1st of that year. He must have wondered what changes awaited him in his new home, or whether he would ever see his family again. At 26 years old, he was the only one of his immediate family to take this journey, leaving behind his mother Agnieszka, father Karol, and seven younger siblings: Kazik, Wikta, Benedykt, Frania, Ludwik, Kasia, and Adam.
In Canada, Władysław grew new roots, doing agricultural and construction work in the Winnipeg area. He married his Polish-Canadian wife Victoria in 1931, and the couple settled in Oak Hammock, Manitoba, where they ran a homestead together and raised four children. Yet, Władysław remained strongly connected to his roots in his beloved Huta. For almost 70 years, he wrote letters to everyone back home, and received their letters back in return.
Władysław’s children grew up watching their father opening the small envelopes that regularly arrived in their mailbox bearing Polish stamps, and faithfully drafting his handwritten replies. Over the decades, they also watched the incoming letters start to dwindle, as slowly people from home passed away and acquaintances moved on. Władysław was the last of his immediate family to survive, passing away in 1996. Apart from his children and his life’s work, he left another legacy: the story of Huta Różaniecka, as told through letters from home.
These letters were sent to Władysław by his parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, as well as by nieces and nephews, some of whom were born after his departure to Canada and whom he had never met in person. Together, the letters tell the story of the members of the Wazny, Rebizant, Kudyba, and Bundrya families over many years, depicting their relationships, struggles, and joys. They are also a testament to the shifting landscapes of one Polish village, offering a lens through which to view larger socio-political and economic developments in Poland in the years between 1937 and 1995. They bear witness to the upheavals of war, the misery of poverty, the hope for a better future, the joys of familial love and support, and the yearning for one’s homeland.
The letters also reflect the peculiar nature of family relationships. Although we are missing an important side of the story in not having access to Władysław’s outgoing letters, the complex relationships that the Wazny siblings shared come through in the correspondence. The letters hint at past disagreements and at renewed relationships. They speak of unbreakable bonds and of feeling each other’s joys and sorrows despite great distances and lengths of time. They also offer a glimpse into the difficult position that Władysław was in. Although Władysław was not wealthy by Canadian standards and himself struggled at times, the pressure to help his family back home was intense. Often the letters include appeals for material and monetary help, and almost every letter begins by thanking Władysław for sending money.
This virtual exhibit presents excerpts of the correspondence received by Władysław Ważny from his family and acquaintances in Huta Różaniecka. The text of the letters has been translated from Polish into English and transcribed to type in order to allow for broader accessibility. Although the translations are literal and direct wherever possible, at times the sentence structure or wording has been altered slightly to better reflect the intended meaning. The handwritten Polish originals are presented first, followed by the typed translations for each letter.
Exhibit researched, written, and arranaged by Marta Dabros, and translated by Marta Dabros and Christine Tabbernor. Based on records held at Ogniwo Polish Museum Archives, CA-OPMA-A-2018-02 and CA-OPMA A-2018-07, Wladyslaw Wazny fonds.
With sadness and deep respect, the members of Ogniwo Polish Museum in Winnipeg remember and honour Pani Genowefa (Jean) Kuzia (nee Borowiec), who passed away on October 27, 2019. Pani Kuzia was a founding member of Ogniwo Polish Museum. She was instrumental in securing funding and a permanent building to house the Museum and its collections, as well as in incorporating the Museum as an organization. More than that, she worked tirelessly over many decades to secure donations of priceless artefacts and archival materials to document Polish history and culture, Polish settlement in Manitoba, and the work and contributions of Polish individuals and community organizations. She meticulously accessioned and described hundreds of items into Ogniwo’s catalogue. Without her foresight and dedication, much of this history would have been lost. We extend our sincerest condolences to her family. We are grateful for her dedicated spirit and her contributions to the Polish community in Winnipeg, and vow to continue the important work Pani Kuzia started. Wieczny odpoczynek racz jej dac Panie.
It’s official! Ogniwo’s annual “Raise Your Spirits” fundraiser will take place on October 19, 2019.
The theme this year is “Party at Auntie’s” (“U Cioci na Imieninach”). Join us for an evening of spirits and home-made Polish delicacies as we celebrate in the style of traditional Polish family gatherings. We will drink, eat, laugh, and feel warm and cozy just as the weather starts to cool. Tickets available now via email or one of our volunteer members!
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, which has its place in history as one of the most decisive battles of WWII. The great effort of the Polish 2nd Corps to capture the Monte Cassino Hill and Abbey, Hills 593 and 569, San Angelo and Mas Albaneta, came at a great cost. The 2nd Corps suffered 4,199 casualties, of which 1,150 were deaths.
We invite you to mark this anniversary with us on Sunday, May 19th, 2019, when we launch a special exhibit prepared by longtime Ogniwo volunteer and Executive Director of Polish Exiles of WW2, Krystyna Szypowska, as well as additional panels by Ogniwo Polish Museum. The exhibit also features the history of Wojtek the Soldier Bear.
Join us on February 24, 2019 at 2:00 pm for the launch of Poles in the Canadian Mosaic, a special travelling exhibit prepared by Dr. Michalina Petelska of the University of Gdansk, Poland, in cooperation with the Emigration Museum in Gdynia, Poland, the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, and brought to you by Ogniwo Polish Museum, the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto, and the Canadian Polish Congress Manitoba Branch.
Nic Curry, MLA for Kildonan, will celebrate along with us by presenting Ogniwo Museum with a special copy of his private member’s resolution, titled Celebrating Over 200 Years of Polish Culture in Manitoba, which was passed unanimously by Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly on December 4, 2018.
We’re gearing up for this year’s Manitoba Culture Days, September 28, 29, and 30th, 2018. This year, we are featuring an installation by Winnipeg-born, Vancouver-based visual artist Julianna Zwierciadlowska titled “Surviving the Calamity.” Her works are influenced by her family’s survival of World War II and her experiences of Communist-era Poland.
Our Archivist Marta Dabros was pleased to welcome Robert Zirk and Sonny Primolo of The Winnipeg Foundation to record an installment of the radio show River City 360, a one-hour radio program 93.7CJNUFM that features stories about individuals and charitable organizations in Winnipeg.
Marta talked about the Museum’s history, its amazing volunteers, and some of the interesting materials and characters featured in its archival collection, including the letters of Walter Wazny, the story of Lukasz Kulczycki’s uniform, and the life and work of the amazing Mary Adamowska Panaro.