A 1983 Visit to Vasil Svida’s 70th Birthday Master Wood Carving Exhibition

v_svida
Source: Courtesy of Prostir Museum

You will not hear my voice today. Jerry Jumba, a founder of the Carpatho-Rusyn society, an artist, an educator and a collector of Carpatho-Rusyn chants and songs, will tell you about his 1983 trip to Uzhgorod, Ukraine, where he got to meet Vasil Svida, a master wood carver from Patskanovo:

“Vasil Svida – Васил Свида – is a spectacular, disciplined, imaginative, epic Carpatho-Rus’ woodcarver. When you look outward with a mindfulness or attitude that has a clean canvass that receives an image, his stunning wood carvings give insight about life. His most lengthy historic panoramic wood carving of Carpatho-Rus’ history goes across several centuries, and across special support tables. It has perfect continuity and synchronicity of the carving style in depicting the historic life of the Carpatho-Rus’ people. This includes a segment that show Rusin immigrants leaving to work in America and other lands in order to overcome the financial duress and governmental mismanagement in the autocratic Austro-Hungarian Empire. I had permission to take pictures of it.

In 1983 I was on a study scholarship to study Carpatho-Rus’ cultural life for three months in Transcarpathia, in the capital city of Uzhhorod (Užhorod – Ужгород.) The Uzhhorod Zamok (Castle) and the Skansen- Outdoor – Museum set up an exhibit of his works on the occasion of his 70th birthday in a building just before the entrance of the Skansen Museum.

When I arrived he was at the exhibit talking with everyone in such a personal way. He was humble about his work and spoke openly and softly about his motivation. I listened to his casual brilliant summations to several gallery people with heart felt questions. On a level of perception that I had not experienced before, it made me feel like Carpatho-Rus’ – my people – the land my grandparents had to leave under historic financial and political duress – survived by some miracle and had an artist, and artists, who created deeply appreciated culture that lifted the integrity and social awareness of our people, to a world class level.

As I walked through the exhibition, I stopped to gaze, and was galvanized, and then mesmerized by aesthetic beauty of the carved detail. The detail carved in the wood was incredibly sensitive, for a wood surface. The wood carved art was so physically close to the onlooker, and not protected by museum ropes around it. You could touch it! It was emotional, to look at it because I was compelled to stretch my own imagination to imagine how much thought – inner realization – and muscularity went into the shaping of the wood. The respect for his work from the people at the exhibit – was so great, that you would not want to touch it so that its integrity could last forever.

At that time my Rusin vocabulary wasn’t articulate enough to articulate his stunning application of symmetrical and asymmetrical form in balanced carved imagery, and sometimes, the juxtaposition of comparative asymmetrical imagery in the dynamic brown shades of carved wood. Every work was carved within its own visual scale of form relationships, but another brilliant artistic contrast he sometimes provided was the strategic artistic use of large, medium, and small carvings within one piece of carved work. There was the use of light and shadow, with carved relief woven in wood and jutting outward from top to bottom to evoke a clear contrast in the eyes of the onlooker.

In the subjects there were the epic personal characterizations of the people in the dignity of their daily work. There were epic historic carvings that made me ask myself, How did he arrive at that profile and angle of height and length of that carved image? Three dimensional icons in wood. Every work has an affirmative sense of purpose, community, and humanity and is “ponašomu ” -” понашому”- in the ways of our people. I didn’t know how to tell all that in Rusin, if I could speak to Vasil Svida, but I am sure he knew it.

I asked my scholarship grant agent, Margarita Michaljova, “Why doesn’t he show any Eastern Christian religious – Carpatho-Rus’ church life carving? He is soooo great.” She said that religious symbolism was not appropriate for an exhibit in an atheistic society. Communism did not encourage church life art for populist exhibitions. To this day, I don’t know if he was allowed to make or exhibit Eastern Christian church life wood carvings, privately.

I moved to speak with Vasily’ Svida (or Vasyly Svyda). He was kind as I said a few words in Rusin, and then my communist agent stepped nearby and translated my English for me! In a warm, friendly baritone voice, he responded directly in spare, economically spoken sentences packed with content and to the point. He reached to shake my hand. He was seventy years old that day, and I could feel the great muscular strength in his hands from the labor put into his masterful wood carvings. After that, I walked away with tears in my eyes because his work in that museum exhibit room, at such a personal scale, had the inspirational artistic effect of an overwhelming majestic cathedral, internally.”

written by Jerry J. Jumba