Author: Diana Guralev

Concise definitions have never been my strength - there is always something to be added, isn't there?

Sarah Kushwara: “Rusyn heritage and art means so much to me!”

Fear of the Night: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

Moving to Instagram enabled us at Rusyn Art to get in touch with several contemporary Rusyn artists. One of them is a wonderful Sarah Kushwara whose Lemko great grandparents were deeply connected to their roots and their villages. Sarah’s family, and Sarah herself, have never lost that touch with Rusyn culture, whether it was through talking to her grandfather, who spoke Rusyn, “making pirohy all day,” as she puts it, or celebrating Christmas the Rusyn way while living in America – in January. But let’s hear more directly from the artist herself.

Sarah, what led you to art?

Art found me. As a youth, I was always artistic and would draw and write in calligraphy, but I was involved in a plethora of interests. It was when I worked in Istanbul as an adult that I started to paint cityscapes and views from mosques. It was the time that I worked abroad in Turkey, and travelled, and the time that I worked abroad in La Paz, Bolivia, that led me to art. I learned to paint in oils in Bolivia. The elevation was about 14,500 ft above sea level, so the air was thin, and the light changed rather fast—but it was also incredibly defined. I learned about light and the absence of light in Bolivia and that was essential to painting. It was then that everything started to look different around me—and still does. That is the beauty of being a painter. The outside word was my classroom that led me to art. 

Mississippi: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

What was the first creation you were satisfied with?

It was a watercolor I painted overlooking Cihangir, Istanbul, while looking at the Bosphorus from my apartment. Being untrained then, I was unsure of my technical skills, but I felt satisfied with them. 

Are youyour best critic or do you have people advising you on your work?

I believe I am my toughest critic.

What’s your creative process like? Where do you draw inspiration from?

I have always had so many ideas ever since I can remember. I am that person who scribbles down ideas on anything in mid-conversation, just so I can pay attention to the conversation without getting caught up with the idea in my head. Sometimes I draw inspiration from my vivid dreams, my time living in the East, and other places, like folklore and myth, and my own Hero’s Journey.

What do you consider your biggest success?

As far as art goes, my biggest success is using art as a tool to heal. I would say that my first solo show this summer was a success for me. 

Sleep Can Wait: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

What’s the main message of your art – is there any? What do you want viewers to take from it?

Different pieces have different messages. Many people have said my art is expressive and also a narrative — so it reveals what I feel. My pieces usually reveal an intense emotion. 

How do you think your artworks fit into the 21st century?

Some of my pieces challenge the idea of globalization by highlighting the uniqueness of different cultures, including my own. 

What are your next plans, exhibits, projects?

I would like to experiment with visionary art, and take art to a deeper, spiritual level. I would also love to partake in an artist residency. 

Untitled, oil on canvas: Courtesy of Sarah Kushwara

Well, these sound like ambitious plans I’m sure you will bring to fruition. We wish you the best of luck, Sarah! Thank you so much for sharing your world with the rest of us.

Dan Butch: a budding artist

It was Dan’s wife Britney, an accomplished artist herself, who got him into painting landscapes. Dan’s family were Carpatho-Rusyn coal miners from north-east Pennsylvania who had moved to the US from modern-day Graziowa, Poland. Dan’s interest in the nature, landscapes and his Rusyn roots added to this exploration of where creativity and imagination can take him. The need to create is tied to his son, to his family, and he must be in the correct mindset, in his own words – he must be “willing to create, which is sometimes an obstacle.” Painting takes him back to simple things in life, which might be the feeling he tries to evoke in the viewer.

We hope that this is the beginning of Dan’s artistic journey and that we will be able to reconnect again some time from now to update you on his achievements, projects and exhibitions.

Untitled: Courtesy of Dan Butch

Untitled: Courtesy of Dan Butch

RUKAMI

Courtesy of RUKAMI Design

Rusyn art is not only about painting, drawing and sculpture in classical terms. It is also the art of men and women who dedicate their talent to handcrafting those pieces that we can actually use in our everyday life.

So, for this post I decided to revisit my dear village, Uličské Krivé, where I interviewed a talented craftswoman, Božena Pročková Kontrová, who has been putting her heart and soul into wonderful hand-made home and wedding décor, head pieces and children’s toys that have been delighting her customers for many years now.

Boženka, tell us something about your family… where are your roots?

I’m from Uličské Krivé and I have six siblings. Each one of us was trained in some vocation. I was drawn to the craft of my maternal Grandmother and so I went to study fashion design in Svidnik to become a seamstress.  

Where did you work before devoting yourself to handmade products?

I used to work in different companies, small and big. I made shoes, work uniforms, children’s clothing…

Courtesy of RUKAMI Design

When did you realize you wanted to create this way?

It was shortly after I was 30 when I was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition. I underwent a surgery in Bratislava and then a long recovery. My health prevented me from working at the pace I had been used to. It took some time before I started creating my own products, but it turned out to be my hobby. What makes me even happier is the fact that I can actually bring joy to people who like my creations.

Courtesy of RUKAMI Design

How did the idea of lavender pillows come to you? What are they good for? How long does it take to make one?

To be honest, I’m not really sure. I must have been inspired by a random picture somewhere and tried making one myself. Rather than pillows as such, I create decorative products that can also function as children’s toys. I add lavender into these as well. The first shape I tried was a heart, then a cat, a teddy, a snail… and then I slowly added to my repertoire. Lavender not only lets out a wonderful fragrance, but it also protects your home from moths and ants and has a calming effect. One has to rub the place where lavender is sewn in between their fingers to activate and release the scent. The length of making the lavender pillow depends on the product itself. The easiest and fastest to make are hearts. If, for example, a bride orders them as name tags for her wedding, it can take me up to a week to finish.

Courtesy of RUKAMI Design

I know you also make something very special and very Rusyn. Could you tell us a bit more about what a “parta” is?

Courtesy of RUKAMI Design

“Parta” is a headband, or a head piece, that was traditionally worn by young, unmarried girls. Slovakia is incredibly rich in its traditional dresses. Every village had their own “kroj” and their own “parta.” It was during the wedding ceremony that the “parta” was taken off the girl’s head and replaced by a bonnet covered with a head scarf. “Partas” were decorated with flowers, beads and ribbons. It could be said that my “partas” are the modern counterparts. They are basically flowered headbands, which do not have the same significance for a girl’s social status as before because even married women wear them as hair decorations these days. I also make “partas” for brides to use in a traditional wedding ceremony called “čepčenie” and these are decorated with folk-patterned ribbons to look like the real deal.

What achievements do you have behind you and what projects are ahead of you?

My greatest achievements are my two daughters and my grandson who make me really happy. I’m also very satisfied when people praise what I create for them. I would like to present my creations at handmade markets and events where I can teach children how to make them. I regularly participate in one wedding exhibition in Kosice where I can meet future brides who want my products as name tags or party favors for their weddings.

Courtesy of RUKAMI Design

Do you think Rusyn women have a close relationship with folk art? If so, why?

When we look at the history, Rusyn people weren’t a rich nation. I mean, women didn’t use to buy clothes, but make them for themselves and their families. They sewed their dresses, embroidered shirts for their boyfriends and husbands, they made “partas”, bonnets and they weaved rugs… they were pure artists. Even now Rusyn women are talented enough, but not everyone can devote their time to creative work. Still, traditions must be preserved at any cost because if we forget who we are and where we are from, our nation will die out, it will disappear.

You can contact RUKAMI via Facebook or Instagram and order your own piece of authentic Rusyn creation to brigthen up your home.

Rusynkŷ – Русинкы – Rusínske Trio

Rusynkŷ – Русинкы – Rusínske Trio

Pure folk art. Pure women’s art. Pure Rusyn art.

I know I’ve been mostly writing about painters and sculptors. But it hit me today that I hadn’t devoted much time to our wonderful folk art: the embroidery, the dresses, the headpieces and the songs.

Dominka Novotna and her ensemble Rusinske Trio have been incredibly successful promoting our heritage and presenting all of the above in a lovely package. When I listen to their songs and look at their photographs, I can feel that they are deeply connected to their roots and that they are sharing their pride and joy with the rest of the world.

They have recently released a CD with a selection of Rusyn songs. They sing in three part harmony, which is how it is traditionally done in Rusyn songs, and I can’t wait to hear it all. I am looking forward to my copy of their CD in the mail – it should be coming soon! By the way, I’ll be happy to help you with ordering your copy if you need assistance with communicating in Slovakian or Rusyn. Just send me an email at rusynart@gmail.com.

Dominika’s latest project is a collaboration with Kandračovci – the most favorite Rusyn Christmas carol Koly Jasna Zvizda. You can listen to it here:

Serafina Makai – painting on glass

If you liked my post about Silvester Makai, you will sure enjoy this one about his wife, Serafina, who creates beautiful paintings directly on glass. The technique consists of applying the colors on the reverse side of the glass pane, details first, after which the rest of the scenery is filled in. The vivid blue of the welcoming abodes, the energy of the horses galloping towards the viewer, the believability of the cold and crisp winter and the ease of summer make all of these creations alive with emotion and intimate knowledge of the subject matter.

Thanks to Serafina’s and Silvester’s daughter Natasha, and my dear supporter Gavra Koljesar, all of you can enjoy these rare images that they kindly provided for this website.