Tag: carpatho-rusyn art

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

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

Andrej Gavula – “as natural as mountain springs in the Carpathian forests”


In 2014, Daniela Kapralova,  a Rusyn photographer and a curator at Sninsky Kastiel in Snina, Slovakia, put together a little book about a woodcarver from Čabiny near Medzilaborce – Andrej Gavula. Beautiful photographs of the woodcarvings accompany her warm but erudite interpretation of the artist’s life and work.

Gavula has been carving for over 18 years. Even now, although his health prevents him from working on big pieces for too long, not a day goes by without him at least touching the wood. Kapralova writes: “Andrej Gavula has a God-given gift and an innate feeling for this natural medium… He perceives it as a living matter that he communicates with. He focuses all of his artistic efforts on capturing the authentic, everyday work of the villagers that is strongly connected to the nature and traditions. On many levels this authenticity reflects upon the artist himself, because he is part of that community. Gavula’s carving avoids unnecessary detail; it is restrained, sober and rhythmical. His artworks are as natural and pure as mountain springs in the Carpathian forests.”


Diana Guralev – a woman’s life

The Life Series was painted in 2012 and was inspired by a woman’s maturing – by her journey from childhood to adulthood, her self-search, questioning her identity and contemplating those life experiences that shape who she is. It is also about leaving home and coming back to it, leaving “the mother” and all that she stands for and an inevitable sense of loss that accompanies such journey.

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Július Muška – the painter of thousands pictures

The Portrait of a Daugther (1953) by Julius Muska Source: Duzpinkova
The Portrait of a Daughter (1953) by Julius Muska Source: Duzpinkova

No, it is not a metaphor, it is literal. Július Muška was a prolific, hardworking artist who throughout his productive decades created thousands of artworks, frequently changing techniques and genres, but relishing in his two favorites – landscape and figure painting. Muška was born in 1919 in Medzilaborce, eastern Slovakia, and after completing high school in Uzhhorod, he studied drawing and geography in Bratislava. He gave lectures on art at the University of Presov for several years, and debuted in 1962 with his first solo exhibition. Muška participated in numerous art shows, exhibitions and plein-airs at home and abroad, collectively and solo. He passed away in 2013, leaving behind a greatly cherished body of work that documents social, political and personal changes equalling one long and fruitful life.

When you click on this link, an online catalogue made for his 2010 exhibition will open. It is full of artworks that represent Muška’s evolution as an artist, the myriad of techniques he used, wonderfully captured scenes of the village life, atmospheric portraits, modernly cut urban scenes, enchanting landscapes, lovely views of Presov townscape, several etchings as well as edgy abstract experiments. You can also see a list of exhibitions and some private photos on the last pages.

The Farewell (1971) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova
The Farewell (1971) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova
My Town (1973) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova
My Town (1973) by Julius Muska Source: Dzupinkova

Štefan Hapák – devoted to his land and people

An Autumn Landscape by Stefan Hapak
An Autumn Landscape by Stefan Hapak

Štefan Hapák was born in 1921 in Pinkovce, and was one of the pioneers of modern art in the second half of the 20th century in Slovakia. He studied under world-class professors at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (and in turn became a great professor himself, loaded with knowledge, honest and respected), and stayed tightly connected to the Rusyn culture in his life and work, capturing its architecture, lands, and even traditional garments, never leaving the lands of eastern Slovakia.

His first teaching position was at an elementary school in Zboj, eastern Slovakia, but the same year (1944) he was taken into a concentration camp in Hungary, from which he escaped in 1945. He helped to organize the return of incarcerated citizens after the war. Afterwards, Hapák worked as a teacher in different towns in eastern Slovakia, and from 1953 until his retirement at the universities in Presov and Kosice, becoming a professor of drawing and graphic design in 1972. He passed away in Ľubotice where a significant exhibition of his artwork was held in 2011, celebrating his contribution to the art world at his would-be 90th birthday.

Hapák’s paintings and pastels are executed in a style that is close to the Transcarpathian School of Painting in combining realist and more abstract, flattening elements, according to the curator Vladislav Grešlik.


A Gypsy Family by Stefan Hapak
A Gypsy Family by Stefan Hapak