A Fun Morning! Valentine Paper Cut Workshop @ Knack

Last Saturday I had a wonderful morning at Knack teaching paper cut techniques to ten lovely women. I had a full house show up for the workshop and we all gathered around the table and got to work. I talked a bit about Wycinanki, Polish paper cuts. I especially focused on the Kurpie style Polish paper cut which uses a single fold, symmetrical design technique. Some students used the templates I brought to class for their design and other students created their own unique designs. Every paper cut made in this workshop was created by using recycled / up-cycled materials that Knack has gathered or that have been donated to the store. All the women seemed inspired by the class and especially by the design examples I shared from books I bought while studying in Poland and Hungary. A couple Polish/American students came to the class because they wanted to learn a little about their creative, Polish heritage. It feels good to pass on the beauty and heritage of traditions I've found particularly rich and inspiring. I plan to be back to Knack sometime this spring to teach another paper cut class. This time we will create floral paper cut designs. Stay posted for the date which I will announce here and on Facebook once I book the day and time. Thank you to Macey and Amber at Knack for having me teach this class and for taking these pictures which capture the feel of a fun, creative morning at your store.

Snow Days

My little place in this world is covered in snow again. As I struggled with the flu a couple of weeks ago it became warm and all the snow melted away before Christmas. It all just didn't feel right! I began to feel better and then freezing temperatures and a few flurries came on Christmas Eve. Beginning on New Year's Day the snow officially returned. The fresh snow is one of the things I am grateful for in 2014.

I have been enjoying looking at art work online that captures the beauty of winter and this snowy season. A friend recently posted art work done in the early 1900's by Wladyslaw Jarocki on facebook and I found his work beautiful. I love the contrast of the whites, greys, browns and blues of the landscape with the brightly colored scarves and embroidery accents on the traditional clothing of his Polish highlander subjects. I want to give away my black, nylon covered jacket for sheepskin, fleece lined, embroidered coats, woolen stockings, leather boots, long heavy skirts and colorful scarves and dress like these beautiful highland women.

Władysław Jarocki, Żółta chustka oil, canvas
Wladyslaw Jarocki, "Winter Sun", oil on canvas, 69.5 x 99 cm, private collection
Wladyslaw Jarocki, "Hunter in Winter", 1915, oil on plywood, 98 x 67 cm, private collection
This past holiday season I was particularly inspired by eclectic paintings and other works of art posted by a blogger at A Polar Bear's Tale. The art work posted there is so special. There are illustrations, fine paintings, crafted items and photographs to be enjoyed. All the images chosen for this blog seem infused with magic, beauty and nostalgia. The posts cover themes and the art work reflects the seasons and holidays. I enjoyed looking at this blog over Christmas more than watching a holiday movie or tv program. If you enjoy looking at lovely works of art that reflect the magic of a season I suggest that you head over to A Polar Bear's Tale to scroll through the treasures there.

And finally since this is the first post of the New Year I think gratitude is the word for 2014. I started a gratitude jar and before going to sleep I will write down on a piece of paper a moment of beauty from the day for which I am grateful. On New Year's Eve this upcoming year I will read about all the positive things that filled up 2014. Among other things, I am grateful for the love of my family and friends, the return of snow, celebrating Christmas again with my mom and dad who came up to visit on New Year's Day bearing beautifully wrapped gifts, birds chirping and singing outside on a walk and nearby my bird feeders and the kisses of my 18 month old, cutie-pie of a boy, Kazmir.

gifts on New Year's Day with snow just beginning to fall outside

garden in snow

My house in the snow

My new love... Embroidery!

I discovered something new about myself this week. I love to do embroidery. I had a hunch that I would really like to do this and I was right. I've enjoyed admiring and looking closely at embroidery for a long time. Now it feels so good to be doing it!

Last Saturday I took a two hour workshop on embroidery at a new, truly awesome, re-use center/store called KNACK in Easthampton at the Eastworks building. Knack is a DIY palace. The store takes used things, sometimes on the way to being discarded, and brings new life to these things as potential and transformed arts and crafts items. I love the idea behind creating a store like this. Upcycling and reusing materials is a great way to transform items and the workshop space encourages community to learn to do things for themselves.  Here is Knack's mission statement...

Knack: The Art of Clever Reuse is a creative reuse center where you can:
  • Find all sorts of reusable materials for your creative projects
  • Take a workshop or drop in during our open studio time
  • Have a party (birthday, craft night, creative gathering, etc.)
  • Shop for upcycled gifts/art handmade by local artists
A woman named Bonnie Sennott taught the workshop. I was really impressed with her embroidered art pieces. She creates abstract images with embroidery stitches which I found beautiful and inspiring. She has a blog, Blue Peninsula Knits, which is full of her projects and examples of her many creative talents. She is a talented knitter as well as a knit pattern creator.

The photo above is of my completed project from the workshop. Bonnie gave us a template to work with and all of the materials to create a sachet. We got to try out 6 different embroidery stitches while creating this pretty, fragrant sachet, stuffed with lavender, camomile and flax seeds.

I find that doing needle work is really very relaxing to me...like weeding a garden or knitting a scarf. Repetitive, task oriented work makes me happy and puts me in a mentally and physically relaxed state. This activity is becoming a nice way to end a busy day full of child care and play, work, household chores, gardening and cooking. Plus I feel like I'm making progress with my creative practice since the sewing links up with the creative work I am now doing. It's a win/win situation!

At home, before taking this workshop, I've been playing around with simple watercolor patterns and incorporating hand stitched elements into them. I've been really attracted to the sun symbol motifs carved into wood of decorative Zakopane architectural elements and furniture in Poland. I'm making little images with gouache, paper, and thread using simple folk art motifs. Here's a work in progress at my work table.
I'll be happily embroidering as well as making new paper cuts and little paintings to prepare for the full season of craft fairs and holiday events in the coming months. I'll post more news on these events in a future blog post.

Summer Harvest Time Begins

It's that special time in late summer when the hard work in the spring begins to really pay off. The counters and the table in my kitchen begin to be cluttered with what was picked from the gardens in the last day or so.

We've been having fun making cordials and fermenting various items from the great outdoors. Last week we spent an hour picking the wild cherries which are abundant this year on Stage Road. The cherries are sitting in various combinations of vodka, gin and sugar to become cordials to be enjoyed this fall and winter. I have a rose cordial in the makes. Once the elderberries are ripe they will be used to make our special immunity boosting cordial. I have a batch of pickles fermenting in a crock. It's my first time trying to make this fresh fermented pickle. I got the recipe out of my new Polish cook book, "From A Polish Country House Kitchen". Josh and a friend made a big batch of dandelion wine which is aging in corked bottles in the closet. I've been wanting a chest freezer for a long, long time and just recently we purchased a used one to put in the garage. It's holding a nice amount of rhubarb, raspberries and blueberries so far. I like to look in it and dream about the good food we'll be eating this winter.

OK, lets leave the kitchen, go outside and take a look in the gardens! Right out the front door is a scramble of marigolds, geraniums, lantana, snapdragons, new guinea impatiens, canna lillies, mint, and salvia in colorful pots on the front porch.

The old claw foot bathtub is now a garden and full of canna lilies, calla lilies, dahlias, geraniums, gladiolas and morning glory.

Today I picked a whooping 13 peaches off the peach tree. My biggest harvest yet!

I created a hay bale, raised bed at the base of the terrace garden hill in which to grow squash.  The plants are quite happy as they grow and spill out over the edge of the haybales onto the meadow and hillside. It looks like we'll be eating a lot of spaghetti and butter cup squash.

The sunflower greeting the morning rays is a pretty sight. Under her grows some kale, peppers and a volunteer tomatillo.

The cherry tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.

After looking around my garden at home I headed around the block to my community garden plot at the Raspberry Hill Community Garden. The space is a very special place where the sounds and beauty of the country nourish my soul. The crickets are chirping, the swallows fly and swoop over the garden and big old maple trees line the lane. The land, also known as the Guyette Farm, was gifted to the Franklin Land Trust by Evelyn Guyette. The gardens are situated on a beautiful spot overlooking hills to the west. The sunsets are gorgeous and the cloud watching is excellent. I got a late start with my plot this year. It's my first year working the land here and a lot of sod needed to be lifted in order to create my garden beds. Finally they are all planted and beginning to really thrive. I'm growing carrots, beets, dill, cabbage, potatoes, kale, onion, leeks, green beans, cucumbers and a cherry tomato. I really love being a part of this group of talented and dedicated gardeners and look forward to spending more time here with the land and with others in the years to come.

Let's walk through the gate and take a peak at the gardens.

The blueberries are ripening in the sun and the old barn is in view over the raspberry brambles.

Cloud watching to the west.

My plot is pictured below in the foreground. All the plants are relatively young but they are coming along. I think they'll do really well growing big and strong during the warm month of August into September before the frosts come.

At home again, Kaz came out to the garden with me after his morning nap.  He enjoys throwing around the dirt and mulch as I prep a bed to plant more lettuces.

Happy August, early harvest time to you! I hope you are enjoying these golden days.

Art work by Kazimierz Sichulski

Spring, design stained glass triptych
In 1909. Pastel, tempera, cardboard. 145 x 231 cm.
The National Museum in Warsaw.

Palm Sunday (triptych)
In 1906. Pastel, gouache and tempera on paper glued on cardboard.
The National Museum in Krakow.
Girls Hutsul (left part of the triptych Palm Sunday).
136 x 71.5 cm

In 1906. Pastel and gouache on paper. 76 x 56 cm.
The National Museum in Krakow.

Bridesmaid (Hucułka)
In 1906. Pastel, tempera, gouache and charcoal on paper. 76 x 55 cm.
The National Museum in Krakow.

I came across some postcards in my studio recently that I purchased at the National Museum in Krakow a couple years ago. The postcards include images of some of the artworks shown above. The artist responsible for these works is Kazimierz Sichulski (1879-1942). I particularly like the paintings that were inspired by Hutsul traditional culture found in the south-eastern Carpathian mountain region. This area, for a time, was part of Poland but is now part of the Ukrainc. Sichulski was born and died in the city of Lviv.

I love the above pieces, as much for their traditional subject matter as for the rendering of the subject with rich expression, harmonious use of color and lyrical line. You get a sense of the beautiful ornamentation on the peasant dress. The lines are organic, graphic and bold. The way the cloth folds on the blouses and headscarves gives you the impression of the feel and weight of the cloth used for these traditional garments. The peasant's features are captivating as you see them here, looking, thinking and praying.

The Hutsul people that captivated Sichulski were mountaineers found in the western part of the Ukraine, Eastern Carpathian mountain region. Sichulski was not alone with his fascination as many artists and ethnographers were inspired by Hutsul traditional culture. Sichulski's artistic career was not only focused on traditional culture. He was a master of caricature and also created religious works. I am most attracted to his Hutsul inspired works.

It is not surprising to me that Sichulski studied with Wyspianski, who is an artist I've written about here on my blog . Wyspianski was inspired by traditional peasant culture in Poland as well. These artists were part of a larger movement called the "Young Poland" movement where something called "Chlopomania" occurred. "Chlopomania" is a Polish term used to describe these artist's fascination with traditional culture, folklore and peasant life. Some artists, playwrights, writers, and members of the intelligentsia at the turn of the century (1891-1918) in Poland felt cautious about, and in some instances, disgust for the modernization around them especially in the cities and politics at this time.  They desired to look to nature, return to nature and shun aspects of modern city life. The peasants lived close to nature so they and their customs fascinated and inspired artists. Some of the "Young Poland" artists, like Wyspianski, went so far as to marry peasant women. Another important aspect of this movement was the way in which artists looked for and expressed a strong national identity through traditional culture. This was especially important in Poland as the country for so long was partitioned by it's surrounding countries and political systems. Folklore and peasant life became the subject of many artistic creations. Artists involved with the Young Poland movement were working with thoughts and philosophies that were strongly reminiscent of Romanticism. The Romantic movement revolted against industrialization and the scientific rationalization of nature in artist expression. Romanticism looked to the authentic reality of strong emotion and looked back to traditions, ritual, and awe inspiring nature.

Let's fast forward to the 21st century. At this point in time another wave of interest in our connections with nature, with our farming and food, with our production of goods and even in looking at how we spend time in our families and within communities is gaining more interest and attention. Industrial farming, the outsourcing of manufacturing, and our plugged in culture needs to be looked at. Are we growing healthy food and taking care of the land that grows our food for ourselves and children? Are there meaningful jobs where a worker can feel pride in what they make? Are we sharing meals with our family and friends, having conversations, telling stories, marking important passages of time both personally and within our communties, connecting with something greater than ourselves?

Artists like Kazimierz Sichulski with their interest in and depiction of traditional cultures can show us something today. How are we feeling connected to meaning, health, communities and family and how are we feeling disconnected?  One of the reasons I enjoy works of art is for their aesthetically pleasing and/or thought  provoking effect. There is a reason I am so inspired by traditional cultures. I feel I can learn something from them and have learned something from them that brings me and my family more meaning, more health and more of a connection to something greater. With this, I think the Young Poland artists and I have something in common.

Sources: Wikipedia
               images found here: http://www.pinakoteka.zascianek.pl/Sichulski/Index.htm

Kupala Night, Midsummer, Solstice

Light lasts far into the evening and deepens the green of the grass and ferns at the wood's edge to a rich emerald. There lies a cool darkness as I look into the dark woods. Trills of birdsong echo off the trees as creatures settle down for the night. Lightning bugs take flight, dancing upwards from the wildflowers: daisy, clover, buttercups. The pinks and purples of geranium, dianthus, columbine, rose, sage and iris bloom electric in the twilight. Deep pinks and emeralds play together as exquisite opposites.

Midsummer night is here. In Slavic countries Kupala night is celebrated.

Here is a photo and a video of what happens in Poznan, Poland on Kupala night. Thousands of lanterns are lit with fire and float away into the twilight sky. Beautiful isn't it?

Kupala is a Slavic holiday celebrated in Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Originally it was a pagan fertility rite, celebrated in June on the longest day of the year. Kupala celebrates the summer solstice. Midsummer night is the festivity of unity, the congress of fire and water, Sun and Moon, man and woman, fertility and harvest, and joy and love. This holiday dates back to pre-christian times.  As with most holidays, the pagan holiday was absorbed by the church in some Slavic countries and is celebrated as a holy day honoring St. John the Baptist.

Kupala is a Slavic goddess whose name means to bathe. Interestingly the squatting woman found on many Slavic embroideries is the goddess Kupala. She is the goddess of springs and water. Kupala  rules herbs. Wildflowers, ferns and birch trees are sacred to her.  She brings about joy, health and cleansing. Her fire aspect leads to purification, transformation and protection.
This longest day and shortest night honors two important elements: water and fire, the sacred feminine, spirit of life, creativity and destruction. Bathing in natural waterways like rivers, streams and lakes is a ritual purification. Water also symbolizes fertility. Fires are burned and around them there is much singing and dancing. Young people jump over the fire to show their bravery and faith. A man and woman jump over the fire while holding hands to see if they will forever stay together. If they fail to make the jump while holding hands it foretells a separation.

Young women weave together beautiful wildflower wreaths and float them on the water with candles. The path of the wreaths in the water can foretell about the woman's fate in love. Woven flower wreaths are worn on an unmarried woman's head. In Polish this flower garland is called wianek.

At night the maidens enter the forest, followed by the young men to look for herbs and the mythic fern flower which brings prosperity and luck in life to anyone who finds it.

Information and images from:
Youtube, Pinterest, Wikipedia
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kupala_Night) and

A Call from the Ancestors: Picking up the threads

Hungarian Embroidery at Budapest's Folk Art Festival, August 2011
I'd like to write about threads, metaphorical threads, threads that one can pick up and follow. The threads individually come together and become part of a bigger pattern, a bigger piece. With these threads an embroidery piece is being sewn that tells a story.

I have been following personal threads of identity, authenticity, passion, connection and resonance. Sometimes I happen to find threads to follow. Other times I go searching for a colorful thread. I find it particularly magical when a thread finds me.  Another strand is sewn into my story, the work I am doing, the studies that I am pursuing and the life I am creating. This is a very personal journey and at the same time the embroidery involves bigger pieces of history, story and culture. It is the fabric of lives.

I found this quote about threads in a tapestry from a poem which describes my sentiments exactly:

"Every intention, interaction, motivation, every colour, every body, every action and reaction, every piece of physical reality and the thoughts that it engendered, every connection made, every nuanced moment of history and potentiality, every toothache and flagstone, every emotion and birth and banknote, every possible thing ever is woven into that limitless, sprawling web.

"It is without beginning or end. It is complex to a degree that humbles the mind. It is a work of such beauty that my soul wept...

"...I have danced with the spider. I have cut a caper with the dancing mad god.”
China Miéville, Perdido Street Station 

There was a time, in 2010 and 2011, when I worked with a mentor, Valerianna, who is an artist and friend at RavenWood Forest Studio of Mythic and Environmental Arts. I was looking to connect on a deeper level with my art practice. I needed perspective, a sounding board, someone I could talk with who understood what I was wrestling with. Questions about authenticity and identity in my art practice loomed large. The desire to create something meaningful and beautiful has been a driving force in my life. Creativity needs an outlet. A dialogue of meaning about authenticity, identity  and beauty is an important conversation that happens in my head as I begin new work. I think about these things and feel them out in order to bring forth something into the physical world. 


For a while, months and months, things were muddy, murky and not at all clear as I worked with my mentor, sketched and wrote in my journal. I was wondering if I was really making any progress? When will my vision for my arts practice become clearer? Will I ever be more confident in understanding the motivation for my creative work? Out of no where all of that changed.

Bobbie Sumberg's book, "Textiles", full of beautiful, intricate and colorful threaded embroidery was the catalyst pointing me towards the path I am on.  It stopped me in my tracks while perusing the shelves at the library in the winter of 2011. The book is full of textiles from all around the world. It contains photographs of some beautiful examples of Hungarian folk embroidery. As I briefly flipped through the photographs the Hungarian designs, colors and patterns struck me to the core. I knew I had to pay attention to this feeling so I took the book home with me.

The next morning I turned on the local college radio station. I began to look more closely at the intricate Hungarian embroidery work in the book. Unbeknownst to me, a polka show was on at that time. This got my attention. In between upbeat polkas, advertisements for local Polish businesses were played. I live in an area, the Pioneer Valley, with a large Polish-American population. After some time listening to the polka show and looking at the book I thought I'd look up Hungarian and Polish arts in western Massachusetts on Google. Low and behold a Polish art class was to begin at the Springfield Museum the next month. I signed up for it.

These seemingly small events lined up at about the same time and got my attention. The messages  coming to me were closely related to my heritage: the blood flowing through my veins. The hours spent alone in thought that winter morning, enjoying a book and listening to the radio woke me up. My Hungarian and Polish ancestors seemed to be gently shaking me, waking me up to what is there, what is here and what is in me. I was surrounded by eastern European stimulation that was sure to get my attention. Within 24 hours I awoke to a path. The path appears through a deeper connection with my heritage. The minor threads began an important journey that grow in different directions. I need to look forward, backward and be in the moment.

Lives are weaving together. My life with my ancestors, my living relatives, new friends and mentors. Threads of inspiration, love and longing drive me to read books, ask questions, look at images, learn the Polish language, create new art work, designs, paintings, paper-cuts and keep in touch with my relatives and the friends I met while traveling in Poland and Hungary. Stories and history are there to learn from and help me gain understanding. Places beckon me to return.

Perhaps, I've simply become aware of my place within a complex embroidery that has existed all along. The colorful threads continue to manifest, come together and take shape, weaving something I can recognize and see with some perspective. And yet a lot of work remains to be done. At times this is a wide and deep mystery. I'm left asking why.

I've always been attracted to strong colors and bold, graphic design, especially designs that connect with the natural world. For a while southwest and Mexican arts were a big inspiration to me but something was missing, a very personal connection.  I felt like a tourist. I didn't feel complete and my work didn't feel grounded. I needed to connect with something deeper.  Who am I? Why am I attracted to certain sounds, colors and patterns so strongly that I truly become awestruck? Why, musically, have I always been inspired by gypsy and eastern European music, violins, accordions, minor keys, edgy harmonies, singing and sounds of longing that pull on your heart strings? After looking deeply at the Hungarian embroidery in the textile book I realized what is going on. Aha!

The garments, like the man's mantle pictured below, wedding dress, bodices, hair pieces and many more items were sewn with such care, such love and such attention to detail. Flowers bloom in vibrant colors, patterns form a kind of rhythm of elements in the dress. The costumes exhibit such pride and joy for one's culture, one's life and one's connection with nature and the traditions of their region. The skill was passed on woman to woman, mother to daughter, grandmother to grand-daughter, generation to generation. These people lived such busy lives growing food and gardens, growing materials for their homespun linen cloth, making and mending clothing, doing household and farm chores, preserving food and the list of the hard work goes on. All this work was done everyday without the modern conveniences we have today. And it was still important to the women to spend time and attention doing intricately sewn handwork to make their lives reflect even more beauty. I so admire the skill and hard work that went into many traditional practices. I like the do-it-yourself resourcefulness that was a necessity in the past. I know I long to connect more to that kind of resourcefulness and I don't think I am alone. I believe my life is infused with more meaning when I can enjoy creating some of the things I use and need. The beautiful Hungarian and Polish embroidery I love to look at, the pieces my ancestors must have made and my drawer filled with doilies that my grandmother and great-grandmother made inspire me and reminds me of this.

My ancestors have been calling out to me. I've been looking for my own personal story, my history and the story of my ancestors. All along I wanted to deeply connect with my ancestor's traditions, lands, sounds, smells, foods, colors, plants, designs relating to the natural world. The Hungarian embroidery work woke me up to this reality. This is my quest. All along I was attracted to certain styles, music and aesthetic in relation to my personal heritage, my Eastern European roots. This led me to realize a vision, an adventure and a shift in my creative work.  I decided to take a trip of a lifetime to connect with my family and the land and villages in Poland and Hungary. All this has brought me much curiosity, depth and meaning to my creative practice and work. My experience continues to sustain and feed me.  I've created a line of gouache paintings and paper-cut designs which are available as blank greeting cards and archival prints. The graphic, bold designs and bright colors used in my work and inspired by eastern European folk embroidery feel right aesthetically and appeal to me. They are a wink and a nod to the beautiful embroidery designs that I find so lovely. So many more ideas and images swim around my head, waiting for when I have chunks of uninterrupted time in my studio and at my easel to explore, paint and cut paper. This is the rabbit hole I fell down two years ago and now there is no turning back. The journey is deep and vast. The more connections I make the more I want to know. One lifetime doesn't seem long enough to get to the bottom of my desire for understanding.

Hungarian Embroidery, Budapest's Folk Art Festival, 2011

Peasant Homes and Gardens

Peasant Cottage at Skansen Wygielzowie in Poland

Zakopane house and garden

Skansen window

Skansen garden

This post is a little collection of some inspiring pictures of peasant cottages and their gardens. I can't get over the simple use of color around the the windows and between the logs of the cottage in the first photo.  Turquoise and cobalt blue is one of my favorite color combinations.

All but the first photo here were taken by me two summers ago while I was in Poland. There are a number of lovely Skansens (outdoor and living history museums) in Poland that preserve folk, wooden architecture. Some towns are known for their existing homes exhibiting and/or preserving old architectural styles, Zakopane being one of them.

The old peasant homes breathe with life. A thatched roof, dirt floor and wooden walls, all organic and natural materials, allow the home to literally breathe. This makes me think of Hundertwasser and his manifesto where he proclaims that the space we inhabit, the architecture of our dwellings, is like another layer of skin. Our architecture is a layer outside our physical layer of skin surrounding our bodies and the layer of clothes we wear. Soon I will write more about old folk architecture, what I know and learned from my travels and reading.

For now...

There is a lot of work to do at home in my garden this time of year. I'm am feeling particularly busy, grounded and centered around the home with all that needs to get done. I haven't been able to sit at my computer to write much. But, gardening is an excellent activity for gathering one's thoughts! The writing will come.

The weeds grow fast next to the seedlings that are just sprouting. Then there is the thinning that needs to get done so that the seedlings coming up do not crowd one another. Some vegetable beds still need to be made and planted with beans, carrots and beets at the community garden plot down the street. At home, I'm going to make a hay bale raised bed in which to plant the delicata and spaghetti squash so they can grow down the hill towards the woods, out of the way of our other garden beds. Radishes, potatoes, garlic, cilantro, arugula, lettuces, horseradish and spinach are up. Some basil and tomatoes are in. Today I'm going to a flower nursery to buy some annuals to put in pots and hanging baskets around the house. Soon I will be caught up, ahead of the weeds and enjoying watching the summer growing of all the plants, flowers and food on the land.

Photos of my garden taken this morning...

A Call from the Ancestors: Roots, Family, the Land

My family's cottage in Korczyna, Poland

I'm working on a series of writings I am calling, A CALL FROM THE ANCESTORS.
With it I'll be addressing why I am inspired by the folk and peasant arts and traditions of Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Hungary. Why am I pulled to learn and experience more in relationship to my roots? Why does a place and a way of life inspire me so?

The following words came in a brainstorm as I think about this and begin writing.

- resonance
- longing
- roots
- family
- the land
- identity
- authenticity
- passion
- connection

RESONANCE: richness or significance especially in evoking an association or strong emotion

You know that feeling when something strikes you deep to the core? A feeling of recognition, attraction, intuition and knowing? There are moments in life when I've recognized this feeling.  I know when it happens and it is important for me to stop and pay attention. I do not know how this works exactly but I do have my thoughts on why it happens. Sometimes things add up and line up. Clear signs point you in a certain direction. I believe my ancestors have a hand in this, like they are beckoning to me, calling to me and I am following their lead.

LONGING: a yearning desire

My ancestor's blood runs through my veins. In my body there is genetic and a kind of energetic memory linking me back to the places where my people lived, loved, toiled and died. I am learning, teaching myself about the places and ways because so much was lost to me when my family became "American". It's a very common phenomenon isn't it? Immigrants come to the new world and and settle into new ways. They melt into the melting pot in order to work, raise families - survive. Yet our roots are left raw and exposed.  Some families work hard to stay connected to the old country, the heartland. And some families slowly assimilate to become more American. I long for a deeper connection with and understanding of the old ways.

My grandmother Stella left Poland for America in her early teens. She wrote letters to her family in Poland and even went back for a visit in the mid-80s. She spoke Polish but did not teach it to her children or grandchildren. She was always making and sharing Polish foods with the family: pierogi, golumbki, kielbasa, poppyseed roll. She tended her small garden and loved watching the flowers bloom.
My grandmom, Stella
My Hungarian great-grandfather George and my great-grandmom Angel were connected to their family in Hungary. George was born in America but went back to his ancestor's village to find his wife, Elizabeth. Much later he returned to visit his family a year or two before his death. When George and Elizabeth passed on there was no longer a strong connection between the families across the land and ocean.

No one is to blame. Times and circumstances change. I'm sure the politics of the time, WWII and then the cold war between capitalist America and communist Poland and Hungary, did not help to keep the ties strong for the next generations. However, one needs a place to grow, a place to settle and go deep, a place of understanding and connection with what came before. One needs to feel a connection with community, family, traditions, history, stories of their place and of their ancestors.

The writer, Wendell Berry writes about being a placed person. Perhaps the following words I found by Wallace Stegner can partly explain this feeling of longing I have. (This excerpt is taken from "The Sense of Place" by Wallace Stegner. Copyright 1992 by Wallace Stegner.)

"If you don’t know where you are, says Wendell Berry, you don’t know who you are. Berry is a writer, one of our best, who after some circling has settled on the bank of the Kentucky River, where he grew up and where his family has lived for many generations. He conducts his literary explorations inward, toward the core of what supports him physically and spiritually. He belongs to an honorable tradition, one that even in America includes some great names: Thoreau, Burroughs, Frost, Faulkner, Steinbeck – lovers of known earth, known weathers, and known neighbors both human and nonhuman. He calls himself a “placed” person."

"... if every American is several people, and one of them is or would like to be a placed person, another is the opposite, the displaced person, cousin not to Thoreau but to Daniel Boone, dreamer not of Walden Ponds but of far horizons, traveler not in Concord but in wild unsettled places, explorer not inward but outward. Adventurous, restless, seeking, asocial or antisocial, the displaced American persists by the million long after the frontier has vanished. He exists to some extent in all of us, the inevitable by-product of our history: the New World transient. "

"Back to Wendell Berry, and his belief that if you don’t know where you are you don’t know who you are. He is not talking about the kind of location that can be determined by looking at a map or a street sign. He is talking about the kind of knowing that involves the senses, the memory, the history of a family or a tribe. He is talking about the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it. He is talking about the knowing that poets specialize in."

I long for this knowing and by following a path of longing and resonance I have begun to make connections to a deeper understanding of who I am and where I come from. My ancestors call to me on this journey. The quest simultaneously connects me to the heartlands of Poland and Hungary and roots me to my home in the hills of New England. As I move ahead and dig deep many things appear, unfold, resonate and become recognized. Connections are made. A path continues to unfold with every step I take.

My father's ancestors were Polish and Hungarian people of the land. They were from the small villages of Korczyna, Poland and Harskut Hungary. My great-grandfather Jan was born in the thatched roof, white washed cottage in Korczyna, Poland pictured above. My great-great grandmother and Cocia, Aniela and Aniela, are photographed wearing kierchiefs and aprons on their land in Korczyna.

My great-great grandmother Aniela surrounded by her daughters, my great grandmother and aunts in Poland
Ciocia Aniela, Korczyna, Poland
My dad can remembers his Babci Helena's gardens in Philadelphia, where she and Jan landed with their children, one of them being my grandmom Stella, after emigrating to America in the 1930s from Poland. Jan knew that true wealth was having land. So when he bought his small row home he bought the undeveloped lot next door. This lot became their orchard and garden. My dad helped with the garden chores and fondly remembers his grandmother's raspberry jam.

My great-grandfather Jan
My dad with Grandmom Angel Repas and Babci Helena
My dad went on to college then the Air Force to become an airline pilot. His work was in the sky. My parents are not avid gardeners. Some pretty flower beds are tended to and the lawn is always mowed. We did not raise or preserve our own food. The pulse of my heart moved me to pursue learning about and practicing gardening for the sake of beauty and food. I woke up to this fact in my early 20's after university when I spent a couple years working on a large fruit orchard in Solebury, PA. The desire to connect to the land and work it is running strong in my blood.

I used to wonder about my obsession with gardening? Where did it come from? One of the most satisfying things to me is working in the dirt with the plants, flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables. A quiet day spent alone outside with the sounds of the wind and songbirds as my company is heaven. The making of beds, planting of seeds and removal of weeds marks the time passing. My feet connect to the earth, I breathe fresh air, feel the warm sun or the cool mists. While sitting in on a sociology class in Poland the professor lectured that peasants love the land more than anything. They have a very strong sense of territory. How can we not love that which sustains us? The peasants were completely and utterly tied to working the land and the land itself. Their work, traditions, symbols, stories, rituals, costume reflect this in a profound way. They were not separate. Life was not easy. There is a fundamental truth to living in balance with the seasons, the crops, the weather, the dirt.

Nowadays so much can get in the way of this truth. I like how the Polish author Wieslaw Mysliwski writes about our fundamental tie to the land in his book, "Stone Upon Stone":

"When death is staring you in the face even a college graduate becomes a person again, so does an engineer. At those times everything falls off life like leaves dropping from a tree in the fall, and you're left like a bare trunk.  At those times you're not drawn to the outside world but back to the land where you were born and grew up, because that's your only place on this earth. In that land, even a tomb is like a home for you."

Certain places resonate strongly with an individual. Do we remember things on a cellular level? Are ties and memories passed on from generation to generation through blood, DNA, spirit?  It's interesting to me that there is such a similarity in climate and landscape between Korczyna, Poland and Harskut, Hungary, the rural landscape around the Philadelphia area and even in Cummington, MA where I make my home. Rolling hills, green hay fields, wooded forests, distinct seasonal changes. I feel so at home in these places. They are familiar.

Outside of Harskut, Hungary

Village home and land in Harskut, Hungary

On the road between Krakow and Korczyna, Poland
Korczyna, Poland
I fell in love with the landscape around Krakow, Korczyna, and Harskut. The orchards there were full of plums, apples, cherries, walnuts, peaches, pears, elderberry. Most homes seemed to have a large garden with cabbage, potatoes, dill, currants, raspberries, blueberries, carrots, beets. At long last I met family and connected with them in such a meaningful way. They were wonderful hosts, so caring and hospitable, and happy to share with me their lives and lifestyles. My cousins Anna and Karol had their own large gardens at their homes in and outside of Korczyna.  They proudly showed me their garden plots and fed us the goodies growing there.

Anna in her garden harvesting potatoes for dinner

Karol with his garden outside of his parish house
Times have changed for my relatives in Poland and Hungary yet I can still see how their deep ties to the land manifest. Cousin Paulina gave me honey from her mother's hives. Her grandfather Roman shared homemade fruit wine with me in his home during an afternoon visit. In Hungary, my cousin Anci and her husband Laszlo have a large parcel of land a short drive from their home in another village near Harskut. Their parcel is full of wine grapes and fruit trees. Hungary is wine country. We spent a memorable evening on this land under a grape arbor with Laszlo playing the accordian and all of us singing and sharing songs. Tears were shed that night. The moment was so meaningful.

Me, Laszlo and Bencsi under the grape arbor

Hungarian wine grapes

Laszlo's vineyard and orchard
Roots, family and the land take on a deeply meaningful role. There is nothing like sitting around with one's family on a beautiful day, outdoors, enjoying company and literally the fruits of big gardens and hard work. Since connecting with my living family overseas and the land of Poland and Hungary, I begin to understand my family and myself more. My questions about who I am and where I come from are slowly answered. Still, I have so many questions and such yearning for further connection. This longing pushes me ahead and my ancestors pull me forward on a journey. I'm taking steps on a path where resonance unlocks the answers to many a mystery. 

I will explore these themes more in future posts where I'll write about identity, authenticity, passion and connection and how these ideas play out in my art practice on A Call from the Ancestors.

My Grandmom with my Grandmom Angel holding me as a baby in her arms

Spring: Breathing in New Life

This spring, as my gardens blossom and I plant seeds, I've been blessed with heartfelt reminders of the connections I have with meaningful people who touch my life. I am so held and for this I am thankful. A professor and friend from Poland answers questions I have about folk art traditions and culture in Poland and sends me beautiful Easter tokens from Krakow. A woman I look up to and befriended in Poland who is a professor and author surprises me with a gift of books on Polish topics of interest after I bought a book she wrote. My local town church sends a prayer shawl for Kaz and me, visitors, a home cooked meal and offers of child care after a car accident left me in pain and tired out emotionally and physically. My parents bring their love and some home cooked meals for our freezer when they come up for a visit. My mom buys me a beautiful book about Polish cooking, full of recipes I cannot wait to try. Family and friends call to check in and send their love. For all these things I am so thankful. Loving connections is what life is all about. Loving one another is what life is all about.

These generous connections have sustained me after a long winter, a time of huge personal transition into motherhood. I keep waiting to feel like I've caught up with myself. I keep waiting for my head to clear and breath free from under the waters of transition. As I wait for this moment I realize that things will never be the same again. Adding the role of mother to my identity has truly rocked my world.

At the same time I am hungry for inspiration, desiring a clear voice and purpose. I want to write about what inspires me, what fires up my creative soul, the work I do, the beauty that is out there in the world, what I am learning, the interests and quests that pull me like the moon pulls the tides.

I work with starts and stops. I've lost the ability to have open ended time and full days ahead to attend to my interests, goals, studies, art practice, music, blogging, gardening and other creative pursuits. In rare moments when I am alone with my thoughts I get hopeful and excited about the possibilities my dreams have to offer. I know they are there in background, following me around as I chase after a curious and crawling Kazmir. They whisper in my ear when I find myself with a quiet moment.

I go weeks listening to Polish language tapes most days and making progress. Then I go weeks without getting one lesson in. I'm reading books that deal with my interests. My local library finds me books I am anxious to read like Norman Davies, "Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland"and "Stone Upon Stone" by Mysliwski. Then when I open a book at the end of the day I find I am able to read a few pages with an alert mind before I want to drift off to sleep. Progress is very slow going! My books become overdue. I lose momentum and get frustrated.

My art making is on hold for the moment. Imagined images pass through my head like ghosts I can't grasp. I imagine the texture of a wet paint brush full of bright color and spreading it across paper like one might imagine the sensation of sinking into a warm bath or taking a bite of a fresh out of the oven, butter soaked, homemade, bread. I fantasize about color combinations, patterns, big canvases and art shows.

It's time to breathe new life into this blog. I worry, can I do it? Can I focus? Can I keep a thread going? Can I discipline myself and write interesting pieces from the heart? I think I can. What if I set a goal to post once a week? I think that is reasonable. As I pursue my interests and look to study Polish and Hungarian culture and arts further, my blog can become the place of accountability to myself and to others who may find these topics and/or my method of pursuing my passions of interest. Spring reminds me that there is always another chance to begin afresh.

Winter Solstice

It's solstice already. The dark, cold, quiet time. In moments I'm met with an extreme sense of well being. Like when I'm driving over a hill, heading west at sundown and get to see the layers of clouds exhibiting many shades of gray with pastel colors illuminating them from beneath as the sun tucks itself in beyond the horizon. Tonight I had such a moment of quiet in the car, looking at the play of colors in the clouds and imagined sitting down to work it out with my water colors. Another time is when I stoke the fire in the wood stove and the logs light up cheerfully with bright flames providing a flickering dance to look at and cozy warmth to sit in front of with Kazmir and play. I've been listening to classical music a lot lately, the local public radio station in the car and using my Spotify account to listen to all kinds of interesting instrumental and vocal music. Russian folk guitar and the singing of Anonymous Four, their Wolcum Yule album, has been played a lot these past days. This stuff fits my mood perfectly. I need quiet, reflective music,  nothing too cheery or upbeat, something soul soothing and beautiful. Perhaps its my solace in this time of constant care giving. Giving all I have to another being and living by my son's schedule. I need soothing. I also need soothing in this time of hard realities in the world.

In my head, I've been thinking and dreaming about things I want to do. Things I'd like to make time for in my life. It's that time of year too. Time to reflect and make plans for the year ahead. I feel like I may be ready to begin my "independent studies" again soon. I just need to organize myself and my things so that it is easy to work on what I want to work on when I have a brief window of time. I just don't have a lot of open ended time. I get an hour here and an hour there and then there is the evening hours which are often still punctuated by Kaz's stirrings and need to nurse as he settles down for the night. I'm not good at working with interruptions or with clutter around. I need clarity around me so that I can think clearly. So I'll just have to do my best in this new reality. I do not want to stop working on what I was working on before the baby arrived. I want to pursue my dreams and passions and also be an example for Kaz so he can grow up witnessing adults around him following their dreams. I got an interesting email today from a man who found my blog by looking for information for the village of his ancestors which happens to be the same village where my Hungarian ancestors lived. This email got me to look back at my blog and read the post he found. I also read other posts from my trip in the summer or 2011. Wow! What a trip. Was that really me? I'm in such a different place now but still I know all that experience lives inside me. There is a lot more desire and longing for connection, understanding and learning in these areas of interest...folk culture, eastern Europe, art making and family....  I think it's time to start making baby steps in that direction again and hopefully some momentum will build and I will be able to move forward on dreams that are important to me.

Speaking of the holidays and dreams I will spend Christmas in Krakow someday. I just saw this link, an article on CNN"s travel page about Krakow at Christmastime, made by someone on Facebook and it totally touches on my longing to get back to Krakow....Old town center, Christmas Market, mulled wine. Time to really start my Polish language tapes in earnest.

On another note, it has been an exciting couple of months in that I've had my art work up at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg MA for November and December. It's been a very successful show and have gotten nice feedback, sold a few prints and lots of cards and may have gotten a commission to make paper cuts for a lampshade. My cards have been selling well in the handful of places I have them. That feels good too and I look forward to spending more time organizing and working on my design business this winter into next year.

Finally I want to wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and close to 2012. I wish you all many blessings and much love in 2013! To take us out, a picture of Kaz similar to what I chose to use for our holiday card this year. He's the best part of 2012 for us! His arrival has been a source of great joy. xoxo

As seen at ....Bieganski the Blog: Falling Star - Poland Through One Work of Art

I met the author of this piece, Danusha Goska, in Krakow last summer. A mutual acquaintance introduced us because of our love for and interest in Polish peasant and folk art. Since our time in Poland we have been developing a creative friendship. She is a brilliant writer and professor. She has written and published several books and keeps a powerful, insightful and informative blog about Polish stereotypes and Jewish/Polish relations and dynamics in particular. (Here is the link to this article as it appears on her blog:  Bieganski the Blog: Falling Star - Poland Through One Work of Art:)

Her questioning and thought provoking insights spurred on by a piece of art printed on a postcard is a lesson in itself highlighting the mystery humankind deals with everyday, whether we acknowledge it or not. I now have a broader understanding of Eastern European / Polish thought, politics, aesthetic, psychology and history after reading this blog entry. So, I want to share this interesting piece with you. It is well worth the read.

Danusha has kindly given me permission to re-blog her piece on my blog.  Thank you, Danusha! Feel free to visit her blog if topics like this and more interests you: http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/

Falling Star - Poland Through One Work of Art
"Spadajaca Gwiazda" "Falling Star" by Witold Masznicz
at the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum in Frombork. 

"twoj glos dla Solidarnosci krokiem ku wolnosci."
"Your vote for Solidarity is a step toward freedom."
Poster from Krakow, Poland, 1989.
Chrystus Frasobliwy or Worried Christ. Source.
Wood carving by Jozef Lurka. Source.

Below is an early version of an essay that appears in the April 15, 2012 edition of the Journal of American Folklore, volume 125, issue 496. I thank editor James P. Leary for supporting my work. Irish-American Prof. Leary is a champion of scholarship on Polonia. I also thank JAF co-editor Thomas A. DuBois, and JAF editorial assistants Hilary Virtanen and Anne Rue.

As per JAF guidelines, I do not post the finished version of this essay here. I am posting an earlier version. Those wishing to cite this material are advised to access the JAF, available through your library.

On Witold Masznicz's "Spadająca Gwiazda" / "Falling Star"

In the mid-1990's, I took a folk art class with Henry Glassie. Glassie asked his students to select one work of art from a given culture and explain how that artwork offers an entrée into that culture. Glassie gave us free rein; we could select an item of folk, elite or popular art.

I chose to select an artwork from Poland. As a child of immigrants, I had grown up with Eastern European folk art. I'd traveled to Eastern Europe several times, to study, as a tourist, and to live with family. I had lived in Poland for the eventful year of 1988-89, while studying Polish language and culture at Krakow's Jagiellonian University. I would travel to Poland again, to attend a scholarly conference, during my time as a graduate student at IU.

When considering which work of art to use as an entrée into Polish culture, I confronted an embarrassment of riches. I could have chosen a
Góral's, or highlander's, embroidered felt pants; a wycinanka or brilliant paper cutting from Łowicz; one of the szopki or miniature castles and cathedrals hand-crafted from metallic papers and displayed at Christmastime in Kraków. I could have chosen Jan Matejko's painting of Jan Sobieski after his 1683 victory against the Turks at Vienna, an event that Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, post 9-11, identified as pivotal in Islam's relationship to the rest of the world. I could have chosen one of the films that won Andrzej Wajda an honorary Academy Award.

I could have attempted science, and chosen an item from Poland's geographic center, or from the Golden Age of folk art, by some estimates, the late nineteenth century, or one representing an art form common to Poland's varied populations, including peasants and nobility, Jews and Gypsies, and other regional or minority groups. I could have abandoned all hope of science, closed my eyes, spun the wheel, and pointed. There was the option to obey instinct, and to attempt to explain the powerful pull of the unarticulated.

During a yearlong visit in 1989, I was hiking through northern Poland. I stopped at Frombork, to pay respects to one of those Poles we Poles and Polish-Americans who engage in the unending struggle for dignity always cite: Copernicus. There I stepped into a small gallery. On the stone wall hung an artwork. I found myself staring at this artwork for a long time. Later, in the museum gift shop, I bought a postcard reproduction. The artwork was "Spadająca Gwiazda," "Falling Star," by Witold Masznicz. It was mixed media. An oil painting served as background; an unpainted, wooden, human figure occupied the foreground. From the few publications I have since found, I learned that Masznicz has displayed his works in various cities in Poland and the US, and that he has been influenced by medieval art. "Falling Star" was created in 1982, the year of Martial Law and the crushing of Solidarity. Another Polish artist, Witold Pruszkowski, also painted a "Spadająca Gwiazda" in 1884. Pruszkowski's oil painting has a dramatic, science-fiction look, very unlike Masznicz's. I don't know if Masznicz's artwork is a response to Pruszkowski's.

Since that hike in 1989, I've had twenty or thirty mailing addresses. I've long since given away as gifts all the paper cut-outs and carved wooden boxes I brought back with me from that trip to Poland. I have kept my flimsy little post-card reproduction of Masznicz's painting with me, though. Why? Searching in my mind for reasons for being so compelled by it, for keeping it for so long, I came to articulate why I had, intuitively, selected it as entrée into Polish art and culture.

The work is roughly rectangular, 23.5 by 20 by 9 centimeters, short sides top and bottom. The bottom is squared off, while the top rises to a curved arch, as in an altar triptych. The background is wood, painted midnight blue, with four white stars. A fiery yellow streak proceeds halfway down this sky. In the foreground lies an unpainted, human-like, wooden figure. This figure lies on a piece of wood which is lashed, by white cord, to the midnight blue background. The figure is lying in a fetal position, with its hands under its chin. Its joints are attached to each other, and also made mobile, by white cord. The grain of the wood is distinct; the grain runs vertically up and down the figure's legs, arms, and torso. The head is in the shape of an elongated sphere; here the wood's grain suggests, to the probing viewer, facial features. Perhaps one blotch is an eye, perhaps a streak is a nose? Nothing suggests a mouth. The figure lies directly under the fiery streak and looks to be its target.

This work is wordless, its principals gigantic and mythic. The human figure sports no clues as to sex, age, class, work, race, or even character. It assumes the
ur human form: a fetal position. It has no mouth. The sky, too, is represented only in the broadest strokes that allow the viewer to know that this is a blue sky and not a blue table: the placement as background, four stars. A raised circular area in the paint's surface hints that the painter may have originally included some heavenly body, either moon or sun, but thought better of it. The chatter of facts that communicate individuality and individual experience has been expunged from this work, or this work represents a time when such chatter had not yet evolved. The viewer is confronted with the big, old nouns and verbs without definite articles: human / heaven / collision / destiny.

The viewer can be sure that collision is inevitable. It is plain from the trailing tail of the yellow blob that this is a falling star. It is aimed directly at the human form, right for the heart. This is not an artwork in which pleasure comes from being made to guess: "What's going to happen next?" The viewer is being informed of that, bluntly. Freed of plot uncertainty, the viewer turns to questions of value and meaning. "Why is this happening? Is it good or bad? Are the two visible agents: heaven and human, in compliance, or is one acting without the knowledge, or counter to the wishes, of the other?"

These questions are a matter of some urgency. When regarding this taciturn work, surveying it in a search for meaning, the viewer immediately recognizes the figure in front as like him or herself. It is human in the way that the viewer is human; it is not human in ways unlike the viewer. It is not of a different race or culture or age or profession. No distancing factors communicate that its fate belongs to a different set of experience than the viewer's fate. The viewer begins an urgent search for clues. One must find the clues before plunging heavenly star makes contact with targeted human heart.

Scanning the sky of this artwork, searching for meaning, is familiar to the viewer; scanning the sky for meaning is something humans have been doing for as long as we have been. The viewer sees what has been seen before: a beautiful shade of blue, the blue of night sky and the blue of deep ocean, a blue associated with meditative calm and profound mystery. No other features, no clouds, no horizon, no constellation, help out by providing further vocabulary or narrative. The viewer must make of this sky what he makes of any sky. Sky, of course, has been and can be the map for a sailor, the cosmic order for an astrologer or astronomer, the last frontier for a nation with an exhausted manifest destiny, the source of ultimate fear and destruction for the audiences of
War of the Worlds and other films depicting attacks by space aliens. The viewer must make of this heaven what he makes of the heaven that is the metonym for fate, destiny, order, the heaven that is synecdoche for God. It is beautiful, informative, balanced, promising, terrifying, irrational, inexplicable, malicious, as the viewer holds in his own philosophy. Left only with mystery and his own forced conclusions based on insufficient data, the viewer turns to the human figure, hoping for more clues on which to develop or support a theory.

The figure is in a fetal pose. Is this the coil of new life ready to spring? A hologram for the helix? Is, then, the yellow streak sperm shooting from an
ur father? Is this figure so blank, so apparently passive, so without feature, because it hasn't happened yet, and is waiting patiently and trustingly for heaven to come to earth in a generous, divine quickening? Or, horribly, is this the fetal position of sleep? Is this human not patient, but merely unaware? Has he surrendered to the promise of rest only to be annihilated for his indulgent and foolish relaxation of watchful tension? But then a creeping suspicion arises. Is this figure awake? Does he know what awaits him? Is his posture dictated not by the spatial economy of wombs or the reflexes of sleeping muscles, but, rather, by conscious decisions to lie down where one might stand, to crouch and be small where one might stretch and take up space, to curl silently where one might bounce violently, shake one's fist, yell and holler and shout? Is this just another one of those irritatingly bovine Poles, like those observed in bread lines, Kafkaesque bureaucratic offices, staring one in the face like human roadblocks when one is trying to get something done? Is this not the coil of hope or the innocence of sleep, but the product of long training, the manufactured posture of waking resignation?

Should we be as annoyed by this figure as we are by the plodding peasant in a slow cart taking up the whole, damn road? This one thing human in the beautiful, mute landscape represents humanity, us, and is no action hero, but rather is taking no action to save or to be saved. Or, do we feel a different anger? This figure is lying under a blissfully beautiful sky. A comet speeds across it, plain as day. For those of us who have stayed up late or driven far to see Haley, Kohoutek, Hale-Bopp, or some other ballyhooed celestial fireworks, this figure's apparent obliviousness is an affront. "Get some eyes!" we want to shout. "Open them and turn around and look! Behind you! An Event!"

I am fully aware of my own inner ungulate, of my own tendency to chew my cud, or, like the figure in "Falling Star," to revert to what looks like a duck-and-cover routine, a wake-me-when-it's-over strategy, when I might be fighting for rights, building a house of brick, or performing an aerobically therapeutic dance for joy. Should I blame my parents? They recounted, as living memory, the tale of the peasants who stood out (he worked too fast or too slow; she was too pretty or too smart; they sang a patriotic song within earshot of the wrong person) and, for their troubles, were tortured in the public square. Or is laying low as a survival strategy, not Slavic, but universal? I certainly encountered it among skittish American grad students, eager as serfs to identify and please the powers-that-be. A common folk metaphor among Polish Americans is "strong like bull" (from "silny jak tur.") The ability of peasants to be strong – or to be bovine – is beautifully dramatized in Andrzej Wajda's 1976 film "Man of Marble." The title is at least a double entendre. Despair at Poles' stoicism in the face of injustice, and awe at Poles' superhuman heroism in the face of catastrophe, are constants in Polish literature. William Butler Yeats is almost as Polish as he is Irish in his poem "Easter, 1916," when he speaks of the birth of a terrible beauty among Irishmen he'd previously dismissed as "drunken, vainglorious louts." My own aching awareness of stoicism's rewards, costs, and surprises invests me – with some urgency – in Witold Masznicz's artwork.

We study the figure's features for evidence to support one or the other of the above-proposed conclusions. The figure is lashed to the sky by cord. Similar, though finer, cord attaches limbs to torso. The same force that binds human figure to mythic sky holds human figure together. Can it be that the forces that keep us here on earth and elements in the mysterious plot are merely mechanical, and to be equated with muscles and tendons? Or, are muscles and tendons the equals of more mysterious, invisible forces? And are these forces benign or malicious?

The figure looks bound. Figures restricted by ropes, vises, and walls were a common motif in Polish art during the communist era. This motif appeared on movie posters, street art, gallery art, and folk art. An example can be seen in Hans-Joachim Schauss's 1987 book
Contemporary Polish Folk Artists. Józef Lurka, a Polish wood carver, produced a sickeningly claustrophobic figure of a kneeling human, hands bound behind back, blindfold over eyes, imprisoned between two oppressive blocks of wood. In Lurka's view, the captive's suffering has meaning; a Christ-like figure watches over him. The obvious interpretation of the oft-repeated motif of human forms restricted by ropes, blindfolds, fences, vises and walls, was that the obstacles represented Russia's communist hegemony, or that of Poland's previous oppressors and occupiers, for example, the Nazis. Support for this can be found on a Solidarity poster from 1989, which featured a red chain-link fence with a hole broken in it and the caption: "Your vote for Solidarity is a step toward freedom." No symbols inform the viewer that communism is the sole referent in "Falling Star," or even one referent among many. For example, given that Martial Law was declared by the Military Council for National Salvation, whose acronym spelled the root of the word "crow," crows were sometimes used to symbolize communist oppression. This symbol had further resonance; during the Nazi occupation, Poles referred to the German eagle as a "crow." It would be easy enough to put a crow in the sky of "Falling Star," but there is none.

The figure in "Falling Star" looks bound, and being bound suggests oppression and absence of free will. Too, given that the figure is carved of wood, these cords suggest puppetry. Is this figure a puppet of some divine puppet master? On closer inspection and further reflection, however, it becomes evident that the figure is not tied up, but merely tied. The strings do not proceed directly to heaven, or to anything
outside the human figure. Rather, these strings, lashing joints, are the very elements that allow rigid wood the potential of movement, one of the requirements of, and evidence for, life. Yes, this figure could get up and run away, if it were awake, if it chose to. It could turn around and see. In any case, puppets in Eastern European folk tradition have not always been viewed as passive subjects of the manipulation of overwhelming force. In fact, puppets were potentially subversive enough that when Nazis arrested Czech puppet master Josef Skupa, they arrested his comic puppets, Spejbl and Hurvinek, also.

Perhaps this figure's posture provides clues. Take this rectangle, short ends top and bottom, and turn it on its right side. The figure is no longer fetal, rather, he is seated, with his head rested on his hands. Anyone familiar with Polish or neighboring Lithuanian folk art can tell you: this is the posture of the Worried Christ. "Chrystus Frasobliwy," variously translated as "Worried Christ," "Sorrowful Christ" or "Man of Sorrows," is the most frequently encountered male figure in Polish folk art. It can be found in roadside shrines and folk art shops, in several media such as wood, stone, or metal. Worried Christ shows Jesus at some point in his Passion, perhaps after being whipped. He is typically wearing a crown of thorns and a loincloth. He is seated, his head resting in his hands. He is weighed down by the weight of his suffering and his destiny, and yet the Worried Christ, his center of gravity low, is not without strength and dignity. This is a Christ who has been beaten, but who is not beaten. He wears his scars, even his humiliation, as a gravity that binds him closer to the powers of earth. He has been stripped of any distraction, any of the "unbearable lightness of being," as Czech novelist Milan Kundera put it in the title of his best-known work. No stray wind will blow him off course. His pose is meditative; it may be his own suffering that obsesses him, but, given the look of transcendent thought on his face, it may be experience itself. The seeker does not feel foolish coming to this semi-naked, whipped outcast to plead for intervention, does not feel selfish presenting personal woes to someone who so obviously has suffered himself.

The human form in "Falling Star" is not a Worried Christ. He wears no crown of thorns or loincloth; he is lying rather than seated. This form is, though, part of a tradition in which stoic inaction in the face of cataclysm has been represented as honorable, even mysteriously powerful. The tradition of the Worried Christ must be considered when assessing "Falling Star."

And so I look at it again. I have reported my speculations; I am "conclusion-free." This artwork rewards me at least partly because it contains enough data to inspire in me a bit of the sense of mystery I know when I ponder the night sky, or experience itself, and, like the night sky, like life, it provides me with no more data than that, certainly not enough to understand what anything means.

I selected this artwork as an entrée into Polish folk art and its wider culture not because it contains elements of folk art, although it does, for example, the arched, painted wood typical of an altar triptych, or a figure that may be compared to a puppet or to a Worried Christ, but because it symbolizes for me Polish artists, and the wider population there, and in all of Eastern Europe. Life anywhere is precarious and unpredictable; the precariousness of life seems underlined in Eastern Europe. Overwhelming and mysterious energies charge forward without let up: war upon war, the mass displacement of immigration, Nazism, communism, environmental catastrophe. The viewer questions: "Is this annihilation or spiritual opportunity?" No definitive statement has been formulated as yet. However, we have the art as testimony to what people can do, even with fire aimed at their hearts.

Kayah and Bregovic...A musical treat with Polish and Balkan flair.

It's leap year, it's snowing outside, I just finished a grilled cheese and cup of tea, and I'm about to head over to my studio in the room next door to begin painting the three new drawings I made earlier this week. February is coming to a close and now off towards March and springtime!

So, why not celebrate with a song? My friends Razvan and Eleana introduced me to an album,Kayah and Bregovic, a couple of years ago and I've been listening to it a lot in my studio while I work lately. Goran Bregovic, born in Sarajevo, is a famous musician who is inspired by the music of the Balkans and Kayah is a very successful, Polish singer/songwritier. Here the two pair up for what became a wildly popular Polish album in 1999. The lyrics, music and video to "Prawy Do Lewego" are fun and entertaining, telling a story about what happens during a rowdy wedding on a boat. 


"Prawy do lewego"

W dużej sali duży stół
There is a big table in a big hall
A przy nim gości tłum
There are a lot of quests at the table
Gospodarz zgięty wpół
The host bend in an half *
Bije łychą w szklankę
Is hitting a glass with a spoon

Cisza chciałbym toast wznieść
Quiet! I'd like to make a toast
Jak można to na cześć
If it is possible in honour of
Ojczyzny w której wieść przyszło życie nasze hej
Our homeland in which we lead our life

Racja brachu
You are right my brother **!

(Więc) wypijmy za to
So drink up for that !
(A) Kto z nami nie wypije
[B]And who won't drink with us
Tego we dwa kije
We will took him into two sticks ***
Prawy do lewego
Right one to left one
Wypij kolego
Drink up mate !
Przecież wiemy nigdy nie ma tego złego
We all know that it never happend any bad things...***

A na stole śledzik był
There was herring on the table
Zobaczył go pan Zbych
Mr Zbych saw it
I pojął dobrze w mig
And he figure out in a second
Że śledzik lubi pływać
That the herring likes to swim****
Wstał by nowy toast wniesć
He gets up to make another toast
Za rodzinę świętą rzecz
In honour of family which is a holy (blessed)
No i teściowych też
And in addition for mother-in-law too
Rodzina to jest siła!
Because the family is the power !

Racja brachu..........
You are right mate...

Dzisiaj młodzież już nie ta
The young people of today are not the same (as in the past)
Użalał się pan Stach
Mr. Stach was complaining
Lecz machnął ręką tak
But he waved his hand so hard *****
Że wylał barszcz na panią
That he spill beetroop soup on a lady

Nic to jednak przecież bo
There is nothing to warried, isn't it ?
Sukienkę można zdjąć
She can take off the dress
A toast wznosi ktoś Za dobre wychowanie
But the toast is rising for good manners

Racja brachu.........

Pana Kazia kolej to
This is Mr Kazik's turn
Więc krawat ściągnął bo
So he take off his tie
Przecież postarza go
Because the tie makes him look older
I choć był już na bani
And although he was already drunk

Bez pomocy z gracją wstał
He stand up with a grace
Jąkając się dał znak
Stuttering, he made a signal
By wypić teraz za
To drink now for
Balony pani Mani
Mrs Mani's boobs

Racja brachu............

Revisiting Summer...in Poland


This morning I got out of the shower and was surprised to see how the house was darker than when I woke up! The gloom and impending rain inspired me to share some beautiful photographs with you from a sunny, summer day spent at a Skansen (Open Air Museum) in Poland last August.

Come with me to re-visit this Skansen in Tokarnia nearby the bigger city of Kielce, Poland. An old world village atmosphere is created with regional architecture, old & well maintained peasant homes: many white washed with thatched roofs, lively & colorful cottage gardens, a wooden church with hand painted interior, wooden sculptures by a folk wood carver/craftsman, altars and crosses marking your journey along the pathways, rural dwelling interiors with, herbs drying in entry ways, masonry cook stoves, embroidered linens, decorations honoring special times of year, ritual and traditions and geraniums in the window sills and paper cut curtains for decoration.

I hope you enjoy this summertime stroll where we'll see many things representing a rich, rural lifestyle and some cultural traditions found in Poland. I love feeling the sense of spirit infusing these places, objects, gardens with beauty, meaning and connection to the land, history and people of this place.

Polish Posters and the Krzysztof Dydo Collection

- Exhibit of Polish Posters collected by K. Dydo, Instytut Polski, Budapest, Hungary, Aug. 2011

Last winter I was introduced to Polish posters when I took a job at a poster restoration shop called Funnyface Productions, repairing torn paper and touching up color and paint on worn, used and loved collectable posters. Some of the posters struck a chord.  I really admired Polish circus or "Cyrk" posters. I instantly liked their strong, stylized and colorful graphic design.

Soon I was introduced to and became curious about Polish artists' take on cinema. These artists came up with some of the most imaginative, mysterious and artistic movie posters that I have ever seen.  In the U.S. almost all of the movie posters are based around movie stars or scenes from a movie. Polish artists rendered movie posters that were truly creative; an artist's visual inspiration of a film. Besides movie and circus posters I also got a small taste of music, propaganda and political posters. I was left wondering... "What is this all about?"

Skip ahead to Spring 2011... My dream to travel and learn in Poland and Hungary became real as I planned my experience for the summer. Many synchronistic events lined up before I boarded the airplane and once I arrived to my destinations.  

A story of sychronicity:
While in Krakow I wanted to connect with and learn more about Polish posters. On a walk after my art history class I came to a Polish Poster Gallery on ul. Stolarska which is owned and operated by Krzysztof Dydo and Ewa Pabis. It was closed but I made a mental note of it's location and planned to return when it was open and I had more time. I returned a number of days later and spent about 2 hours in the shop looking at the wealth of posters and poster related information there. I introduced myself to and talked with Mr. Dydo, who was friendly and very helpful. I looked at the catalogs and books he put before me as he told me a little bit about his life's work collecting Polish posters and exhibiting them around the world.

- image taken inside Galleria Plakatu, Krakow

How fortuitous is was for me to spend a little bit of one on one time with one of the leading collectors and promoters of this art form. Dydo's collection holds over 30,000 Polish posters, he's exhibited the posters all over Poland and Europe and also in Australia, Mexico, China, Iran, Canada and the USA.  As luck would have it, he shared with me that he currently had an exhibit up in Budapest and it was to still be there when I arrived in Hungary! When I shared with him how I especially like the Cyrk posters he said a man in NYC, a collector and dealer, was asking him to write a book about the Cyrk posters. Dydo shared that the Cyrk posters are not his favorite style poster so for now he is not interested in writing a book. I hope at some point he may change his mind as I'd like to learn more about these posters. It so happens that the man in NYC, asking him to write the book, is the same man we receive posters from in the restoration shop in Haydenville, MA! Small world...  I left the shop happy and full of information after the meaningful time I spent with Mr. Dydo. I bought a copy of one of his books, "The Polish Poster of the 21st Century"
 ...and he gave and sent me away with many leaflets, booklets and postcards relating to Polish posters and exhibitions. Unfortunately this beautiful book never made it to my house in the USA. The box that I shipped from Poland, containing many books, broke open somewhere, somehow, once it arrived to one of the USPS processing facilities. This was a big disappointment as I was hoping to spend more time with the book looking and learning. I wanted to share it with the people I work with at the restoration shop. Also, Dydo himself had signed it for me.

While in Budapest I went to the Polish poster exhibit on one of my last days in town. Here is the street and the location at the Instytut Polski...

Inside the exhibition room a large wall was hung almost floor to ceiling with Polish Posters. A feast for the eyes in their proximity and diversity.

I still have an awful lot to learn about Polish posters. I found a wonderful and informative article on line by Andrea Austoni called "The Legacy of Polish Poster Design". Austoni shares with us the history of the Polish poster from it's birth in the 1890's to how the posters exist nowadays. Most interesting to me is how the Polish poster is such an important contribution to the Polish national art form. Poland's history as a 'non-existent' country in the late 19th century, to it's sovereignty and independence between WWI and WWII, after WWII when Poland found itself under communist rule, and now to Poland's independence the poster often was expressive above and beyond it's role as an advertisement.

In the 1950's, although Poland was still under communist rule, in the creation of posters artists had the freedom to be most creatively expressive. Austoni says this,

"The fierce Stalinist rule had been lifted, once again leaving room for artistic expression. The classic works were created in the next ten years. Three important remarks must be made. First, at the time the poster was basically the only allowed form of individual artistic expression.
Second, the state wasn’t concerned much with how the posters looked. Third, the fact that the industry was state-controlled turned out to be a blessing in disguise: working outside the commercial constraints of a capitalist economy, the artists could fully express their potential. They had no other choice but to become professional poster designers and that’s why they devoted themselves so thoroughly to this art."

I believe that this is why we find so much passion, imaginativeness and expression in Polish posters. For awhile this form is where artists could most express themselves. An identity, a national identity, is infused within the images and graphics of the posters even when what is being promoted is a Fellini film or jazz music.

Please visit the links embedded in this blog entry if you'd like to learn more about Polish posters. There is a wealth of information out there. Austoni has a number of good links at the end of "The Legacy of Polish Poster Design".

(Images of posters taken at Funnyface Productions, Galleria Plakatu and Instytut Polski)

Where I was. Where I am now. Where am I going? Part 1

"A horizon is something toward which we journey, but it is also something that journey's a long with us."
                                                        - Hans Georg Gadamer

"If you are striving to be equal to your destiny and worthy of the possibilities that sleep in the clay of your heart, then you should regularly be reaching new horizons."
                                                         - John O'Donohue

Above is a road curving towards a horizon. I like to use this as a metaphor in my paintings and photographs. We all travel the road of our life which is both created by us, our choices and desires, and created by the mystery that is beyond our human understanding or control. If I were to walk to the hills in the far distance of this photograph, I'd walk to the top of one of the hills and see that there is another horizon to reach in the distance. This is life.

I'm thinking about this experience I created for myself this summer. I'm reflecting on all I've learned and been inspired by... Where the inspiration to do this came from?  How I was able to do this? And now, what will come from this experience?  Some of my questions have been answered and more have come to the surface. I have gotten some perspective on a lot of things. I feel so full and inspired by all the sensory experiences and all of  the human exchanges.

At the same time, I see another horizon looming in the distance where I have the opportunity to create and learn from this quest and the lingering questions I have. I am sitting on a tip of an iceberg. Art, history, culture, stories, music and experiences lie beneath the surface to be revealed, studied, processed. These interests of mine...questions of authenticity, of identity and of culture can be a focus of a lifetime and I still will not understand it all. Where will these interests, this path, the questions lead?

About my journey...

Where I was.
The impetus... This winter I was deeply inspired by the folk art of Hungary and Poland to better understand my cultural identity and history. I saw and still see this as a doorway to inspire my own creative focus and also as a platform from which to launch into further study and a deeper understanding of the world and myself in the world. I'm going to be honest with you too, I believe that my ancestors have guided me here, to go on this quest, to be on the land where they lived, to connect with my living family and visit places where the dead rest. So many meaningful signs have appeared on my journey. In some ways, depending on how you look at it, it's been quite surreal. 

When I first had the realization that I may create an adventure for myself  last February/March I remember laying awake late one night thinking of being far across the ocean, far from home and all things familiar.  I thought about sleeping alone in a strange bed. These thoughts were both scary and alluring. Lucky for me, the alluring part of this imagining was far more captivating.

I am learning that fear is just fear. I should look at my fears, think about them and then make the best choices for myself with the intention of creating meaningful experience and beauty.

After facing my fear, I had to give myself permission to go on my quest. I had to figure out how I wanted to create the experience and how I was going to pay for the expenses of travel and education. Because of my supportive family (many thanks to Josh and my parents) I was able to see I can do this.  So, I bought my plane ticket, sent in my application to the summer school program in Krakow, got in touch with my family overseas while trusting that it would all work out and everything that needed to come together would come together. There is something freeing in letting go and trusting.

I also had to ask for help which was the reason I created the Indie GoGo campaign. This was very, very hard and very scary for me to do. Not only was I putting myself and my vision out in the world but I was asking for funding at a time when money is increasingly tight for many people as the economy continues to struggle. I was afraid to ask for help.

I had to ask myself, "Am I worth this?" The answer was yes. I have to be honest though, one of the hardest things about this trip was acknowledging this: I am worth it, I need help. ...and then asking for it.

Thanks to so many of you... your support with donations, kind words and wishes I was able to fit this experience into my budget and I was blessed with so much positive energy! Facing my fears, reaching out  and reaching my goal with fundraising at this stage of my quest was a huge boost and made me realize that I can do something bold and follow my heart. I am blessed to have so many positive relationships with family and friends. I hope you are starting to receive the postcards I've been sending out and I look forward to sending card sets, having a party, telling you stories, cooking eastern European foods and giving back to you all after I return home.

 We are not "islands" in this world. Although I've believed this for a long time I don't think I have experienced the intensity of this statement until now.  Positive relationships are one of the most important things in life. Often I have felt fiercely independent. Thoughts like, "I can do this myself. I don't want to bother anybody. I can be all alone. I don't need to or don't want to depend on anyone." have been a regular part of my internal dialog. I have spent a lot of time alone out of circumstances and choice. I even enjoy being alone ...sometimes. I need to be alone...sometimes. Maybe this comes from being an only child and being introverted? I've spent a considerable amount of time alone on this trip and have pretty much enjoyed it although there are definitely moments I am missing my family, friends, cats and even regular activities like singing at the lop of my lungs in the car.

I have also spent a lot time with family and new friends. I see that the magic of my experience here would not have happened if it weren't for my positive connections with others. Others like you who donated $10 or more to my quest,  who said "This is a great opportunity. You should go. What are you waiting for?",  who picked me up at the airport and the bus stations, who hosted me and cooked for me in your homes, who shared wine with me in city squares, who taught me about the art, the history, the architecture, who shared their culture, answered my questions, allowed me to study in the museum, met me and shared meaningful time and stories with me. I could have seen the sights and stayed in the cities and towns that interested me on my own but much of the magic was breathed into this experience because of meaningful connections with others.

For these connections I will be forever grateful. I also hope to continue this connectivity, to encourage others, to help others, host others and continue building the momentum of positive, meaningful connection.

How interesting is it...? The duality that we are all alone in this world. When we are born, the umbilical cord is cut and we are alone. We die alone. Yet we are all so connected. If you believe in the spiritual nature of life, are we ever truly alone? I don't think so.  There is endless space out there but with every step we take we are constantly held and supported by something and someone. For me this way of looking at things is very comforting and very special.

I got on the plane back in Boston on July 3rd alone with none of my friends or family. From that moment on I've stepped through hundreds of doorways: new experiences, people, places.  I am constantly met. Met by my own companionship, met by my family, met by a new acquaintance or friend, met by the sound of the world waking up in the morning and quieting down at night. Intentions coming to life. Doing and seeing what I was planning from far across the ocean this past spring.

So for all of you planning your own adventures and dreaming dreams remember that no matter where you are you are constantly and consistently being held. Everyday is an opportunity to try something new, hug a loved one, sing a song, rest, smile at a stranger, eat alone in a nice restaurant, contact long lost family and friends, make a new friend... Look at your fears, give them space in your company but don't let them stop you!

Heart Strings

 Above is a beautiful folk painting at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow depicting The Sacred Heart of Mary.  It's decorated with paper flowers perhaps for a special day or holiday honoring Mary and to show the painting's owner's devotion. This was a common practice in peasant homes with their religious iconographic images and sculptures to honor, show their connection and devotion to their these images, spirituality and religion.
Today I am leaving Krakow. My bags are packed, I'm ready to go and my cousin will be here in about an hour to take me to have a "goodbye" coffee then to the bus station.

I feel my own personal connection with this image of Mary who's heart represents her interior world, her love to God, Jesus and all humanity. 

My personal resonance with this image comes from my heartfelt feelings of connection with how I have opened to this place, to my family, to Poland's history and culture. A real, experiential thread of connection and love have been established and I will carry this connection and the thread will stretch as I travel away from this place.  Something greater than myself has drawn me here. I'm listening to and acting on what my heart tells me to do. Seeds have been planted and a lot remains to be learned and discovered. How far and deep will the roots of my seed grow and spread?
My last days in Krakow were particularly interesting as so many activities and unexpected events were happening around the town square which I got to witness and be a part of. On Friday I spent a full day walking all around the town center and down to Kazimierz. I came upon a Wine and Cheese Festival where I tried a few Polish wines and decided to have a glass of a Polish white wine while I sat and people watched from the edge of the square. I ate a special mountain cheese that is heated directly on a grill. It was served with a garnish of berry preserves...very tasty. Later I tried the fried dough with a type of sour cream spread over it, topped with a layer of cheese. Wow! That was something. After eating all this good food there may be more coming home with me other then some souvenirs :-)! As I sipped my wine I got to see the DJ begin to work with light effects and stage smoke and do the DJ thing with head phones and bobbing head. It was an interesting scene.

Also that same night, the next square over was a WWI 1914 memorial/music event with a crowd of people gathered, singing along with changing choruses on stage and a uniformed MC. A military marching band came through and lead a number of songs. A Polish flag banner hung from the tower next to the stage in the main market square. A ran into Marcin, my Polish language teacher who said this happens every year. Identity and nationality were strongly being expressed during this event. I'm sorry I can't tell you more as I do not know anything else about this tradition.

Last night, my last night in Krakow was very memorable. It just so happened that it was the last day of a huge bike race event, the Tour de Pologne and the cyclists were coming right through the main market square! I had a date to meet my cousin and his family for dinner in the square and as fate would have it we had a lovely dinner right next to the lane where the cyclists and their entourages were coming through. I have to admit this was very thrilling to me. Each time a new batch of cyclists came through the sirens would wail and a helicopter would circle low overhead. Always it's thrilling for me to see people excel at their talents, passions and interests so seeing these fit athletes speed around the curve of cobblestone streets was really great.

I ended my evening with a cup of flower tea and Polish miod (honey) at one of my favorite cafes along the Planty, the green belt surrounding Krakow center. The sun was about down and all the candles were lit on doily adorned wooden tables. People were walking and biking about on the Planty and I sat watching them from my table on the edge of the cafe's huge art nouveau style porch and wrote in my journal for an hour. After dark I walked to the tram and took it back to my room where rest and dreams awaited.

Six Senses Friday: Krakow V

- blue skies and fluffy white clouds...it's been awhile
- a beautiful and serene secret garden courtyard where I sat while the rain stayed away long enough for me to eat my soup and toasted sandwich.
- wax dripping from lit candles and creating abstract, organic sculpted pieces on the table holding the candelabra
- night visions, lighting, architecture... Krakow when the sun goes down
- a man levitating(!) ...I'm still trying to figure out how he does this feat!

- flute, two male voices singing in harmony, an acoustic guitar performing Ukrainian, Russian and Polish folk songs.
- bells chiming from a Baroque Church as the morning sun shines
- pigeons, crows and other city birds making a racket up in the trees on the Planty every evening as the sun descends
- rain pounding the buildings and pavement for this weeks late afternoon down pours
- a stadium where a soccer game is taking place, down the ways from my dorm, erupting in cheers

- a sweet pea bouquet at a flower stand in the city square
- incense burning in a church
- a cool, old, damp smell coming from the stone of a gothic cathedral in Kazimierz
- poppy seeds wrapped into a breakfast roll, reminding me of my grandmother and the bread she makes

- many a sample of fruit and herb infused vodka's and liquor's at a specialty shop
- quarters of fresh fig topping a salad
- honey beer in a cold ceramic mug
- chocolate covered ginger cookie

- silk of a hand painted scarf
- linen dresses in a shop
- hands of new friends in greeting
- my cousin Marta's long, blond hair 

- meditative as I kneel to pray at the Franciscan Church
- anxious as I try to use my time wisely and well my last days in Krakow
- like there are so many doors in Krakow I haven't walked through yet and that I will be back here someday
- reflecting on the themes of identity and authenticity
- a deep appreciation of soulful expression

Haunting and Thriving... Kazimierz

I am continually finding myself down in Kazimierz, a distinct neighborhood in Krakow. Of course it has to do with the fact that the Ethnographic Museum is located here but there is something else... A haunting and a vibrant quality resonates around and within this place, most likely because of it's rich and intense history.

This part of Krakow was founded by Kazimierz the Great in 1335 and was built with it's own wall, two distinct churches, town hall and plans for a university. Kazimierz became even more distinct and separate in it's feel when in the late 15th century the king moved Krakow's Jewish population here. It was a thriving center of Jewish culture for many, many years where there was relatively peaceful coexistence of the Jewish and Polish people. Synagogues, churches, Jewish cemeteries, historic buildings, narrow streets lined with buildings showing their age and character, cobblestone streets and squares mark this place with a solid character and feel. Please read about Kazimierz on Wikipedia if you are interested in it's history.

Kazimierz is haunting. Perhaps it's a haunted place? I sense people who are long gone and events that took place here. There is an echo of intense sadness vibrating from empty buildings, stone walls, rebuilt synagogues, narrow cobblestone streets. However, alongside and touching this haunting is vitality. There is a  quality of time moving on and people moving forward with fresh, healing energy. Does Kazimierz have a dualistic nature? These two qualities, hand in hand, are bound together in my sense of this place.

I also feel confusion, disgust and mourning about the years of terror during the Nazi occupation of Krakow for about 5 and 1/2 years between 1939 and 1945 when the Polish and the Jewish populations were brutally terrorized. I went to Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory, which is now a permanent exhibition called "Krakow Under Nazi Occupation, 1939-1945", were I was overwhelmed with tons of information describing  the intense history of this time... where both horror and humanity were expressed.  Erased lives, families that were torn apart, hate, discrimination, murder, destruction... all this is palpable. So is the reality that some survived and risked their lives to aid in the survival of others.

A sense of this time infuses Kazimierz even today. What was once a thriving Jewish center is a fraction of what it was. Prior to WWII Krakow was home to thousands and thousands (60,000 -70,000) of active Jewish people. One feels the ghosts of this kind of cultural and religious presence. Now the Jewish population is small but thriving. Synagogues have been rebuilt, museums and educational materials share the intense stories, Jewish religious observations are taking place, cafes, shops and live music bring vitality, energy and awareness back. Perhaps healing is happening here? Time is moving on.

Many people live in Kazimierz now. It is home to a thriving and very cool cafe scene. Cafes serve coffee, tea, wine, beer and alcohol. Spaces, rooms...one leading to another, filled with vases of colorful flowers, art work on the walls, dripping wax candles gracing every table, nook and cranny along the bars and walls, outdoor garden space to sit, talk and sip a drink. I could do a blog post just about these wonderful places and spaces. Art galleries line streets, studios, restaurants... colorful signs and atmosphere. Kazimierz has a bohemian feel which is infusing this place with fresh beauty and vitality.

The pictures shared with this post were taken over a few days... there are photographs of street scenes, a synagogue, buildings, a museum display celebrating American-Jewish music, spaces that were featured in Spielberg's movie, "Schindler's List", artistic spaces, places with history...

Six Senses Friday: Krakow IV

This past Wednesday I spent an hour or so at an open air market, Stary Kleparz, in Krakow where there is an abundance of fresh produce, cheese, sausages, meat, bread and baked goods, clothing and household items. When I'm in places like this I can't help but get out my camera and take photos of the cornucopia of abundance, beautiful color combinations and textures mingling in piles on tables and being presented in windows. I thought I'd share photos from the market with you as I post my weekly "Six Senses" update.
- I had the wonderful opportunity to meet more of my relatives in Korczyna last Sunday.
- a small bouquet of flowers adding color to my dorm room, picked from my relatives gardens...three zinnias and a rose
- ancient symbols and motifs found on very old architectural and archeological items ... and the thread of these symbols in Polish peasant art
- I walked around the Jan Matejko Fine Arts Academy on a quiet morning among the sculptures and sculptural casts and sensed the energy of artists who studied and created in that building.
- Polish being spoken all around me at the table in my cousin's home while Lukasz tries to keep up with the translating.
- an evening of live music played by  Kwartet Jorgi (a polish band with roots elements) a bag pipe like instrument, wooden flutes played along side a tenor sax, acoustic guitar and hand percussion... hearing dissonant harmonies and a lot of improvisational elements
- my 8 year old cousin, Marta, quietly humming Leonard Cohen's song, "Hallelujah" as we took in the view from atop Mt. Tarnica
- strong wind blowing, humming and resonating against and through a metal cross on the top of Mt. Tarnica
- fresh mountain air
- wildflowers in blossom as honey bees busy themselves with their work
- a warm kitchen filled with scents of delicious, cooking food
- the fruity and sweet bouquet of my cousin Roman's homemade wine
- a cigarette being smoked inside a cafe at night
- Cousin Roman's delicious homemade wine
- Cousin Paulina's fresh, delicious homemade doughnuts
- Warm beer with ginger and clove on a cool rainy night in Cafe Camelot
- Cousin Kinga's homemade kremówka papieska a cream cake/pastry which was apparently Pope John Paul the II's favorite Polish pastry
- strawberries on white rice with fresh sweet cream poured on top
- kissing cheeks and exchanging warm hugs with my growing family
- running my hand over tall grasses with full seed heads as I hike up Tarnica
- pen to paper as I begin to sketch designs found on Pisanka eggs at the Ethnographic Museum
- the petals of a freshly cut rose
- sadness at the sense of closing as my program at Jagiellonian University winds up... classes are ending and new friends and acquaintances are leaving
- very interested in the language of symbols
- tired of the cool, gray, rainy days
- tipsy after an evening of visiting and talking over lots beer and pizza at Cousin Paulina's and Lukasz's flat
- pleasantly overwhelmed by the generosity and warmth of my family here in Poland and also by my family and friends at home who have been so supportive and enthusiastic about me coming here to Poland this summer
- like I am learning so much about Poland, the culture, the country, society...  Poland is such a complex, beautiful and complicated place with such a rich and at times very painful history. I hope to do some more writing here on my blog to share with you my deeper sense of this place.