THE TIME-HONORED WOOD-CARVING OF THE LEMKOs

The following article, written by Olga G. Bench (Кандидат містецтвознавства), appeared in the Kiev monthly "Українскій Світ" (Ukrainian World) in Ukrainian and English. The English translation was slightly modified as shown here by Walter Maksimovich.

The territory populated by an ancient branch of the Ukrainians - the Lemkos, spread on both sides of the Carpathian mountains, i.e., Poland and Czechoslovakia. Independent and freedom loving people, always at peace with the nature, had a distinguished spiritual and material culture. However in the mid'40s of the XXth century, the Lemkos were deported to the distant parts of the former Soviet Ukraine. Up-rooted, literally in one day, from their native land, the people gradually lost the depth of their ethnic culture, and as time went by, the assimilation was taking its toll.

One of the major traditions of the Lemkos, that has been preserved to this day, is the wood carving. The imaginary world, plots and symbols of the Lemko carvings originate from their attitude to the world surrounding them. The mountain life of the Lemkos was in harmony with the nature's rhythms, which provided inexhaustible creative energy, which lead to wealth of variety in creative powers. The cultural tradition, so much influenced by native surroundings, was dictated by their persistence to survive. The inner kinship and interrelation with everything under the sun, gave birth to diversity of creative impulses and powers.
The principal sites of national folk carvings of the Lemkos were the villages of Vilka and Balutyanka, near the health resorts of Ivonich and Rimaniv, in Syanochina.
The older generation of the craftsmen recall that the Countess Anna Pototska facilitated the development of the carving tradition in the region. At the end of the IXth century, she founded the first Carver's School in Rimaniv. Talented youth from nearby areas were taught the carving skills.
The pupils studied the relief carving with floral design that at first covered the household utensils. The round carving type was represented by figures of animals and birds. This school graduated a number of highly talented craftsmen, whose traditions are carried nowadays by their grand-grand-children.
The craftsmen deported from the villages of Vilka and Balutyanka, preserved their ethnic identity in a compact community, in villages of Hutisko, Berezhany district, Ternopil region.
These picturesque parts of the Eastern Halichina region, resembled the native natural surroundings of the Lemkos, which they left behind. Currently a new generation of carvers works here, side by side with the older generation of the craftsmen.
The most prominent of them are Sidor Odrekhivskyj, Ivan and Mikhailo Mikhalishin, Stepan Pototski, the grand-children of the famous Lemko carver Grigory Berdal - Mikhailo and Oleg Berdal. Petro Dalinski, the son of the prominent carver Havril Dolinski, has also started his creative work in Hutisko. Unfortunately his early death did not permit to blossom the talent of this craftsman. The majority of talented carvers moved to live near the health-resorts of Truskavets and Morshin in the late 50's, escaping from the kolhoz life.
In Truskavets were active such famous carvers as: Hrihoriy Bench, Ivan Berdal', Ivan Krasivskiy, Markian Odrekhivskyj. Today a large community of carvers, of different generations and diverse manners, work here. Among them are brothers Andriy and Stepan Orisik, sons of the most prominent craftsman and pedagogue Mikhailo Orisik. Fedir Sinyutka and his son Yaroslav, Fedir Stetsyak, Vasil Bench, Petro Pototskiy, Petro, Andriy and Ivan Krasivski, Bohdan Odrekhivskyj - son of a famous craftsman from Berezhany - Ivan Odrekhivskyj, Vasil Odrekhivskyj and his son Petro, Mikhailo Ilyash with his son Vasil, son of Ivan Berdal - Yuriy, Roman Orisik and his wife Anna Ilyash. In Truskavets settled talented craftsmen family of the Dolinskyjs: Dan'ko, Maria, Yaroslava, Mikola, Katerina - children of carver Ivan Dolinskyj, and his children-in-law: Stefan Hirnyak and Ivan Sukhorskyj.
The Morshinskty community is famous for its craftsmen. Among them: Mikola Berdal, Ivan Bench, brothers Ilyash - Petro, Ivan, Vasil and Mikhailo, Petro Kit, Mikhailo Pochinskyj, Ivan Dolinskyj.
The traditional skills of the Lemko carvings (relief, bas-relief, round and flat techniques) were passed on to the professional sculptural carvings, the most eminent representatives of which are the sculptors from Lviv: Andriy Sukhorskyj and Vasil Odrekhivskyj.
The book list all Lemko carvers of the last generation along with most characteristic samples of their works. The carving tradition of the Lemkos that has come to us through the ages calls for a thorough research and cultural nourishment.
Color Examples

B. Odrekhivskyj. Decorative Plate. Wood. 1991 - G. Nakonechna. Embroidery,cross-stiching, 1989. - Lemko Easter Eggs, 1991.

I. Odrekhivskyj. Decorative Plate. Wood. 1987

I. Berdal'. Deer Family. Wood. 1983

H. Bench. Decorative Wooden Cane. 1985 - Yu. Berdal'. Decorative Plates. 1990.

Yu. Berdal. Lemko House with a Stork. Wood. 1990

D. Dolinskyj. Lion. Small Foxes. Wood. 1991

B. Odrekhivskyj. Decorative Plates. Wood. 1989.


Andriy Sukhorskyj. Bandura Player. and "Bambi". Wood. (Photos taken by Oleh Iwanusiw in Lviv in 1993).


Thanks go to Andy Medynets of Kiev for providing me with the original material.

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