Painted Villages

To the west of Krakow is an area known for the folk-art on and in the houses. The painting started out of necessity, and then became an art-form, complete with classes in how to make the stencils and which paints to use for what surfaces… It also shows just how wonderful life was under the Communist governments.

Painted on an old barn

The painting actually started indoors, in the kitchens and connected rooms. The farm houses in the region had a semi-separate cooking area with a sleeping nook over the stove for sleeping in winter. Part of the kitchen was used in winter, and a different side (not as smokey) for summer. The main area was called the black kitchen, because that’s the color it turned from all the soot and ash. The other part was the white kitchen. This pattern stayed in use well into the 20th century. As in until the 1990s, and even today in some very, very rural areas with elderly residents.

Women would white-wash the kitchen(s) once a year, to freshen everything, and to cover the soot. A few artistic souls would mix clay into some of the whitewash to make a brown, and then used charcoal to draw designs that they painted, or they free-handed floral designs, usually on the ceiling of the hallway connecting the parts of the house.

A show kitchen.

Part of an old building with the traditional brown on white pattern.


And then came colored paint at reasonable prices. Two ladies in particular took to the colors and put them all over the place, which inspired a gentle competition in the village, which spread. The round thing above is a well, the same style as is still in use all over western and southern Poland. You can see the painted bucket hanging from the end of the sweep. The house is one of several buildings at the regional art and folk-life center. Often, the house would be decorated, but the barn and other buildings were just given tinted white-wash. Formal competitions are now held every spring for the prettiest village.

A compromise. The end of the house on the left is the kitchen. The middle is for living and the right end is full of farm equipment. It would have held livestock, back in the day.

One of the farm buildings. Everything is made of wood.

How big are the logs?

Note blogger hand for scale.

The art also seeps into other settings…

Part of a chapel in the parish church.

Part of the nave of the parish church. The white ribbons are because wedding season was in full spate.

The farm buildings range from modern-ish, although smaller than a lot of US farm sheds and barns. Large tractors were not common in this part of Poland, because the Communists allowed the farmers to keep the smaller plots and fields, plus the smaller tractors were cheaper. Far western Poland, the area taken from Germany, had the huge collective farms and the other things we associate with Soviet-style life. The Soviet and Communist governments wanted to erase all trace of the German past, and to sweep clean the way to the bright future of the Workers’ paradise.

The economic reality of that vision… Not so good. The fact that these buildings were used, lived-in, and kept as the rest of Europe moved to cinder-block and concrete, steel, and metal roofs says a lot, as does this barn door.

That’s a barn door. Really

It’s light-weight, water resistant, easy to move without having lots of people or metal parts, keeps the snow off the stuff inside the barn, but provides air-flow if you are dying hay. And repairs are relatively inexpensive and easy, as compared to trying to find lumber and nails, and other things.

The landscape is flat to gently rolling, with beautiful fields and scattered villages. It’s a lovely area, but you do need to have a good driver (as we did) or an excellent map and sense of direction. Most people do not speak English, so a little background in farming helps. You can’t help but admire the women who tried so hard to make their homes a little more cheerful and neat, despite the hard work of cooking, helping with the farm, raising children, and not having running water.

That’s one thing that really stands out when you leave tourist-Poland: just how far the Polish people were willing to go to make human-scale lives, despite the best (and worst) efforts of the Soviets and later Polish Communist governments. Several Poles I chatted with said that their government traded physical goods for freedom of information and more religious tolerance*, and that they got the better end of the deal than did other Communist countries. East Germans and Hungarians might have had more physical luxuries, but the Poles could think, and read, and listen for themselves. I don’t know how true that was, but it sort of fit what I saw. Plus – information is portable. Given how often Poles have had to head for the hills over the past thousand years or so, valuing portable wealth makes sense.

*Religious tolerance to a point. Religion was still the opiate of the masses, and still competed with the State for souls, and the Soviets still had tanks and divisions keeping an eye on things.

6 thoughts on “Painted Villages

  1. You find similar patterns in the folk embroidery of the region, too. Absolutel gorgous fancy clothing and things like linens and church dressings

  2. Wicker makes great sense, after thinking a minute. A lot of rolling land and small streams, ponds and marsh, mean a lot of willow and alder. Nice use for the withes and branches; tough and light.

    Makes me wonder if each village or group had a favored color combination or basic scheme, the better to sort folks later after [insert disaster].

  3. Concur with PK, wattle/wicker make sense. And the beauty the women created had to have had a positive impact, not only on their lives, but those around them.

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