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Hutsul and Black-Smoked Ceramics

April 28, 2013 – February 23, 2014


Folk art ceramics consisted of pottery used to store food and liquids, for cooking, and for the decoration of homes; building products such as bricks, oven tiles, roof shingles, and smoke chimneys; and various toys. All these items could be glazed or unglazed, ornamented or plain, depending on the item's final use as well as on local tradition. While there were many similarities among ceramic products in Ukraine, there were also local and regional peculiarities in shapes, ornamentation, and color schemes.

The development of Hutsul ceramics was centered in the villages of Pistyn, Kuty, and Kosiv. After a piece was formed on a potter's wheel, it was covered with a white slip (engobe), and the incised contours of the design on the surface were painted with ochre clay paints. The piece was fired, painted with yellow and green glaze paints, coated with a translucent glaze, and fired a second time. Unglazed crockery used primarily for storage and cooking was fired only once. The ceramics were painted with a special instrument, usually an ox horn with a tip made of goose quills graduating in size from wide to very fine.

A very important aspect of Hutsul ceramics is ornamentation. The embellishment consists of stylized floral motifs, various geometric elements, and representations of birds, animals, and even human forms. Often all these motifs are combined in an ornamental composition on an earthenware object. Of special interest are oven tiles, with their storytelling illustrations depicting various aspects of Hutsul life and the society at large, complete with social classes, professions, and non-Ukrainian ethnics. The tiles also included religious and mythological motifs, as well as decorative stylized floral and animal ornamental compositions.

Hutsul ceramics are one of many examples of Ukrainian folk art. Their original style of production, many-faceted practical and decorative uses, and unique ornamental compositions make these ceramics a significant and interesting contribution not only to Ukrainian folk art but to art in general.


Black or smoked ceramics were produced in certain regions of Ukraine - for example, Volyn, Chernihiv, and Podillia. Black pottery was used primarily to store food and liquids, although it was also known to be used in rituals such as fortune telling and rites of passage. For instance, special black jugs were made in the Chernihiv area only once a year, on the first Saturday of Lent, known as St. Theodore's Saturday. The minute the church bell rang, signaling the start of the Mass, the potter sat down at his wheel and tried to make (throw) as many jugs as possible by the time the Mass ended (eastern Rite liturgies were very long - at least three hours). Each jug was decorated with a rubbed, pressed design and a small cross. Every woman wanted to have these types of jugs because they were believed to get the most cream from milk and because their contents were said to be protected from any evil eye or a witch who might steal the milk.

The black color of this pottery resulted from firing pots made of regular clay in so-called "smother" or "reducing" kilns. Just before the end of the firing of the pots, all the openings in the kiln through which air might enter were covered up tightly. The lack of oxygen caused the iron in the clay to oxidize and give the pot its black color.

Black ceramics were not glazed, but rather decorated by rubbing the surface with a smooth stone and creating some linear ornamentation. A small wooden dowel, decorated with carvings, was rolled over certain areas of the pot while the clay was still wet.

Black ceramics from the Zolochiv area were well known and produced as late as the 1930s in villages including Sphykolosy, Bilyi Kamin, and Havarechchyna. During Soviet times, the production of black ceramics almost completely ceased. A revival occurred when Ukraine proclaimed its independence in 1991. Today, there is a rebirth in the production of black ceramics, especially in the town of Havarechchyna. All the items on exhibit were made in Havarechchyna in the 1990s and exemplify this new trend of revival for the sake of preserving a unique form of folk art.

Lubow Wolynetz
Curator of Folk Art
The Ukrainian Museum



About the Museum

The Ukrainian Museum acquires, preserves, and exhibits articles of artistic or historic significance to the rich cultural heritage of Ukrainian Americans; its collections include thousands of items of folk art, fine art, and archival material. At its founding in 1976 by the Ukrainian National Womens League of America, the Museum was hailed as one of the finest achievements of Americans of Ukrainian descent. Since then, and particularly since its move in 2005 to a new, state-of-the-art building in Manhattans vibrant East Village, it has become known as one of the most interesting and dynamic smaller museums in New York City. Each year, the Museum organizes several exhibitions, publishes bilingual (English/Ukrainian) catalogues, and presents a wide range of public and educational programs, including concerts, films, lectures, courses, workshops, and special events.

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