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Life in Wood



The use of wood for the production of vital, indispensable, as well as decorative objects was a highly developed and widely distributed phenomenon in Ukraine with origins reaching ancient times.

An abundance of wood in Ukrainian lands made it a favorite natural material to work with which resulted in woodcraft specialties such as: carpentry, coopering, wood turning, and woodcarving.

Woodcarving is a major branch of Ukrainian folk art. Works of professional artists were influenced by universal trends, styles, and demands of the clientele. Folk artisans, on the other hand, were more conservative. They strictly adhered to traditional styles and used decorative motifs with a deeply symbolic meaning which according to their beliefs possessed magical powers. Nevertheless, this conservatism did allow for innovations and originality often introduced by talented artisans, as long as they were contained within a traditional framework.

Most woodcraft artisans were experienced woodcarvers employing chip, incision, and low-relief carving. They were also masters of inlaid work employing colored wood, seed beads, mother-of-pearl, copper wires and metal studs.

Although woodcarving was popular throughout Ukraine, some regions were especially noted for the beauty and intricacy of their work. The Hutsul region in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine was such an area. It is here, among the Hutsuls that woodcarving reached the highest level of artistic development. They had an innate artistic talent, sophisticated aesthetic tastes and a great fondness to ornament all objects they created.

Most wood carved objects produced by the Hutsuls were both utilitarian and decorative. In addition to articles for personal and home use, like household and farm implements, tools, transportation vehicles, saddles and accessories the Hutsul also carved objects for specific traditional rituals and religious purposes such as hand crosses, and candelabras.

Ornamentation consisted mostly of geometric motifs such as endless lines, droplets, ringlets, grain stalks, lozenges with hooks, square crosses, eight-spoked sun/stars also called roses. There are not many individual motifs but it is their countless, harmonious combinations and configurations upon the surface of a wooden object which produces a wealth of ornamental designs giving every object a unique and singular appearance.

The exhibit Life in Wood was organized by Natalia Sonevytsky and Sophia Hewryk, both of whom are members of The Ukrainian Museum's Board of Trustees.

Essay by
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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