Zalipie: Poland’s Painted Village

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Discover Kuriositas
The secluded village of Zalipie in southeastern Poland is home to a charming tradition.  Over a century ago the women of the village began to paint their houses: however, it was not the single, uniform color one might expect from a traditional and conservative society.  The village, through the intricate and vibrant paintwork of its womenfolk, bloomed.

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Although no one is completely sure how and when this tradition began, it dates from when the smoke from stoves escaped through little more than a hole in the ceiling of the house.  Women would paint over the spots of soot with whitewash.  Yet the spots would still be partially visible and it is believed that the women, in order for their house to appear immaculate for religious festivals, took to covering the remnants of soot stains with paintings of flowers.  Once modern cooking and better ventilation came in to practice, these cover-ups were no longer necessary.  Yet instead the flower patterns became gradually more and more sophisticated.

Folk art
Farmer, Foal and Flowers, Zalipie, Poland

This may have happened spontaneously throughout the village.  Yet I like the idea of a lone woman looking around her kitchen and suddenly having her eureka moment.  Friends would visit, like what they saw and make their own versions in their own homes.  It wouldn’t take too long for this idea to spread to the outside of the houses – and that is where the friendly competition could really begin.

Image Credit Flickr User Poland MFA
Image Credit Flickr User Poland MFA
Painted house, Zalipie
In fact, to this day, the village hosts an annual competition around the feast of Corpus Christi.  Local painters (a few men now, but still predominantly women) create their own intricate floral arrangements on the walls of the houses as well as touching up patterns from previous years.  The practice has spread beyond the walls of the cottages too – it seems in Zalipie any immovable object is potentially the site for a florescent flourish.

Chicken Coup, Zalipie, Poland
Bridge, Zalipie, Poland
Image Credit Flickr User PolandMFA
Nothing, it seems, escapes their attention. The chicken coups are painted. The village bridge is painted. The bins are painted.

Image Credit Flickr User Magro_kr
Image Credit Flickr User Magro_kr
The village well has had due attention paid - as has the sundial.

Dog Kennel, Zalipie, Poland

Even the dog's kennel is painted.

Image Credit Flickr User Magro_kr
Image Credit Flickr User PolandMFA
Zalipie specific ornamentation tradition.
Of course, when this tradition started the women of the village would not have had access to professionally made equipment.  They made the brushes used to paint the walls with the tail hair of the local cows.  The different pigments would be sourced locally with fat from the dumplings the women made added to give the paint body.  Each year the flowers would be repainted after Corpus Christi when there was not as much important farm work to be done.

Zalipie specific ornamentation tradition.
Image Credit Flickr User Poland MFA
Image Credit Flickr User PolandMFA
The Painted Cottage competition - Malowana Chata – has been held every year since 1948.  Its introduction was part of the movement to help the country psychologically recover from the horrors of the Second World War, in which it saw over 17% of its population perish.

Image Credit Flickr User mksfca
Image Credit Flickr User mksfca
Image Credit Flickr User Magro_kr
One woman in particular retained and developed the tradition.  Felicja Curyłowa (1904 – 1974) became so obsessed with the floral decorations that she covered almost every possible surface of her three-bedroomed cottage with her ornate adornments.  Unsurprisingly her home has been turned in to a museum, to be preserved as the epitome of this wonderful folk art.

Image Credit Flickr User Magro_kr
Image Credit Flickr User Magro_kr
Rabbit Hutch, Zalipie, Poland
Yet although Curyłowa’s house is beautifully maintained, the art was not created with the aim of attracting visitors.  Some of it looks a little worn around the edges – yet these pieces, left to their own devices, are often those which look both the most attractive and authentic.

Image Credit Flickr User PolandMFA
Image Credit Flickr User PolandMFA
Image Credit Flickr User Poland MFA
Zalipie is quite well known to Poles yet tourists from further afield are still something of a novelty for the villagers. They are said to be as curious of their visitors as their guests are about the gorgeous painted cottages of Zalipie.

House of color
Flower cottage
Chicken and Chicks, Zalipie, Poland

First Image Credit PolandMFA


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