In a bid to make my lifestyle business provide me a lifestyle that takes me beyond the office I booked a ‘Textiles Tour’ of the Trans Carpathian region of Ukraine.
I have long been fascinated by the culture and folk art of the people of the Carpathian Mountain region and when I saw that Nataliya (Experience Ukraine www.experienceukraine.co.uk) was running a textile based tour I saw my chance to find out more about this region.
My visit was filled with wonder and delight, but I of course realise that the insight that I gained during a one week visit is limited. This posting is a record of my visit, with my own reflections on what I found to be a most beautiful region.
Abandoned farmhouse – completely built of wood including wooden shingles on the roof.
Our first night was spent in Ivano Frankivsk (Stanislav until 1962), a busy and beautiful town with a multitude of churches and lingerie shops! From there our patient driver traversed the very challenging Ukrainian roads across country to Kolomyya which houses a fascinating museum of Hutsul culture and folk art. The Hutsuls are the people who have inhabited this mountainous region for the last thousand years and who have quite a distinct way or life and culture.
The textiles, costume, carving and ceramics traditionally produced in the region are really wonderful. Of course Hutsul folk-art is made from what is plentiful and like mountain dwelling people throughout the world, this includes much wool and wood. With bold sureness of expression, textiles and ceramics display all of the influences which have swept to and fro across this area historically; Austro- Hungarian, Russian, Western European and Ottoman.
After these gentle introductions to Ukraine the market at Kosiv proved to be total immersion. A market in the broadest and most vigorous sense; trading, meeting, eating and drinking in a temporary world which exists for twelve hours every week. With avenues devoted to butter, to cheese, to socks (hand knitted locally), to sheepskins (gorgeous but mainly from Poland), to Lizhnyk (traditional wool blankets, more on these later), to tractor parts, to harnesses, to honey, to….. well just about anything that you might be able to make or gather and that someone else might want.
Our host in the mountains in was Svetlana. With a small holding in a valley alongside a fast flowing mountain river, in recent years Svetlana and her family have invested in a felting mill for the local Lizhnyk weavers to finish their blankets, a fish farm for very small scale raising of organic trout and tourist accommodation in a very comfortable chalet. Generous and super-efficient she produced a series of delicious meals all made from the freshest produce, organised the felting mill and ran her family home.
Olympic standard log stacking!
Whilst based at Svetlana’s we found out much more about the local production of Lizhnik. Lizhnik are woolen blankets hand woven with the most minimal inputs of any textile I can think of. The fleeces is carefully sorted into colours and tones, then picked through, then washed twice in the mountain streams. Once washed it is sorted through again prior to spinning. The warps are spun reasonably finely, the weft is spun very thickly and with minimal twist. Most of the women in the village have a loom for weaving Lizhnik and their weaving fits in around milking cows, looking after children and all the other chores involved with running a family and small holding. Many weavers stick to traditional patterns such as ‘Hutsul Eye’, however some are much more adventurous varying traditional motifs with contemporary designs. Once woven the blankets must be felted, for this they are taken to one of the mills like Svetlana’s where they are immersed and tumbled in the pure mountain water for up to 6 hours. The Lizhnik blankets provide a vital additional income to the households in this village and meeting the Lizhnik weavers, and in particular Bogdana and her family who very patiently tried to teach me the basics of Lizhnik weaving was an absolute privilege. Bogdana, her Mother and her son Stanislav made my days weaving enormous fun, we often got rather distracted into English and Ukrainian lessons and this combined with Mama’s amazing Ukrainian hospitality meant that my progress as a Lizhnik weaver was somewhat limited!
Lizhnik blankets being pulled out of the churning mill where they wash and felt for 4-6 hours after weaving
The loom is a feature of most houses in the village.
The wonderful weavers who so generously and warmly shared their skills with us. Bogdana is on the left and her beautiful Mum in the centre.
Species rich meadow everywhere!
A walk up to the high summer pastures was a magical diversion from textiles. From the village all the way along our two hour hike up the mountain, the meadows were full of the wildflower diversity now so rare in the UK. Orchids of various types were so prolific as to be common and not at all noteworthy. The farming practices in this region have remained largely unchanged since the early 20th century and this has protected the countryside, preserving amazing diversity in flora and fauna species. For the population this does of course mean considerable hard work; hay is cut by hand, potatoes sewn and harvested by hand, cows and sheep are milked by hand, transportation of hay, logs and produce is mainly by horse and cart.
Logging pony taking a break.
Once we reached the high pasture we were introduced to the shepherd who with the aid of a couple of dogs looks after 130 sheep for the four summer months that they are grazing up on this pasture. He milks the sheep, making cheese which is smoked in the hut that is also his shelter. The high pastures are like another world even more removed from my own version of normality, the peace and beauty of the surroundings on a warm spring day was really moving.
Our last couple of days offered a complete change of pace in the enchanting city of Lviv. The architecture in the city centre proclaims the cities heritage; the swagger of Austro-Hungarian blended with local influences and those from Poland and Germany. More than any other city I have visited recently it felt like a city that lives and works. Vibrant and busy but without the extreme affluence found in other major European cities which so sucks the life and soul out of city centres.
With so much to see and just a few hours available Nataliya suggested the Andrey Sheptytsky Museum particularly known for it’s very large collection of sacred art as a final treat. It really was such a treat, the Icons were very beautiful and our museum guide was so knowledgeable it was an absolute privilege both to see these pieces and have the benefit of such a wealth of understanding in the history, significance and social context of the work that we were looking at. Religion was not allowed during the Soviet times and the survival of so many of these treasures is a wonder in itself. The museum was founded in 1905 and during the Soviet times the museum authorities successfully argued the case that the Icons should be classified as folk art rather than religious art. This, combined with the efforts of local communities not to lose their precious sacred art through removal and effective hiding of work from churches means that this national collection contains 140,000 pieces, more than a life’s work for the team of conservators who work to maintain and preserve the collection.
Visiting the Ukraine was a leap in the dark for me, I had little idea of what to expect. So thank you Nataliya for showing me so many facets of this stunningly beautiful region, providing many opportunities for me to meet really wonderful people and enjoy extraordinary levels of hospitality. This blog post really does not begin to cover all that I saw and experienced during the trip; the many wonderful meals, the music and dancing, the meeting of minds, the deserted wooden houses, the disturbed hedgehog, the nesting storks, the sublime honey, the profoundly moving church service, the freshness of the food, the new perspective on European history…….and the vodka! I can’t wait for my next trip!
Ukraine is undoubtedly in a tight spot just at the moment, however the country seems so bursting with natural resources, the people so charming, creative and energetic that I wonder how this could be and wish profoundly that positive changes come for the people of Ukraine.
During the delicious, and as retailers frankly frivolous break between Christmas and New Year, I had a belated birthday treat of an outing to the potteries museum in Stoke-on-Trent. The collection of ceramics that it houses is a revelation; whilst describing bountifully the progression of styles and technical advancements within the Staffordshire potteries it ties this with changes in fashion and the political and historic context of the pieces. They include pieces from China, Japan and Classical Greece in the collection which influenced the innovators, who during the 18th century could certainly be said to have been taste makers. The energy of the potteries in the 18th century is inspiring, the pace of change and the variety and quality of the output just jaw dropping.
The revelation was just how many different wares these potteries were producing during a short time window; it appeared that over a twenty year period, in the 18th century, the Wheildon Pottery was producing 5 distinctly different types of ware. In modern production terms that indicates considerable flexibility and a very high degree of skill within the workforce.
I would heartily recommend a visit; explore the fascinating stories and finds of the archaeological digs at potteries sites (downstairs) as well as the wonderful 1st floor gallery brimming with ceramic masterpieces. Thank you Clare for an inspired and inspiring birthday treat!
17th and 18th Century Slipware beauties.
Slipware Posset Cups
Wonderful 18th century group; engine turned & creamware mug.
William de Moragn tile frieze
We barely scratched the surface of the collection during our 4 hour visit and will certainly be returning when a shot of inspiration and joy are required.
Tinsmiths Slipware Exhibition 9th September – 9th October 2017. Tinsmiths is having an exhibition of the work of contemporary potters who make slipware. We are really excited about this exhibition which will include work by; Dylan Bowen, Patia Davis, Paul Young, Carole Glove and Sean Miller.
Our 2016 programme of exhibitions is starting with an exuberant flourish of British style and sensibility. ‘Spring Life’ features the work of Mark Hearld and Paul Young.
The exhibition at our Ledbury showroom opens on the 19th March and runs until the 23rd April.
Mark Herald’s fabric designs for St Judes Fabrics are firm favourites at Tinsmiths. For this exhibition Mark has spent some time printing linocuts with Martin at Tilley Printing in Ledbury; whilst he and Martin printed we made a short film of the visit.
We will be showing these prints alongside some of Marks wonderful collages and there will be a brand new fabric design for St Judes on show.
Paul Young like Mark, draws inspiration from European folk art and has an affinity with Staffordshire wares of the eighteenth century. Producing joyful slipware, Paul’s work includes both purely decorative pieces as well as extremely usable domestic ware; all with compelling lively charm.
Paul Young Slipware Dish
Paul Young Slipware Dish
Paul Young Decorative Slipware
Mark Hearld Mixed Media; print and ink
Mark Hearld Linocut prints. Mark came and spent a couple of days in Ledbury printing with Martin at Tilley Printing; here are some prints drying in the office.
Mark Hearld linocut printed in Ledbury for our exhibition.
Do visit over Easter; the exhibition opens on the 19th March which is the week before the Easter weekend and goes on until the 23rd April. If you would like to attend the private view on the 18th March do get in touch and we will ensure an invitation gets to you.
Tinsmiths. 8a High Street, Ledbury. HR8 1DS (Tel:01531 632083). Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am -5pm (most Mondays but telephone to double check first!)
This year with our calendar we have gone for a different format; a folding desk or pocket calendar, each month with it’s own exquisite wood engraving. As ever the calendar has been skilfully printed by Martin Clark at the Tilley Printworks here in Ledbury.
The wood engravings were purchased at the local Flea Market in Malvern a few years ago, stacked in cardboard boxes under the traders table it was not immediately obvious just what treasure they were. When I got home and looked through the boxes it was obvious that hand cut print blocks were the works of an accomplished artist. Among many linocut blocks and Perspex cut blocks (I haven’t seen this technique before) were 3 cigar cases each full of exquisite wood engravings, about 30 in each box.
When Martin printed some of these wood engravings the mastery that this artist had over this most exacting of techniques was clear; there were no lines that didn’t need to be there, the very deft rendering of tiny features and expressions, the ability to convey an atmosphere to a one colour tiny illustration of a landscape.
John from the Whittington Press identified this mystery artist as Helmuth Weissenborn. Helmuth had been a professor at Leipzig Academy or Graphic and Book Arts, forced to flee his homeland by the Nazis because of his Jewish wife. On arrival in Britain he was interned in the Isle of Man as a category C prisoner. Once released from internment he worked for the war effort in the Auxiliary Fire Service in London. Before all of this Hellmuth had fought in WW1 from the age of 16-19, serving at Arras and in Serbia.
Throughout his whole life the daily practice of drawing and the desire to record and create was the strongest thread; in WW1 he sent illustrated letters home which became a war diary, his academic career at Leipzig Academy was focussed on graphic art and book art, during his time in the Auxiliary Fire Service he made sketches of bomb sites in London (some now in the Imperial War Museum and here is a link to an interview with the artist).
Hellmuth Weissenborn, ‘Thames from monument’ print taken from cut perspex.
After the war Hellmuth and his second wife Lesley ran the Acorn Press. It was good creative partnership publishing finely printed, hand-set and hand-printed books. Helmuth was an extremely versatile artist; he worked as a book illustrator for 30 London publishers as well as the Acorn Press, and from 1941-1970 as a guest lecturer at the Ravensbourne College of Art.
The three cigar boxes that I have were labelled ‘Sonnets’, and last year I was able to track down a copy of ‘The Sonnets’ which the illustrations were commissioned for. Printed by The Rocket Press and published by the Acorn Press with a limited edition of 350, the book of course contains the full set of prints, I do not have the complete set – somewhere out there are another two cigar boxes I hope as treasured as mine!
The ownership of these beautiful blocks has always made me uncomfortable, although I treasure them they are not my own but of course very much Hellmuth’s. This has made me reluctant to use them, however for this year we have selected 12 to illustrate our calendar. We will have 150 of our calendars for sale with all profits going to the Save the Children Syria Crisis appeal. We feel that this is appropriate, and whilst we cannot know whether Hellmuth would approve, it seems likely that someone whose life was so marked by the turmoil’s of the first half of the 20th Century would have much sympathy for those whose lives are being shattered by the turmoil’s of our own times.
We recently received some wonderful Pashmina shawls so light and so soft that everything else that I had ever encountered that described itself as ‘cashmere’ felt rough in comparison. I quizzed our supplier Sadhu about the softness of these Pashminas and it soon became clear what the difference was.
Pashmina is the fabric woven from the pashm, the soft downy undercoat that grows on the nect and belly of the Himalayan mountain goat, Capra Hirracus. It is only the goats living at above 4500 metres that produce the finest wool as they require the extra insulation to live in the harsh terrain and winter temperatures of -30°.
The very fine pashm used in Sadhu’s pashminas comes from Changtang in Ladakh where nomadic herders tend flocks on the high plains. They collect the fleece by combing the goats in the late spring before they molt. In summer these are brought or bartered by Ladakhi traders and sent to Leh, where the Kashmiri traders make their purchases.
The Kashmiri artisans have perfected the art of hand-shinning the fine pashmina yarn. The pashmina fibre is extremely fine at 14 microns (a human hair is 200 microns) and long staple and whilst this gives it the softness and lustre when woven, it is much more challenging to spin and weave.
The delicate pashm is firstly painstakingly cleaned and then hand-spun. The very fine hand-spun yarn is then carefully woven by hand, weaving a 2m length takes 3 days.
Sadhu is concerned that the cheap imitations of pashmina with machine –spun and woven cashmere mix yarns are undermining the 2000 year old skills and traditions of the Kashmiri Pashmina artisans.