Rural households could remain self-sufficient thanks to the support of craftsmen. They were the ones who had the knowledge, well-equipped workshops, sets of proper tools and skills to use them. Woodcarving was one of the least represented of the traditional decorative arts in the Lublin region. Carved decoration was typically associated with carpentry and house construction, furniture production and wayside crosses.
Some parts of Podlasie, Powiśle and the Łuków area boast a particularily rich tradition of folk architectural decorations, the origins of which date back to the end of the 19th century. The tradition of decorating houses with carvings has probably been introduced by Russian Old Ritualists who came to Poland as traveling craftsmen. It was popularised by small-town Jewish carpenters in the interwar period. The architectural elements that were usually carved – and typically adorned with wrought iron ornaments – were mainly window frames and shutters, doors as well as roof and wall boarding.
The boarding on entrace doors was usually arranged in complicated geometrical patterns that often combined the motifs of a rhomb, herringbone, circle and semicircle. They were fastened with wrought iron nails that had wide heads with a symbol of a cross, a star or a rosette on them. The surface of boarded doors was usually ornamented with a circular or oval wood-carved rosette. Doorframes and transom frames were carved independently. They were decorated with simple patterns of small, circular or semicircular holes, abstract and geometric forms (rhombs), letters and numbers (the date of the building’s construction), meandring twigs, animal forms (birds) or six-pointed stars with a cross in the middle (an echo of ancient apotropaic symbols). Door decorations were crowned with shaped boards, triangular tympanums or symmetrical compositions of stylized floral elements. Openwork cross patterns that were carved in cornices were inspired by furniture decorations.
Window heads were also lavishly decorated with carved ornaments. They were adorned with simple or complicated scrollwork, hear-shaped forms, floral ornaments (with a cross carved in the middle) with figures such as birds, squirrels, dogs or dragons. Window shutters were painted rather than carved, for example in geometrized floral motifs.
The boarding on quoins and rooftops was usually formed to resemble bossages. Some houses had columns on the corners, which were built with vertical slats, rested on a flat plinth, crowned with a geometrical capital and ornamented with a rosette in the middle. The ends of intersecting windfeders were usually carved in the forms of animal or bird heads and horns. Roof finials and frames of attic windows were also decorated. Carved ornaments were additionally painted in different colours to highlight the patterns. Wood carvings from the Podlaskie region often resembled intricate lace.
Inside wooden houses, crossbeams were decorated with carved rosettes (six-pointed stars), crosses or fragments of prayers, as it was believed that they would protect the inhabitants from evil. Other inscriptions and foundation texts (such as the name of the owner) were also used. The beams were also utilized to store documents, money and prayer books.
Folk furniture was typically functional but could also be quite ornamental. Its shapes and decorations were usually inspired by the furniture that could be observed in the houses of the upper classes. Forms and esthetic features that were typical of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissanse, Biedermeier and eclectic styles were brought to the rural regions by craft guilds and incorporated (in a more or less harmonic manner) into traditional folk ornaments. The phenomenon took place thoughout the entire Europe.
Chests were used to store the best clothes, cloths and bedlinen. In the Lublin region there were several centers of chest production: in the district of Zamość – towns such as Frampol, Tarnogród, Szczebrzeszyn, Krasnobród; in Chełm District – Pawłów; in Lubartów District – Firlej, in Łuków District – Wojcieszków; and in Lublin. The chests which were produced in the region were not usually carved, but painted – with floral ornaments on a yellow background. The ornaments were typically red or brown, outlined with a black or a dark blue line. In the southern parts of the region one could find chest with older-style decorations – yellow with white patterns and black outlines. Chests produced in Krosnobród were also decorated with a colourful, swirling tree on a white backgroud. In the district of Biała Podlaska there were two types of chests: the northern regional style, with symbols painted on 2 fields, and the kujawski style, with three fields shaped like an arcade. The latter ones were sold by carpenters from the Kujawy region.
Floral ornaments constitute the majority of chest decorations: most often these are flowers – bouquets in ornate vases or pots, less frequently – garlands or other central plant arrangements. Floral elements were usually painted in a decorative, abstract manner. The flowers did not resemble any botanical species. Instead, they were heavily stylized or borrowed, in an altered form, from period decorations. Tulips, carnations and roses are examples of such motifs. It is possible that the way they were used in decorations was inspired by patterns printed on colourful postcards. Fine floral elements were used next to the main decorative motifs to fill in the blank spaces in corners, legs and sides of chests. Animal motifs, such as birds, were sometimes incorporated into the floral patterns. It is said that chests produced in the Lubartów area used to have roosters painted on them. The paintings were typically flat, lacked shading details, the motifs were presented from head-on or side view with no perspective applied.
Trunks became popular at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. They had rounded lids, were narrower at the bottom and had iron fittings. They were usually painted with one colour – typically with shades of green or brown. Floral decorations (characteristic of a specific region) were sometimes painted on their lids or front walls.
Grain painted trunks were popular in the southeast Podlasie region (near Międzyrzec Podlaski and Biała Podlaska). They had geometric ornaments composed of wavy lines which were usually crossed in a vertical or diagonal checkered pattern. The surface of trunks was covered with yellow or light-ochre glue paint, and when it was dry, it was painted over with a darker colour, e.g. brown, and then wiped with a sharp tool (a bird’s feather, a brush or a stick) to reveal parts of the underlying layer. Due to the many techniques of grain paining, it was possible to create many different effects – starting with linear, contrasting patterns and ending with rich, toned textures. Trunks produced later, during the first half of the 20th century, had elaborate floral decorations. These were multi-petal flowers with slender stems and heart-shaped leaves similar to those on a lilac bush, which were painted on a green or yellowish-brown background. They were covered with varnish mixed with turpentine, colophony or translucent lacquer. Sometimes metal fittings were also used. The idea behind grain painting was to imitate the patterns of expensive wood on cheap furniture that was created using low-grade materials. The technique was also used with other types of folk furniture: beds, wardrobes, cupboards, chests, sometimes tables and benches. In the Lublin region, the technique was also used in the Puławy and Łuków areas.
The kitchen dresser was the most decorative piece of furniture in a rural house – its form and decorations often suggested the social and economic status of its owners. It was crowned with a triangular crest which had straight or wavy edges and sometimes resembled window head decorations. Dressers were also decorated with carved figures of birds and flowers, as well as turned small columns at the front. The open shelves sometimes had profiled sides, the edges of glazed doors and drawer fronts were also decoratively cut. Dressers were painted to emphasize the ornaments.
The different techniques and motifs used to paint furniture were influenced by period furniture – craftsmen took certain designs and transformed them. However, the vast majority of furniture was decorated according to artistic tradition stemming from the work of generations of folk creators. They created drawer beds with ornamental legs and headboards, benches with drawers and ornamental side and back rests, ornamental frame chairs, different types of shelves.
Local carpenters could also create furniture that was decorated differently than other pieces manufactured in a given region. Dressers made by Józef Gibuła from Słotwiny (Opole Lubelskie District) and Andrzej Wieleba from Godziszów (Janów Lubelski District) are examples of such furniture. Gibuła created a set of furniture (a dresser, bed, table and chairs) for himself and decorated it with floral motifs (flowers and trees) as well as animals (birds and roosters) and human figures. The carvings were emphasized by just a couple of colours – bright ochre background with white, black and carmine patterns. Wieleba, who was a sculptor and a carpenter, created dressers in his own, distinctive style. He decorated his pieces with carvings and paintings, e.g., with fanciful crests with a sculpture of a bird in the middle and paintings of large flowers with heart-shaped leaves.
Over objects that were also carved were yokes for exen in the northern Lubelszczyzna region, and distaffs in the southwest part of the region (Janów, Zamość and Biłgoraj regions). Various techniques were used (straight and wedge cuts, stamping, burning, painting and intarsia) to decorate them with geometrical motifs, (straight and broken lines, checked patterns, rhombs, squares, triangles, circles, 4-, 6- and 8-pointed stars, rosettes, hearts and crosses), floral motifs (twigs, stems with leaves and flowers, flowers in vases, trees, flower heads), zoomorphic motifs (geese, eagles, hares, cats, dogs) and anthropomorphic motifs (human or mermaid figures). Similar ornaments, however simpler and more geometric, were used on other weaving equipment and small kitchen objects (salt cellars, jugs, butter and cheese forms) and on canes.
Wayside crosses – made of wood, stone or metal – were a constant element of Polish landscapes and often marked the borders of “little homelands.” They were erected to celebrate special occasions: moments of happiness or grief, to commemorate the dead or to hope and pray. There were many forms of wooden crosses in the Lubelszczyzna region – from the simple and unhewn to the rich and ornamental. Crosses from the Lublin-Łęczna area were characteristically adorned with a number of trusses circling the center of the crossing arms and creating a halo with their wavy curves. Those created in the Biłgoraj and Janów areas had a narrow, gable roof with shaped edges. The surface of crosses was often carved or adorned with small, iron crosses, crescent moons or roosters at the top. These elements (sometimes in the form of the sun, moon or stars) most probably had a magical function of granting protection against evil. Rooster was portrayed realistically or in simplified manner. Some crosses were decorated with the instruments of the passion of Christ.
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