A New Step
In the Development of Art in
Western Lemkivshchyna

    Lemkivshchyna has her gallant history. One thousand years ago (992-993) this remote mountainous region was incorporated into Kyivian Rusí ó the mother country of our ancestors, and became the site for progress in science, culture and art. This is the region that gave birth to and created currently unknown authors of masterpieces of iconography from Vanivka, Daliova, and Tylich... Old Church Slavonic books were transcribed here. Such gallant fighters for national liberation as Andriy Savka and Vasyl Baius were raised here. Ivan Pryslopskiy, Volodymyr Khyliak, Bohdan-Ihor Antonych and Hrihoriy Hanuliak penned their works here.

    The natural scenery of Lemkivshchyna inspired the talent of painters such as Nykifor Drovniak, Ivan Rusenko, sculptors Ivan Savka, Mykhaylo Orysik, and Oleksa Stetsiak. The creative activities of such contemporary Ukrainian artists as Vasyl Odrekhivskiy, brothers Myron and Yuriy Ambitskiy, Ivan Merdak, Andriy Sukhorskiy were interwoven with traditions of the native region. The love of his native Lemkivshchyna, like a spring with its life giving crystal pure water, gave vigor, creative uplift to a Lemko whom destiny cast into distant California (USA) - i.e., to Vasyl Madzelan. Unfortunately, within Ukraine the creative activities of our countryman were unknown. Now we know the reasons why.

    Until recently the creative activities of my countryman were not known even to me, although I admit having been introduced to his brother Semen in the late 1980s in Poland at a Lemko folk festival called "Vatra". While in the United States in the spring of 1992, I had the opportunity to meet with Lemkos who now reside in the town of Watervliet, N. Y.

    Among them was an old acquaintance of mine Semen Madzelan. At that time he told me about his brother, quite a talented artist. Semen also donated to our Lemko museum in L'viv a few of his brotherís prints dealing with the Lemko theme.

    "I shall tell my brother, and he will send you an additional thirty..." ó he added.

    Indeed, within a few weeks the package arrived with thirty-three miraculous prints describing the history, everyday life and culture of the Lemkos. A suggestion was made to publish an album of our countrymanís artistic works, right here in Líviv, where a sizable group of Lemkos resides.

    Both brothers Vasyl and Semen Madzelan liked this idea. Vasyl sent us an album of photographs of his works, Semen ó explanatory texts to thirty-three of his brotherís block prints [on a Lemko theme]. In his letter Vasyl wrote: "... When I lived as a young lad in Lemkivshchyna, I was interested in the origins of our countrymen. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything about the early history of our Lemko tribe. Traditional tales by the elderly folk of the village usually concluded that we are Rusyns/Lemkos. Some people interpreted the concept of "Rusyn" as "Russian" ("Moskalí), others ó as Ukrainian. Among those "others" was my village teacher Mykhaylo Hutsaliuk (father of a well-known artist Liuboslav Hutsaliuk) who instilled in me that I am a Rusyn-Ukrainian. My father (who was under the influence of Old-Rusyns ó I. K.) was not even willing to admit me to the Ukrainian "bursa1" in Noviy Sanch and said that he did not wish for me to build Ukraine "za petsom2". But I still managed to register myself into the above "bursa", and afterwards I moved to Ternopilí, in the Podilia region. Although I studied in a Polish gimnasium3, at that time I was already convinced that I am a Ukrainian. Afterwards, in the US, I learned about the history of Lemkos, from the "Illustrated History of Lemkivshchyna" by Yulian Tarnovych and recently from your newspaper articles.

    As a small lad, while attending my "tserkva4", I would stand awestruck in front of the iconostas, so beautifully painted and so profoundly meaningful. Subsequently I decided to recreate in the form of block print the history and culture of Lemkos and called the series of works the "Lemko Iconostas". I completed this series in 1992, having dedicated it to the millenium of the annexation of Lemkivshchyna to Ukraine by Prince Volodymyr in 992.

    Since I only lived in Lemkivshchyna for 12 years, my brother Semen became the main source of information about my native land, complementing these block prints with his descriptive texts. Having completed the series, I thought that it would be good to publish an album of these block prints in conjunction with my brotherís explanatory essays as part of a family record. We are not doing this for personal gain - we wish in some way to help our countrymen learn more about themselves and to steer on to the true path those who divide us and those who "whitewash" our historic reality..." 5

    Vasyl Madzelan was born in June 1917, in Monessen, Pennsylvania, US. When he was three years old his family returned to Lemkivshchyna, to a village called Biltsareva (Bincharova) in the Noviy Sanch district of Poland. There he graduated from a village school and became a student at the Gimnasium in Noviy Sanch. After three years he transferred to the Gimnasium of Yu. Slowatski in Ternopil.

    Upon graduating in 1937 he returned to Lemkivshchyna, but already the following year left for Pennsylvania. In 1961, after 20 years of service, he retired with the rank of major in the U.S. army. While in the military service he graduated from the University of Maryland, with a bachelor's degree. He continued his studies in Sacramento, California and earned a Masterís of Arts degree and teaching credentials in 1964. From 1964-1979 he taught Art in high school: drawing, painting (oil, water colors), graphics (gravures, lithographs, wood blocks, linocuts, pottery, sculpture and photography). As we can see, his portfolio of creative works is multi-faceted. Since 1979 he resides and works in California.

    Vasyl Madzelan was captivated by art in every phase of his life. At first he drew Cossack-riders in charcoal on the kitchen walls of his fatherís house, for which his mother frequently reprimanded him, obviously without anger. Still his most productive years in art were the years of studying at the university and while teaching.

    He has participated in numerous personal and group exhibits, most of which were held in Northern California. He has received many art awards for his artistic work and creative achievements. Many complimentary reviews have been published about his "creations". Vasyl Madzelan has an active social life, belongs to several local cultural organizations, gives lectures on Art, often serves as a member of the local artistic jury, continuously seeks new forms in creative activities, and is a genuine innovator in the artistic field. He uses several genres simultaneously in his work. He is careful that none of his works violate the basic laws of art, rules of composition and technical demands. Above all, he tries to reflect in his work his own emotions, individual character and moods.

    Vasyl Madzelan is a skillful artist, innovator of shapes and creator of delicate details. The landscapes of "Alder", "Russian River near Duncan Mill", "Evening landscape" and others remind one of scenes from Lemkivshchyna. Several of his paintings with their range of uniquely rich colors and forms resemble works of eastern masters, in particular Japan and China. The artistís concepts are beautifully embodied in his paintings "Tranquility along the coast of Sonoma", "Coast of California", in which one senses the tangible beauty of nature and space. The work "Lemko Bacha/Shepherd" exudes lyricism and warmth - it ranks among the masterpieces of other great Slavic painters.

    Of interest are also ceramic bowls, vases, pots, made in the style of ancient Greek pottery. Certain products are decorated with Ukrainian geometric ornaments and other decorative motifs. In this field Vasyl Madzelan has shown himself to be a great master.

    Original small sculptures by the artist primarily represent the animal kingdom. It should be mentioned that certain works were influenced by traditional Lemko sculpture in round ó for example "Buffalo" (stone), "Buffalo" (bronze), "Bear cub" (wood).

    Vasyl Madzelan is second to none in the field of graphic arts. If in his paintings he pays great attention to details that create captivating and realistic images, in his drawings he avoids the clutter of details. In this case he generalizes more, highlighting the central theme of the drawing, portraying his characters with indispensable vitality, dynamics and psychological expressiveness.

    Among his drawings on a non-Lemko theme, which were not included in the album, it is noteworthy to mention the deeply psychological image of a worried man "And What Now?" the image of a shrewd "Rural Philosopher", the delicate sensitivity and dynamics of "Birds, Flowers and Bees", "Horse Play" et al.

    The album includes a series of prints on the Lemko theme. They (33 works) are divided into four topics: 11 on the history of Lemkos, 8 on farm works, 4 on crafts and cottage industries, and 10 on everyday life. The historic chapter opens with the wood block symbolically entitled "Great, Great, Grandfather". On a background of mountains and forests proudly stands this tall, dignified and firm ancestral figure in traditional "chuha". The image successfully conveys the confidence of the landlord of these mountains, by the fact that he from time immemorial has been the genuine master of these national resources, a native of this region. His eyes shine with courage, fairness and dignity, as if beseeching the future generations: "Stand firmly in defense of our native mountains, do not let them fall into the hands of a foe". The print entitled "St. Cyril and St. Methodius" successfully conveys the spirit of the ancient history of the Carpathians. The first Christian teachers who already in the 9th century introduced the Slavonic alphabet, the Christian religion of the Eastern Greek rite, bless the Lemko family. This work stresses the sincere respect of the Western Carpathian people towards history, religion and sciences.

    Another print reproduces the historical event in the Carpathians in the times of Kyiv Rusí, when the national border passed along the river Poprad. This work is entitled "Over there already are Lyakhy", and depicts a herdsman pointing west, explaining something to the princely warriors. This print presumably depicts the march of prince Volodymyr in 992 into Western Carpathians and annexation of the lands of present day Lemkivshchyna to Kyivian Rusí. This period was marked by the economic development of the mountain region, with the rapid development of education, culture, art and sciences. The Western Carpathians lands stayed within borders of Kyivian Rusí for three and a half centuries. But misfortune arrived unexpectedly in 1340. Hungary seized the southern slopes of the territory while Poland the northern slopes of the Western Carpathians. The work entitled "Liakh's incursion of 1340" deals with this subject. Stern faced warriors of "Zhech Pospolita" were hostile toward the inhabitants of the Western Carpathians. Servitude was introduced everywhere and peasants bore a heavy burden. Out of despair people began to conspire in struggles of liberation, which were led by popular avengers-zbeeynicks, who organized groups and detachments of warriors in remote areas. In the piece entitled "Zbeeynick's at "Sobitka"" the author successfully caught the characters of the popular liberators. The struggle assumed an unusual scope during the liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people between 1648-1654. The print entitled "With Bohdan against Lyakhy" is based on historic facts and attests to a long-lasting unity of Lemkos with the rest of the Ukrainian people. In 1651 Lemko peasantsí lead by a "zbeeynick" chieftain named Andriy Savka started an insurrection in order to assist Bohdan Khmelnytskiy.

    In the historic year of 1848 serfdom was abolished. This event is depicted in a print entitled "A cross of Thanksgiving for abolition of Serfdom". This event however did not bring the freedom and relief anticipated by the peasants. The newly freed serfs were in no position to buy land and were compelled to leave the native hills and seek earnings across the ocean. Emigration is dealt within in a print humorously titled "Beyond the great mud puddle" ó a Lemko with his wife stands on the deck of a steamship and with sorrow peers into unattainable distance Ė in direction of native land.

    The print entitled "Thalerhof" tells us about the tragedy experienced by Lemkos at the time of WW I, when the Austrian police took more than three thousands Lemko peasants and members of the intelligentsia to the Thalerhof concentration camp. Over 150 prisoners perished.

    The following two works were spiritually painful to create; they depict scenes from events following World War II, namely the "Operation code named "Vistula"" which took place in1947 and "Jaworzno (Yawozhno)". The first one portrays a group of Lemkos, who escorted by soldiers and policemen, head into an unknown tomorrow. Polish authorities forcefully deported over one hundred thousand of these Ukrainians (Lemkos) from the Western Carpathians to the northwestern territories for quick and complete assimilation. Those who failed to subordinate themselves were brutally punished within the confines of the "Jaworzno (Yawozhno)" concentration camp. The print depicts a dying countryman who is tied to a post, behind a barbed-wire fence.

    Several prints are devoted to agricultural work in Lemkivshchyna during the different seasons. One wishes to note, above all, the great ethnographic value of these works. The author is reasonably well acquainted with the particulars of agricultural technology, and the means of transportation used by Lemkos. The print "Winter in the Carpathians" depicts a Lemko farmer with a young man (presumably his son) hauling lumber out of the forest. The author faithfully pictured those characteristic elements that distinguish the traditions of Lemkos from those of their neighbors dealing with transportation, the harness on horses and the folk garments.

    In the print "The Spring" a farmer and his son are shown plowing a field. The plow is pulled by a pair of "yoke" harnessed oxen. The shape of the assembled from iron and wood homemade plow and of "kolishnia 6" is well detailed. Other prints entitled "Summer cycles", "Haymaking" and "Harvest" praise the summer season in Lemkivshchyna. The author faithfully reproduces the shape of tools used for cutting grasses and grain.

    The print entitled "Our Daily Bread" gives a very pleasing impression. After exhausting work in the field, the farmer eats lunch prepared for him earlier by his wife. Here we see a field cradle and tools (rake, a wooden pitchfork in shape of a trident), and features of the summer garments worn by the farmer and his wife. On the print entitled "Autumn" we see a farmer harvesting sizable heads of cabbage, which his wife and son pile on the wagon.

    Womenís household work is depicted in a series of prints: "Grandma makes butter", "Mother Mills Grain", and "Girl Washes Clothes". The differences in the garments of the elderly woman, a middle-aged woman and a young girl are very accurately recreated. The interior of the house and the tools for everyday use are reconstructed with great precision. The dynamics of traditional womenís manual labor are particularly well reflected in these prints.

    A number of prints are devoted to cottage industries. The one called "Stone-Masons from Bortneh" deals with the highly skilled craftsmen who produced out of sandstone tombstones of artistic quality, hand and mill stones, grindstones, and flagstone for sidewalks. "Shingle making" depicts woodworking crafts. The author accurately portrays the ancient tools used in the processing of timber and other related work. The print entitled "Tinker from Bila Voda" documents a craft established a long time ago among Lemkos living in the western-most villages Ė the repair of cracked pottery. The print entitled "Grease-man from Losyeh" deals with another popular occupation among the Lemkos. Peasants from Losyeh near Horlytsi produced a lubricant for carriages and machinery out of crude oil. They then transported their products on specially made carriages throughout Europe.

    A few works are devoted to the everyday life of the Lemkos. Prints entitled "Christening", "Wedding", and "At Peace with the Saints..." depict family customs. The author successfully emphasizes the similarity in traditions and customs of the Lemkos and the entire Ukrainian nation. The indisputable value of these works lies in the highly detailed reproduction of the special features of the "Sundayís best" clothing of Lemkos living in the Western part of the country. The famous Lemko church festivals ("kermashi") and pilgrimages are described in a print entitled "Pilgrimage to Vysova". "Caroling" and "Easter" are living complements to themes dealing with ceremonial rites, which date back to pre-Christian times.

    The series concludes with a print entitled "Lemko Vatra". For over ten years now thousands of Lemkos from all over this planet gather at an ethnic folk festival organized by Lemkos in Poland. Initially the festival was held in Bortneh, and then in Zhdynia near Horlytsi. On the print one sees a "starosta" (honored person) of the "Vatra" who lights the bonfire ó the symbol of prosperity and harmony.

    My comments and footnotes for Vasyl Madzelanís prints are short in nature. The reason for this lie in the more detailed explanatory texts provided by the artistís brother Semen Madzelan.

/original Ukrainian forward by/

Ivan Krasovskiy.


1 Bursa - Boarding school.

2 "za petsom" - in my house, literally "behind my oven" . "Petz" is a big stone structure in the kitchen which includes: oven, cooking plate, hot water heater and a produce drying surface, also used as a bed for sick people during winter months.

3 Gimnasium - European middle school.

4 tserkva - - Most eastern European languages have more than one word for "church". Traditionally the Lemko word "kostel" is used for a Roman Catholic place of worship, while the word "tserkva" is used for a place of worship of an Eastern Rite church - whether Catholic or Orthodox. Because no similar distinction exists in English, the word "tserkva" is used in this translation.

5 From Vasyl Madzelanís letter dated February 1, 1993.

6 "kolishnia" - a small, two wheel cart used to pull the plow.


Copyright © 1998 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Saturday, March 07, 1998
Most recent revision Saturday, October 23, 1999