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Black and Blue

December 16, 2010

Suster family home wall in Pivnice, May 2010, hand painted in "Slovak blue"

Life is short, one look and it’s over
Comes as quite a shock
All I got is some memories
Stuck in an old shoebox

“It Won’t Take Long”, on the 1976 Rolling Stones album, Black and Blue

Sifting through Pauline’s shoebox of black and white pictures, I can only imagine the color that adorned her clothes and the houses in the pictures behind her.  The most traditional color for Slovak houses in Pivnice is blue, the same beautiful shade that often decorates popular Slovak Modra pottery, and I remember Pauline fondly recalling that color from her childhood.  I try to envision blue in the photographs.

Pauline at a friend’s wedding, 1930’s. Pauline is on the right, and the bride is in the middle with the headdress on.

The ethnic Slovaks of the villages in the Srem, Banat and Bačka regions of Vojvodina  live simple peasant lifestyles that they have carefully preserved and cultivated for over 200 years.  They take great pride in their homes, frequently whitewashing their walkways and giving their houses fresh coats of  paint. Plastered onto the walls of the house fronts are ornate decorative touches such as religious symbols, floral designs, angels and gargoyles. Houses are often painted bright colors like pink, blue, green and orange, inside and out.  More ambitious home owners hand paint patterns, almost like wallpaper, on the outside of their houses or even tile them; the more ornate the pattern, the more prosperous the family is thought to be.

Naive Painting, Slovak wedding by Jan Venjarski, 1964

Beginning in 1930, Slovaks in Kovačica took house painting one step further. Color leapt from the walls of their homes to their barn doors, and onto every day household items like pottery, boxes and benches.  A visit from an artist encouraged the painters to try their hand at painting on canvas, and the concept of naive painting was born.  These self taught artists began to paint the everyday scenes of their peasant life, and in 1939 a small painting club was formed with Janos Sokol, Mihal Bires and Martin Paluska, and later Martin Janos.  Soon, painting spread like cholera and more and more village men and women began brushing color onto canvas, often with handmade brushes made from their own hair.  In 1964, LIFE Magazine wrote a story about Kovačica, entitled The Peasant Painters of Yugoslavia, which drove the village painters into the international spotlight, causing painting sales to soar.

Original Naive Painter, Jano Sokol, from the LIFE Magazine article, Peasant Painters of Yugoslavia, 1964. The Rolling Stones visited in 1975, meeting the artists and buying the paintings.

The paintings include pictures of farm life, colorful Slovak wedding costumes, religious ceremonies and village scenes.  Each October, the villagers open their doors to the public, displaying their artwork in home galleries, on street corners and in storefronts.  The rest of the year, you can browse and  buy paintings from Galerija Babka. You are also encouraged to knock on any villager’s home where more than likely you will find an artist in residence.

Suster Family on their farm in Pivnice, 1930's. My great, great grandfather Jan Suster is standing on the ground in the middle, to the left of the woman with a pitchfork. Also in the picture are my great grandfather, Michal, grandfather Jerry, and great uncle Igor.

Pauline’s collection of family photos depict the same scenes – ducks wandering around the courtyard, snowy winter scenes with frozen ponds, extended families harvesting wheat and hops.  It’s wonderful to see her pictures come to life through the works of these naive painters who have preserved their heritage – and mine – in a kaleidescope of color.

Jan Sokol painting - same scene as the Susters! Look at their clothing - same hats, kerchiefs, aprons, skirts.

For more examples of these beautiful works of art depicting life in the Vojvodina Slovak villages, you can click to see them on Pauline’s Cookbook Facebook pages here. More information about the Naive Painters is located here.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2010 4:53 pm

    Gorgeous, gorgeous. Love the handpainted Slovak blue wall — love it PASSIONATELY. Again, I’ve always been drawn to that blue and those sorts of designs and frankly, it’s starting to get kind of eerie. Do I have a genetic preference for these things?

  2. December 16, 2010 5:06 pm

    Funny, I love it too, and always have. Also, the red/pink combination of color and patterns on Helene’s book. I think we share the same genetic attraction to these Slovak things.

  3. Daniela and Jaroslav permalink
    December 17, 2010 4:36 pm

    Sine moj, do you known why our grandmothers was wearing black and blue dresses? Intext you have forgot Srem as one part of Vojvodina. Šid, Erdevik, Pazova are in Srem.

    • December 17, 2010 4:41 pm

      I will include Srem – I did for get that. Why were they wearing black and blue? Or is is a brown shawl and a black skirt? I took pictures of a Pivnice shawl and skirt in Windsor, Ontario last summer. Do you know where I can find information on each village’s costumes?

  4. Daniela and Jaroslav permalink
    December 18, 2010 9:29 am

    I will send you information about Slovak folk wearing . Black color means sorrow because the death of Jesus , blue national Slovak color . Be god,

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