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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Legendary Petrykivka

Things Ukrainians have preserved and are improving
7 July, 2009 - 00:00
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Zaporizhia—Petrykivka — After visiting the famous village of Petrykivka in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, one cannot help wondering: What would Ukraine be without the Petrykivka ornament?

The founding of Petrykivka is commonly associated with the last Kish otaman, Petro Kalnyshevsky. In 1772 he transferred a wooden church, built without using a single nail, from the ruined village of Kurylivka to a small hamlet. With its arrival the hamlet grew and eventually turned into a village. That is why villagers consider this year to be Petrykivka’s foundation year.

“Large numbers of runaways flocked from their landowners’ lands here. There was not enough land for everyone in Petrykivka, so people engaged in various crafts,” says Valentyna Panko, merited master of the Petrykivka ornament. “Artistic smithery, pottery, wickerwork, embroidery, and carpet making were developing here — in a word, everything human imagination is capable of.”

But why do villagers preserve and continue precisely the artistic ornamentation, rather than embroidery or pottery? When exactly did this unique technique developed?

“It is hard to say. This is folk ornamentation. That these traditions existed in the village homes is an undeniable fact. If a house in Petrykivka was not decorated with ornaments, it meant that either the daughter-in-law came from a different village and wasn’t skilled at painting or the mother-in-law could no longer paint. They say that people who had such unornamented dwellings were not even greeted in the street. A Petrykivka resident had to have an ornamented house,” says Panko.

The masters of ornamental techniques single out two tools — the cat-hair brush and the human finger. The cat-hair brush is used to paint the tiniest details (fibers, stems, and ears of wheat), while fingers are used to paint guilder rose. So if you see red clusters of guilder-rose painted somewhere, you can be sure that the painter used his fingers.

All the works are so original and even unique that one immediately wants to take them along. On the first floor of the Petrykivka Folk Art Center visitors are welcomed to a large gallery. Most works here are linked to certain legends pertaining to the village. One of them is about Yarema and Oksana: they loved each other when they were young, but fate decreed that they would not live together. The lovers died at the hands of enemies. However, good people buried them together, thus uniting them forever. A wonder cherry tree grew on the gravesite: as demanding of life as Yarema was and as beautiful as Oksana. Then the residents of Petrykivka took the twigs of this tree and planted them all around the village. Since that time Petrykivska bathes in luxurious cherry blossom every spring.

On the second floor, where the workshops are, visitors’ eyes cannot take in the multitude of things displayed there: pens, pipes, charms, plates, horses, and even towers. Prices depend on the amount of work the craftsman had to do to produce an item. However, the masters acknowledge that the exhibited items cost the most, because they are the hardest to paint. One of such works is a large chest. It is hard to believe that there was a time when it was found in every Ukrainian home. Now visitors can purchase it for UAH 10,000.

The Tetiana Pata Children Arts School is operating in Petrykivska. Pata was a noted master of ornamentation. When asked about whether it is possible to learn painting, Yana Zakharchenko, one of the graduates of the arts school, answered in the affirmative: “Who wants to learn will learn — just like a child learns to write.” But then you realize that it also takes talent.

The Petrykivka ornamentation technique used to be a lot simpler, the master craftsmen say. The original technique was lost as were the natural ways of making paints (from fruit and vegetables), so the painting is now done in gouache. The painters are constantly working and improving their style.