by Tetyana Honcharova
The Ukrainian, No.4, 2003

My first impressions were great: it was a bliss
    to be there, in a hundred acres of peace and
    quiet. Everythig was slow-paced, tranquil and
    peaceful, the air was filled with fragrances of
    grasses and wild flowers with a gentle sweet
    smelling breeze. I could not beleive I was only
    90 kilometers from the city: I felt centuries back
    in the past...
   About forty years ago, the local authorities
   decided to lay out a park in this area. At about
  the same time, the construction of the Kaniv dam began. The dam would stop the free flow of the Dnipro and a huge artificial "sea" would then be created, which meant that many of the
villages in that area would find themselves submerged. 
And in those villages there were many houses and other architectural and historical landmarks that it would be a shame to lose. Then a group of enthusiasts, headed by Mykhailo Sikorsky, curator of the local historical museum, set out to save whatever they could from destrction. Peasant houses, old water and wind mills were taken apart and then reassembled in the place that was designed to be a park.

Thus, the first open-air museum of folk architecture and everyday life came into being in 1964. The Pereyaslav Historical Museum took the open-air museum under its supervision, and it was given the status of a national historical and ethnographical preserve. Later, similar open-air museums sprang up in Kyiv, Lviv, Chernivtsi and Uzhgorod.

As we walked the narrow streets of the museum village, my guide Natalya, one of the custodians of the preserve, asked me a question to which I had no answer: "How many shirts, do you think, a village girl might have in the nineteenth century?"
I cautiously and tentatively said: "Five? Or maybe even ten?" I was wrong.
- "Up to fifty! You see, every girl, thinking of marriage, would be putting together a trousseau, the bigger the dowry the better. And the shirts she would accumulate were no ordinary garments, they were embroidered. The richer a girl's family, the more shirts she would have. Fine quality, beautiful embroidery. There were shirts to work in, to wear on holidays, for the wedding, and even the ones to be buried in. It was a great shame to have a small number of shirts or ones of bad quality".

The first house we walked in was whitewashed, with a straw roof and a lot of flowers around. Flowers were even on the walls, painted in bright colors. I also noticed bright colorful dots on the walls. They were not for decorative effect, it was a sort of advertising: there is an unmarried girl here. After the girl got married, her mother would paint the dots over.

I was told that the bride took a big chest with her when she went to live at her husband's place, the chest that contained, among other things, her many shirts. Such a chest was acquired by the family right after a girl was born. Every female member of the famil, no matter how big that family was, was entitled to a chest. A stranger walking into a peasant house could easily figure out how
many women lived there by counting the chests.

The door was low, making me lower my head. That day was very warm but
the moment we walked in I felt how pleasantly cool it was inside. The air was
permeated with the scent of medicinal herbs. The floors in Ukrainian peasant
houses were mostly made of clay, and the mistress of the house would refresh
the floors every week. These herbs provided not only a pleasant, fresh smell.
They were excellent pesticide. In one of the corners there were icons with
embroidered towels around them, as the Ukrainian tradition demands.

Embroidered towels (rushnyky) had a very special meaning in the Ukrainian village life.
Newborn babies were wrapped in them; they were used in wedding ceremonies; they
were put into graves. Some rushnyky were meters long and it took weeks, mostly in winter,
to embroider them. The colors and patterns of the embroidery differed from place to place.

"I have made this one in three weeks, working from morning till night," said Nadiya Yermolenko from the Museum of Rushnyky (see the photo) pointing to a 7 meters long embroidered rushnyk. This rushnyk is a part of the exhibition now. What a great piece it was! But then I thought, this woman worked on it using good quality threads, with steady electricity supply but all those five thousand (!!!) rushnyky on display were embroidered with home-made threads of uneven thickness under a small oil lamp or a little burning candle that gave unsteady feeble light, yet they managed to create the embroideries of remarkable beauty.

I easily visualised the scene: it's late at night, the old and the young are sleeping; a woman is bending over her embroidery; there is hardly enough light for the delicate work but she goes on. In the morning she will wake up at dawn, milk the cow, feed the pigs, cook the meals, do a thousand of other works, and in the eveining, again, she will keep working on her rushnyk...

January 27, 2012

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