GB No. 3(22)/96
About this time we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Władysław Wołkowski's death. Presently he may well be called a propagator of the so-called ecological art. Władysław Wołkowski was born May 25, 1902 in Sulisławice near Miechów. From 1926-27 he studied painting, architecture and pedagogy at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and from 1930-34 he completed apprenticeships in craft schools and basketry shops. From 1937-38 and after the Second World War, 1957-58, he was an art manager in the craft shop at the Institute for the Blind in Laski near Warsaw. He also worked for other art enterprises, e.g. Cepelia.
In his works he used osier, cane, straw, hemp and flax ropes, wood, feathers (less frequently metal, glass, plastic masses and bamboo).
"Mathematics, primary techniques and natural materials have very simple structures and, consequently, a uniform character, the common core. Therefore I organized (in 1963) an exhibition at the Warsaw Polytechnics entitled "Nature in architectonic interiors". I cannot stand the monotony of technical civilization and the mass production standard. In nature there exists an infinite variety and a great harmony in it. You will not find two identical twigs or identical leaves though there are myriads of them on a tree, all sharing the species similarity. [...] At the same time industry issues thousands of carboncopy objects which penetrate and pollute the natural system in the form of waste" - wrote Wołkowski in his article Moja koncepcja sztuki (My conception of Art). What he stated was fully concordant with he concept of ecological style in art, i.e. searching for means that would be environmentally friendly during production, usage and in waste; materials obtained without excessive technical processing, related with the world of nature. Wołkowski said in one of his interviews: "I try to use only natural materials. These chairs and tables have iron construction but I have already developed a wooden one. Osier, cane, fir and birch boughs bring some romanticism to our houses"; and in the catalogue at the "Nature in architectonic interiors": "Introducing natural elements to architectonic interiors does not harm nature, as the elements used are left by gardeners after orchard pruning and forest thinning as well as weeds". Discussing the origin of the exhibition idea he said: "I visited the environs of Krzeszów, at the boarder of Lublin and Rzeszów voivodships, the country of many ravines and the kingdom of nightingales. In the ravines - thistle three meters high. The farmers cannot get rid of it; they wanted to sell a ravine to me but I had no money. I tore some thistle instead and took it to Warsaw. Then the autumn came, I went to the country again to fetch some weed and I thought that I will organize an exhibition with it". During the 50's, among the omnipresent fascination with the artificial materials, and in spite of general inhibition towards the natural ones, Wołkowski looked for some inventive solution. "So far the world production based on artificial materials makes use of the technology of embossing with molds: the objects produced that way look like dull cakes. Even the least esthetically sensitive individuals would not pleased with them. [...] The problem can be solved by means of my technology and constructions that I worked out in osier. [...] Chemical plants would provide artificial intermediate products of various shape, section and size as elements which would be put together by hand."
Another "ecological" field of Wołkowski's creation was landscape formation consisting of combining the natural elements of an area with properly chosen greenery (especially one typical for the given region or the type of soil) and architecture. The only such work by Wołkowski is a monument near the church in Szreniawa, erected over 30 years ago, bearing the plaque: "To Maksymilian Kolbe and All the others Heroes, Martyrs and Partisans who died for Poland 1939-45". Its history originates from the Second World War, when Władysław Wołkowski fought as a volunteer during the Warsaw defense. Later he hid in his home, Sulisławice, and was searched for by the Gestapo. On the list of the wanted his name was in the first position. There were two reasons for that: Wołkowski did not hide his deep patriotism during craft courses that he had led before the war which Germans and Nazis had attended. Also, in 1940, Wołkowski organized an action aimed at raising a monument to General Sikorski in the vicinity of the church in Szreniawa: 15 villages took part in it. Unfortunately, Germans interrupted the large scale earth works and Wołkowski was forced to seek shelter in the woods. He joined the guerrilla and he left it in 1945 in the rank of major. Since that time he fought many battles with the administration in order to erect the monument, changing its name and making alterations in the projects. He financed all the construction works himself.
In the museum of Władysław Wołkowski in Olkusz you can see his works: furniture made of osier, cane, wood and string; vases, carpets, osier portraits of Slavonic gods, seasons of the year, characters of folklore legends, historic personages, images of animals and the so-called altars of history: compositions devoted to the Warsaw insurrection, the battle of Grunwald or the victory of Vienna. In a separate building, decorative elements are exposed which, according to the conception of the artist, are to be the typical feature of a Polish modern home, relating to the tradition of colorful rugs against which armor or religious symbols were hung. "The aim of the decoration is to create a poetic atmosphere the sensitive Polish soul needs so much. The soul has been shaped by the rich national history, full of dramatic events, tragedy and heroism. Therefore it seeks soothing, harmony and peace". (W. Wołkowski Moja koncepcja sztuki). The compositions are made of flax and hemp string wound on a wooden or osier construction.
There was a time when his works were widely recognized and won many Polish and international prices; the English and Belgian queens purchased his furniture as well as the Earth Museum in Stockholm, Polish embassy in Berlin and many other institutions. Despite, he lived in Poland, sharing with us the ups and downs of socialism. "So far I could not fit in any branch of industry or market, although I meet with recognition. I have obtained many prizes and scholarships. I had many exhibitions at home and abroad. I was given many propositions abroad. I could have lived in America, in England. I could be a wealthy man. But the wealth means nothing to me. I am sensitive, romantic. I would die of homesickness in America. I was in England but I could not stay there. I live in very humble conditions. I hate smoke... " When creating he did not attach weight to hygiene, standard of living or food. The "healthy diet" promoters will be delighted with the fact that his favorite dish was bread with onion. He used to do without socks. Some time ago he used to give many interviews. Catalogues to his exhibitions were published. But his only biography was the degree thesis by Ms Anna Kiełek, written in 1994 at the Institute of Art History at the Warsaw University, which was the source of information I used in writing this article.
Muzeum Władysława Wołkowskiego
The Władysław Wołkowski Museum
Olkusz, woj. katowickie
tel. 48/35/43 22 26
open Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
entrance: adults 1,5 PLN, students, the retired 1 PLN
(guide available for additional 5 PLN)
reprinted from Zielone Brygady June '96
transl. M. Maciejewska