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Biographies of remarkable Ukrainian embroiderers


The previous issue of Welcome to Ukraine Magazine carried excerpts from Yevheniya Shudras books (Podvyzhnytsi narodnoho mystetstva, Kyiv 2003 and 2005), which contain biographical essays of women enlighteners, ethnographers, embroiderers and folk artists. In this issue we present several more abridged excerpts from Mrs Shudras books.



Mariya Kutsenko-Mykhailiv

(nee Kuts) was born into a Cossack family in Ukraine on January 19 1910; she died on November 11 1984 in Melbourne, Australia. Her father was an army officer; after WWI, during the short-lived Ukrainian Peoples Republic, he served in the Ukrainian army.

Mariya Kuts, upon graduation from a high school in Lutsk, went to study at the University of Warsaw; in 1933 she dropped out after marrying Valerian Mykhailiv, an engineer.

During WWII, she found herself in Austria; later, she moved to Germany and from Germany, in 1949, she and her family travelled to Australia to settle down in Melbourne.

Her interest in the art of embroidery was aroused in her early years by her mother. In the early 1930s, she began collecting embroidery patterns, and she never stopped doing it even in the concentration camps of Austria and Germany where she met many Ukrainian women. When she had no opportunities for doing the needlework, she did her best to preserve, in whatever way it was possible, those patterns that she managed to obtain from the Ukrainian women, with whom she could come into contact, and who had some knowledge of Ukrainian embroidery and its patterns. She started doing embroideries at her first opportunity, using the threads of pastel colours as she preferred embroideries done in quiet and gentle tones. For a long time she refused to show her embroideries in public. Most of the patterns she used were based on those that were popular in the Lands of Poltavshchyna, Chernihivshchyna, Kyivshchyna and Podillya.

Mariya Kutsenko-Mykhailiv also had a talent of a writer and she published some of her essays and short stories.

In 1971, a book, Ukrayinski vyshyvky z kolektsiyi Mariyi Kutsenko (Ukrainian Embroideries from the Collection of Mariya Kutsenko), was published in Melbourne; this book continues to be a major source of patterns and styles of Ukrainian embroidery.










Anna Kulchytska

(nee Kit) was born in the village of Dnistryk-Holovetsky in the Land of Lvivshchyna on August 16 1926. In 1942, she, together with many other young Ukrainians, was taken to Germany for forced labour. She was lucky to be given a job of a servant in the house of a rich and cultured Bavarian family; she had an opportunity to study embroidery and sewing, and use the German familys large private library. After the war, Anna found herself in a camp for displaced persons where she met a man, Pylyp Kulchytsky, who became her husband. At the camp, Anna continued to do some embroidery and sewing. In the 1949, she and her husband moved to the USA, where they settled down in the State of New York. In 1953, the Kulchytskys moved to Chicago, where Anna set up a big shop for training young women in embroidery and sewing.

Ukrainian embroidery had a very special place in Annas heart. She kept searching in US libraries for any information about the art of embroidery in general and Ukrainian embroidery in particular. She collected a vast amount of materials which would be sufficient for a large doctoral thesis. In 1995, she published a book, Ornament Trypilskoyi kultury i Ukrayinska vyshyvka XX st (Ornaments of the Trypillya Culture and Ukrainian embroidery of the 20th century). In this book, the author proposes a theory that the Ukrainian embroidery of the twentieth century has many similarities to the ornament patterns used by the people of the several-thousand years old Trypillya Culture. Many of the symbols that can be seen on Trypillya Culture artefacts appear in the traditional Ukrainian folk art created many centuries later.









Xenia Kolotylo

was born in the village of Pidzakharychi in the Land of Bukovyna on April 5 1916, and died in Vienna in February 2007. Her talent for needlework revealed itself early in her life. Many years later she said in her reminiscences, I loved best the Hutsul embroidery and traditional Hutsul dresses which were wonderfully decorated with furs and with embroideries in many colours.

In the 1920s, when she studied at a high school in Chernivtsi, Xenia met Olga Kobylyanska (18631942, prominent Ukrainian author), who admired young Xenias embroideries done in various styles and with the use of many techniques. Xenia remembered well what the writer told her, Keep on working on your embroideries  it is a sure way of maintaining the age-old traditions of Ukrainian culture, which are expressed best in such things as the traditional dress and embroidery.

In the 1930s, she and her husband, Vasyl Kolotylo, moved to Austria where she put her collection of over 600 patterns of Ukrainian embroidery on display in her house, turning it into a sort of a Ukrainian embroidery museum. Tragically, she lost her sight and in her later years she could not enjoy the beauty of the displayed embroideries herself.

There were three things that guided me in my work  firstly, the desire to make folk art of Ukraine known better in the world; secondly, to train disciples who would maintain the traditions of embroidery after I am gone, and thirdly, to collect embroidery patterns from the Carpathians and publish them in a book, wrote Xenia Kolotylo in her memoirs.

Exhibitions of her works were held in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and other countries of the world; Austrians of Ukrainian descent, Anita Rosner and Ramtsya Flig keep doing embroideries in the traditional Ukrainian styles; two books of embroidery patterns from the Land of Bukovyna were published in Ukraine.









Vira Zaychenko

was born on January 1 1938 in the village of Masany (now it is part of the city of Chernihiv). Mrs Zaychenko is a historian who does a lot of research in the sphere of the decorative and applied arts of Ukraine; she is a member of the National Union of Masters of Folk Art.

In 1954, she graduated from a medical school and worked as a qualified nurse at a mine in Donbas. Later, she continued her education at the Department of History, Shevchenko University in Kyiv. After graduation, she worked at the History Museum in Chernihiv; in 1978, she joined the staff of the newly created Museum of Decorative Art in Chernihiv, where she was promoted to head of department.

She spent a lot of time and effort collecting patterns of traditional embroidery and doing embroidery herself.

In 2005, the book Vyshyvky kozatskoyi starshyny XYIIXYIIIst.: Kataloh kolektsiyi Chernihivskoho istorychnoho muzeyu im. V. V. Tarnavskoho (Embroideries of Cossack Leaders of the 17th18th Centuries  Catalogue of the Collection of the Chernihiv Museum named after V. Tarnavsky) that she had published was recognized as the best book of its kind at the festival of museum scholarly and advertisement publications held in the city of Dnipropetrovsk.

Vira Zaychenko delivers lectures on Ukrainian embroidery and traditional art, at which this lecturer and museum curator who has a wonderful voice, also sings traditional Ukrainian songs.







The illustrations presented in this article

have been taken from The Embroideries of Cossack Leaders

of the 17th18th Centuries  Catalogue of the Collection

of the Chernihiv Museum named after V. Tarnavsky


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