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Children’s art inspired by Mariya Pryimachenko


UNESCO proclaimed 2009 to be the Year of Mariya Pryimachenko (1909–1997), a Ukrainian folk artist, one of the most remarkable exponents of what is called “primitive art” of the twentieth century. The celebrations of the artist’s one hundredth anniversary will be supported by Ukraine’s government. An exhibition, Svit Mariyi Pryimachenko ochyma ditey z Ameryky (World of Mariya Pryimachenko through the Eyes of Children from America), was held in Kyiv in January 2009. The exhibition was initiated by the Syla Dukhu Society from the city of Philadelphia, USA.

Dana Loun, founder and head of the children’s studio at which the exhibition had been made, was interviewed by Mariya VLAD.


It would be reasonable to start with the studio and with the conception of the exhibition, wouldn’t it?

The children’s art studio was founded five years ago within the theater and art school which is run by the Syla Dukhu (Power of Spirit) Society ( The society was founded by my husband Roman, my two daughters Daryna and Mariya, my son Nazar and me to foster among the Ukrainian diaspora in America Ukrainian national awareness, patriotic feelings toward Ukraine and to promote Ukrainian culture in America. The school functions in the same building where we live.

What’s the age of your students? And what are the basic principles of your art education?

Our students are aged between five and sixteen. We could enroll even younger children but they need special care which we cannot yet provide. I was educated at the Applied Arts Institute in Lviv, and I educated my children on the best samples of the decorative and applied arts. Seventeen years ago I took my children to see an exhibition of Mariya Pryimachenko’s works and we were greatly impressed. One artist who visited the exhibition too told me that she was so overwhelmed by Pryimachenko’s art that she nearly fainted. It was then that I fully realized the power of her art. The artist spent all her life in her native village of Bolotnya in the Land of Kyivshchyna, she was born there and she died there, and yet her art affects viewers so strongly. Her art came from the depths of her being. Of course, not everyone would appreciate her art but there are those who almost faint when they see her paintings, so overpowered they are by them. The artist’s imagery and colors possess almost magic powers. She was born to create art, and she did it, without being taught how to do it.

So Pryimachenko’s art became the focus of your art school.

I did not want the children who’d come to study at my school to spend time doing academic drawing exercises. I did not want my students to draw in the traditional academic manner — balls, pyramids and such like objects. I wanted them to be exposed to the world of Ukrainian spirit in art, and Pryimachenko’s art is the best introduction to it.

Are most of your students of Ukrainian descent?

All of them are. We did not publish any announcements but the word about the new art studio spread around the Ukrainian community. We had our theater school which provided the starting point. Our students took part in all traditional Ukrainian seasonal celebrations like Christmas and Easter, they performed kolyadky, shchedrivky, vesnyanky and other traditional songs, wearing traditional Ukrainian dresses, and it was but a natural move to set up an art studio. At first, I was not sure whether our five or six-year old students who were born and raised in America would take to things Ukrainian, I prayed they would and soon my fears were dispelled. My own children who have been educated as artists and designers, are now involved in teaching art too.

You mentioned that you did not want to concentrate on academic drawing, but isn’t art training supposed to have some of that too?

You see, the basics of academic drawing are taught at regular schools and I want my students to fully concentrate on Ukrainian art and spirit.

How many semesters of studies do you have?

Two. We call them The Easter semester, and the Christmas semester. We teach children not only to draw and paint in the Ukrainian spirit — we teach them traditional songs, we explain the origins of the Ukrainian traditional festivals. I emphasize that our talents are God given and that every person has some talents. When we study ornaments, I introduce samples of the ornaments that have come down to us from the millennia-old Trypillya Culture.

Can the children raised in America really relate to Ukrainian culture?

They sure can and they do! I explain the symbolism of the ornaments in embroideries on shirts, on Easter eggs, on ceramics, in decorations of clothes and of houses. I wish we had longer classes so that I would be able to tell my students more. Sometimes, when the parents come to the school to take their children home, the children hide under the tables not wishing to leave! I can see how greatly they enjoy their classes at our school.

The art of Pryimachenko was an obvious choice. I not only showed my students reproductions of her paintings, I told them about her life, the profoundly Ukrainian sources that inspired her art. I explained technical details of her paintings to my students, the use of pure colors, without any shading. I gave my students resumes of her life and work to read at home. I did my best to bring the world of Pryimachenko’s artistic ideas and imagery to my students, to make them understand the guiding principles of her art and what stands behind it. I believe in God and in good triumphing over evil, and I feel Pryimachenko believed in the same things too.

Did everyone take to Pryimachenko’s art right from the start?

No, not everyone appreciated her art from the start. But I kept showing my students the best works of Pryimachenko, and I observed how the attitudes changed. Some children were literally scared of the fantastic beasts in Pryimachenko’s paintings but I explained that it was the artist’s way of showing her reaction to the horrors of the regime she lived under. She lived through the Famine of 1932–1933 and it surely found symbolic reflection in her art. My students learned the power of pure colors and their expressive possibilities, they learnt which colors were complementary and went well with each other, and which colors clashed with each other when they are juxtaposed, and I showed how Pryimachenko used different colors and their combinations to express moods and feelings — cheerful or gloomy.

What were the criteria which you used in choosing works for the exhibition to be shown in Ukraine?

I’ve chosen sixty out of very many. It was not an easy choice because I liked all of the children’s works. The children put all their heart and soul into their art. But my artistic intuition helped me choose the best. I can say a few words about some of the students whose works were shown at the exhibition.

Yulya Stupen is fourteen. Her mother can sing well, and she also does needlework. She raises her daughter in the spirit of Ukrainian culture and traditions. Yulya can also sing and play the bandura (Ukrainian traditional stringed instrument). She’s very religious, bright and beaming. Her Pryimachenko’s painting is a rather complex composition.

Ulyana Dudych, aged thirteen, at first did not like attending our school but later she came to love it. She’s very thorough in doing her art works which are nicely balanced. She has a good taste too.

Bohdan Nahirnyak, aged ten, is a volcano of creativity. He does see the world in his own way but his seeing has been influenced by Pryimachenko. His grandfather has done a lot to encourage Bohdan’s appreciation and interest in Ukrainian culture. Bohdan is very enthusiastic about art and works with abandon. He is very talented and he is an excellent example to follow for other students.

Khrystya Vovchuk, who is ten, is a quiet child who knows well what she wants to achieve. When I try to help, she says, “I’ll do it my own way.” Her sense of color is very acute, and she easily finds in Pryimachenko’s art what is closest to her heart.

Yulya Kurylets, aged eight, prefers felt pens to acrylics and tempera that most of other students use. Her drawings are very picturesque, they look like tapestry. And she, in spite of her young age, feels symbolism well. Unfortunately, she can’t attend classes regularly but she paints at home. Her mother showed her daughter’s works, many of which are devoted to the theme of the nest as the symbol of family life. In Yulya’s drawings you can see how fledglings come out of the eggs in the nests and then young birds make their own nests!

Will any of your students become professional artists?

It’s hard to say now but I’m absolutely sure that they all of them have great artistic talents, and that they could become Mariyas Pryimachenkos in their own right. It’s not my aim to make artists out of them — I want them to understand and appreciate beauty, I want them to carry on the Ukrainian spirit in their hearts.



Yuliya Stupen, 14 years.


Ulyana Dudych, 13 years.


Yuliya Kurylets, 8 years.


Volodymyr Kovalenko, 8 years.


Khrystyna Biletska, 8 years.


Bohdan Nahirnyak, 8 years.


Yuriy Yakymiv, 7 years.


Khrystyna Vovchuk, 10 years.

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