The Father Krzysztof Kluk Museum of Agriculture in

The Father Krzysztof Kluk Museum of Agriculture in Ciechanowiec

Let us imagine Father Jan Krzysztof Kluk as he sits in a chamber of natural curiosities in the 18th-century Siemiatycze, in the palace of Princess Anna Jabłonowska. It is growing late, he is tired, but he is still engrossed in the large collection of studies in his favourite subjects: botany and agriculture. Soon he is to publish his seminal work, Dykcjonarz roślinny (Dictionary of Plants, 1786-1788). Yet now his thoughts stray to Ciechanowiec, which is both his hometown and his parish. Little does he know that in two centuries’ time a museum of agriculture bearing his name will be located in his beloved town.

Kazimierz Uszyński, a historian of art by profession, was always a very active member of the community. In 1962, with a group of the town’s inhabitants, he created the Friends of Ciechanowiec Society, and soon after, in cooperation with Paweł Olszewski, who was a doctor of medicine, he established the Community Museum of Agriculture. Since the beginning the activities of the Friends of Ciechanowiec were endorsed by, and consulted with Prof. Marian Pokropek of the University of Warsaw Chair (now Institute) of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology. In 1968 the museum became state property, and in 1970 it was relocated from the local fire station to the impressive palace with a park that formerly belonged to the Counts Starzeński. The undertaking to establish a skansen of Podlachian and Mazovian folk architecture was initiated at that time by Prof. Ignacy Tłoczek, Prof. Marian Pokropek and the then-director of the museum, Mr Kazimierz Uszyński.

Currently the Museum of Agriculture has nine sections, although here we focus on just one: the folk architecture section. The open-air exhibition, located in the park surrounding the palace, consists of forty-one buildings, all from the border regions of Mazovia and Podlachia, that is precisely from the Ciechanowiec area. This land was once inhabited by people of mixed ethnicity, Poles and Ruthenians, and also Jews, who mostly lived in small towns. The social make-up varied too, as some villages were populated by peasants, some by minor gentry. Traces of those social and ethnic conditions are easily discernible in the diversity of architectural styles apparent in the skansen.

The still-operational watermill is one of the skansen’s more interesting exhibits. Built in the mid-19th century, it was always a part of the Starzeński palace compound. There are many watermills of this type in Poland, but only a few are in working order. The secret of building a successful mill was to locate it in a suitable place, and to attach an appropriate wheel to it. The size of the wheel was related to the speed of the water in the mill stream, so it was virtually impossible to move it to a different location. The Ciechanowiec watermill is an in situ exhibit, which means it has never been moved, so can be easily set in motion. Its interior houses an exhibition devoted to that most fundamental of necessities: bread.

Among the museum exhibits are also a hut of a poor peasant, thatched and surrounded by a fence woven of willow or hazel branches, a more affluent cottage of a minor gentleman, and a Ruthenian cottage from the Podlachia region, all complete with outbuildings: byres, barns and granaries. There are also a smithy, a post windmill and a horse treadmill.

The museum has many examples of small-scale architectural features, e.g. an apiary of over thirty beehives, some in hollowed-out logs and some of the box type, a well with a shadoof, a shrine, a post dovecote, a hay mow, and even a freestanding cellar. In the garden by the gentleman’s house there is a little wooden structure. Its surprisingly rich decorations may mislead the visitor regarding its purpose: it is a slawoyka, a toilet. Its appearance belies the popular concept of “the rear of the barn” as the proper place to go in case of need. Anyhow, the small-scale features deserve attention no less than the large and more obvious buildings.

Other buildings include the hunting lodge from Siemiony, which once belonged to the Potockis of Rudka, and the smokehouse from the Jezierski of Pobikry estate. Over a century old, is still used occasionally, so a lucky visitor may get a taste of smoke-cured meat or sausage. The famous herb garden of Father Krzysztof Kluk with a large collection of medicinal and culinary plants is also in the museum grounds.

Yet, while in the Ciechanowiec museum, it is worth one’s time to pay a visit to its other sections too. A collection of ards and primitive sokha ploughs from the whole of Poland is a part of the ethnographic exhibition housed in the palace. In the veterinary exhibition housed in the stables one may discover the magical formulas to cure “turtle” or scabies. Close by, in the hunting lodge, there is a large collection of beautifully painted Easter eggs. In a quiet corner stand the matzeva, tombstones, a trace of the Ciechanowiec Jewish community.

The museum cooperates with many research institutions and museums. Its archives hold more than four thousand records of village life; among the most valuable is the collection of over a thousand manuscripts and documents from the Augustynowicz-Ciecierski of Baciki Family Archive, which document the everyday life of the landed gentry from the 16th to the 19th century. The archive materials have so far provided the foundation for several specialist articles and studies. The museum publishes an annual (Ciechanowiecki Rocznik Muzealny), tourist folders, diarist collections, memoirs pertaining to village life, etc.

It is a good idea to visit Ciechanowiec during one of the events organised by the museum: the Podlachian Bread Festival, the Potato Harvest at the Windmill and the High Mazovia Gathering recreation of gentry life are attended yearly by thousands of participants and viewers. The best known event at the Ciechanowiec museum, however, is the annual music contest.

The Shepherd Instrument Folk Music Contest is better known as the contest of alphorn players. When the event was first organized in the 1970’s, only one player entered the contest. But year after year the number of entrants increased, in no small measure thanks to the museum itself. Sixteen young musicians from the local schools have completed the study programme within the educational project “The Podlachian alphorn: workshops for children and teenagers. Instrument construction and music”. The local version of the alphorn, ligawka, is a simple yet interesting instrument. It is a labrophone made of an appropriately shaped limb of a tree – thick and slightly curved at the one end and slimmer towards the mouthpiece at the other. The length of a ligawka varies from 1.5 to 3 metres. Shepherds’ instruments of this type are known not only in Podlachia, but in Kashubia and the Podhale mountain region as well. It was also used by raftsmen on meandering rivers to signal that a raft was about to go down a bend. Similar wooden horns were used in the majority of sheep-herding communities, for instance in the Balkans.

The Ciechanowiec museum contributed to the renaissance of the nearly lost art of two-warp weaving, rediscovered and popularised in the 1930’s by Prof. Eleonora Plutyńska of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. Two-warp textiles are made of natural wool yarn on a horizontal loom with multiple harnesses. Their characteristic feature is having two warps and two wefts, and the result is a reversible tapestry with a design in contrasting colours. Eleonora Plutyńska’s interest in this weaving technique revived the interest in woven rugs of the north-eastern Poland. Since the 1950’s regional weaving contests have been organized. Award-winning textiles went to the collection of, among others, the Ciechanowiec museum, which was therefore able to create temporary exhibitions devoted to a given motif, or the output of a single artist. Two-warp weaving has now been officially proclaimed a branch of folk art.

Another well-known contest at the Museum of Agriculture in Ciechanowiec is the Best-Preserved Monument of Wooden Folk Architecture Contest. The task is to find and take under official protection the best-preserved building that fulfils the following requirements: (a) it is in the Podlachian Voivodeship; (b) the settlement in which it is located numbers less than 5,000 inhabitants; (c) it predates the year 1960. Hence, the winner may be a residential building (e.g. a cottage, mansion, four-family dwelling, hut of a railway watchman, vicarage), an outbuilding (a barn, cart store, treadmill house), a public building (a railway station, inn, school, community office, village granary) or an industrial building (a windmill, watermill, smithy, oil press).

The Father Krzysztof Kluk Museum of Agriculture has two subdivisions outside the town: the windmill and miller’s cottage at Drewnowo Ziemianki and the windmill at Dąbrowa Łazy.

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