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The Adam Chętnik Open Air Museum of the Kurpie Region in Nowogród

The Adam Chętnik Open Air Museum of the Kurpie Region in Nowogród

The Adam Chętnik Open Air Museum of the Kurpie Region in Nowogród is one of the two oldest museums of this type in Poland. It was founded by Adam Chętnik, a teacher by profession, an ethnographer by interest, who dedicated his life to the preservation and propagation of the folk culture of the Kurpie Region. Today, anyone may become acquainted with this beautiful region and fall in love with the delicate papercuttings, lace, or tissue-paper flowers created by Kurpian folk artists.

The Adam Chętnik Open Air Museum of the Kurpie Region in Nowogród (currently a Department of the North Mazovia Museum in Łomża) is one of the two oldest open air museums in Poland. It was founded by Adam Chętnik, a teacher by profession, an ethnographer by interest, who dedicated his life to the preservation and propagation of the folk culture of the Kurpie Region. The Kurpie Zielone Primal Forest lies in the north-eastern part of the Mazowsze Region and its borders are marked by the Narew River and its tributaries: Pisa, Szkwa, Rozoga, Omulew and Orzyc. Kadzidło, Myszyniec, Lelis, Lipniki and Łyse, all found in the Ostrołęka County, are the Region’s main cities.

The Kurpie Open Air Museum encompasses an area of 3.5 hectares and is located on the high bank of the Narew River, on the Hill of Ziemowit – the oldest section of Nowogród. Archaeological excavations carried out on this site in the 1960 revealed fundaments of a Middle Age castle, around which a settlement developed.

The idea of creating an open air museum, called at that time the Kurpie Museum, arose in 1919. At that point, Adam Chętnik purchased 1/3 morgas of waste land (a morga is a unit of land measure equal to 5600 square meters) left over from the old city brick-yard located on the high slope by the Narew River. During the next few years, using the money from his wife’s dowry, (Chętnik was married to Zofia of the Klukowski Family), he restored this neglected part of Nowogród. He leveled out the terrain and planted trees. In 1923, on a thus prepared field, the first object was set; it was the wooden building of the Reconstruction Bureau, adapted for exhibition purposes. During the next four years, other objects, mainly farm buildings, arrived.

The official opening of the Kurpie Region’s Museum took place on June 19, 1927. The collection totaled over 2000 exhibits and continued to grow. The assemblages were kept in two buildings, as well as in pavilions and shelters. Adam Chętnik’s goal was to create a place where, most significantly, youth would spend their time learning the cultural heritage of the Kurpie Region during “museum lessons.” Chętnik himself published many articles and separate texts regarding various localities and their relics and peculiarities of the Kurpie Region’s flora and fauna. They were published in the columns of such magazines as “Ziemia,” “Drużyna,” and later in “Gość Puszczański” and “Bibliteka Nadnarwiańska.”

In 1928 - 1930, Adam Chętnik relinquished the Museum in favor of Polskie Towarzystwo Krajoznawcze (Polish Tourist Country-Lovers’ Society). The Kurpie Region’s Museum became a statutory establishment of the PTK, co-financed by the then Wydział Nauki Pozaszkolnej Ministerstwa Oświecenia (The Department of Extra-scholar Education of the Ministry of Enlightenment). Chętnik continued to function as the head of the institution and remained responsible for the development of the collection and for its proper storage and exhibition. The 1930s also mark the beginning of cooperation with the Scientific Society of Płock, which opened the Central Narew River Tributary Research Station in Nowogród in 1933, of which Adam Chętnik also became the head. During that period, field research was carried out, scientific documentation collected, and monograph and popularized science works published. In effect, at the outbreak of the Second World War, 10 000 exhibits had been assembled and the Station’s library boasted over 4 000 volumes.

In 1939, the Museum’s financial situation was so severe that Adam Chętnik, in order to save a part of the exhibits, sold them to the museum in Ostrołęka. However, the outbreak of the Second World War thwarted these attempts. The fighting which took place in the area brought the Museum’s existence to an end – the Museum was completely destroyed. The collection – moved to Łomża and surrounding villages prior to the fighting – became irretrievable. Chętnik himself, wanted by the Germans for his participation in the plebiscite in the Warmia and Masuria Region, was forced into hiding and survived thanks to an adopted name: Antoni Chojnowski.

After the war, the only Museum exhibits which remained were two snippets of trees used as wild forest beehives, the entrance gate from the side of the Narew River, and a few buried iron items. The rebuilding process required not only hard work and endurance, but also great cost. Hence, it was necessary to wait for the Museum’s rebirth, which happened only in the late 1950s, but still under the watchful eye of the founder – Adam Chętnik.

The Adam Chętnik Kurpie Region’s Open Air Museum does not recreate the spatial patterns of a Kurpie village but focuses on the presentation of the traditional timber architecture. Today, we can view 34 structures, amongst which the log cottage built in 1805 from Baranowo Village deserves special recognition. The long beam, visible running inside from one end of the cottage to the other (called tram) is an interesting constructional feature. The furnishing of the cottage recreates that of the 1960s in the Kurpie Region. A different relic of the 19th century wooden architecture is a barn and a treadwheel from Wejdo Village. Inside, we can see how the treadwheel, which stands outside, was used in the past to set in motion the chaff-cutter and the mill for grinding grain. If you visit the watermill form Dobrylas Village, you can take a closer look at a miller’s work. The building of a pillared construction, lined with vertical boards, was built probably in the 18th century, but was later rebuilt after the years 1864 and 1917. Inside we can see the miller’s table, and standing next to it are measures used by the miller to weigh the produced flour. Also present is the enormous quern for grinding grain and a huge millstone which propelled the entire mechanism. The cottage form Kadzidło is also interesting. Displayed within are household utensils form the 1920s. Found on the walls are numerous Kurpie papercuttings and a “holy corner”, that is, the place where holy paintings and a crucifix were hung. In turn, looking at us with their pepper eyes from the kitchen moulding are byśki – animal figurines baked with rye flour. Such creatures were baked during Christmas time to bring good luck and fortune to the household and the farmstead.

It is worthwhile to visit the Kurpie Region’s Open Air Museum on occasions like the first Sunday after the Feast of St. Roch (August 16), when the Museum holds a folk fair with a multitude of attractions for the young and the old.

Description of the Open Air Museum based on: Urszula Kuczyńska, „Skansen Kurpiowski im. Adama Chętnika. Przewodnik”, wyd. Muzeum Północno-Mazowieckie w Łomży, Łomża 2002.

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