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Exhibition of Wooden Folk Architecture from the Kalisz Region (in the park of the Literary Department in Russów)

Exhibition of wooden folk architecture from the land of Kalisz (in the park of the Literary Department in Russów)

The exhibition of wooden folk architecture of the Land of Kalisz in Russów is part of the District Museum of the Land of Kalisz and is located in the park by Maria Dąbrowska’s manor house, some 10 kilometres from Kalisz. Six buildings are exhibited here: a peasant cottage, a barn, a livestock building – which reproduce a typical homestead from the Land of Kalisz, as well as a small cottage belonging to a peasant worker, and two granaries. The furnishings of the peasant cottage reflect the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the Kalisz region at the end of the 19th century.

The idea to create an open air museum which would exhibit the most interesting examples of wooden folk architecture of the Kalisz Land arose in the 1960s when the quick transformation processes taking place in the Polish countryside started to threaten the existence of wooden architecture. At that time, most of those buildings were inhabited, which kept them in a good condition. This was, however, about to change. Meanwhile, the project to open a museum encountered problems of an organisational nature, mainly connected to finding the proper premises. In the years 1976-78 extensive plans for an Ethnographic Park of the Land of Kalisz were created, as well as a list of 17 buildings which were supposed to be relocated to this facility. Unfortunately, these plans were not realised. Finally, the exhibition was organised in a small park next to Maria Dąbrowska’s manor house in Russów which is also a branch of the District Museum of the Land of Kalisz. At the beginning of the 1980s a new project was designed for this open-air museum. It turned out, however, that many of the buildings visited in the 1960s had become dilapidated or had been irretrievably lost. The ones that we can admire in the museum now are some of the last valuable features of wooden architecture from the area surrounding the city of Kalisz.

One can enter the open-air museum passing by Maria Dąbrowska’a estate which belongs to the Literary Department of the District Museum of the Land of Kalisz. Signposts show the way to the estate which has become the main tourist attraction, but those who decide to omit the part devoted to folk architecture will miss a lot. These buildings are beautifully located in-between the ponds of the residence’s park. Although one must admit that the presence of those fishponds made it more difficult for the designers to arrange the museum’s space. It was, however, necessary to preserve the existing spatial configuration since Russów park is a landscape reserve which most certainly enhances the charm of the place.

Two old granaries stand behind some willows, casting their reflections in the water. The larger one, which is also the most prominent building in the whole open-air museum, is a the granary of a manor-house dated to 1800 with a frontal arcade gallery supported by decorated poles and covered with a high shingle roof. This is a very good example of old farm architecture. The next feature is not only the first to have been relocated to the park but also the oldest monument of the collection. It is a unique building. This arcade granary from the mid-18th century, called sołek in this region, is the last element preserved from an old homestead from Russów in the wybraniecki style. The only entrance to the building is located under an arcade without poles called przyłap. Inside the granary, deep in the back, there is a secret entrance to the chamber. You can enter it by turning the proper beam in the wall in-between the two rooms.

If you go further you will find three buildings surrounded by trees: a peasant cottage, a barn and a livestock building, used both as a cowshed and a pigsty. They encircle a wide yard and reproduce a traditional homestead from the Kalisz region. When visiting it we can imagine what the life of a moderately well-off peasant family was like at the end of the 19th century (for both the buildings and their furnishings date back to this period). The peasant cottage has arcades and is based on an archaic structure which used to be popular in this region. However, by the turn of the 19th and 20th century, it had become rather rare. The cottage from the museum may well be the last feature of this type in the Land of Kalisz. This is a house with a single row of rooms; the suite of connecting rooms, the entrance hall, the room and the chamber, forms an enfilade. In these types of houses the different pieces of furniture had their traditional, fixed places, optimally adapted to the function which a given element was supposed to fulfil in the life of the occupants. This resulted from the fact that for centuries people were forced to live in confined and cramped country homes. This very same spatial arrangement has been reproduced in the museum exhibition. The most useful household equipment is placed in the entrance hall: among others querns and sieves, vessels to carry water, equipment to process milk and cream into dairy products and for baking bread. The chamber itself, the main part of the house (and the only one with windows), is divided into two areas: one for work around the chimney, and the other one, more lavish, with colourful decorations, concentrated around the home altar and the bed beautifully made up with pillows stacked into high piles and holy pictures hanging above.

Next to the stove we can find earthenware and pails for water, while next to the bed we see a painted dowry chest and a bench with a backrest called bambetel. The chamber was used as a storeroom and a pantry, and, therefore, holds different types of glass- and earthenware to store foodstuffs and less commonly used equipment.

The neighbouring barn, on the other hand, contains different types of farming tools.

Just opposite the homestead stands a lonely whitewashed cottage surrounded by a flower garden. It was the home of a working farmer from the 19th century. If we cast a closer look at its furnishings (tools to process linen and wool) and the surroundings (herbs growing in the garden), one can come to the conclusion that a lonely woman dealing with weaving and herbal medicine could have lived here.

In the years 1999-2007 the open-air museum used to come to life twice a year, as it became the ethnographic setting for outdoor events – „May picnic in the open-air museum” and „Autumn in the open-air museum”. In past years, these events were temporarily suspended for lack of funds and due to the necessity to undertake some conservation work.

The Ethnographic Department of the District Museum of the Land of Kalisz does not limit its activity to organizing exhibitions of wooden folk architecture in Russów. Kalisz has a rich collection of exhibits connected to traditional folk culture, handcraftsmanship and contemporary folk art of the land of Kalisz. This collection includes also ethnomusical archives which have recently been digitalized and became the basis for a publication containing albums with traditional songs from this region.

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