The Museum of the Mazovian Countryside in Sierpc

The Museum of Mazovian Village in Sierpc

Established in 1971, the Museum of Mazovian Village in Sierpc has over 60 hectares of the grounds with an equally large exhibition: a village of ten cottages traditionally arranged in a row, complete with a church, a small manor house, an inn and a smithy. 19th- and 20th-century homesteads are reconstructed with exceptional care. Attention was lavished not only on the interiors of the buildings, but also on their setting: the gardens, fields, orchards, apiaries and enclosures full of grazing animals.

The Museum of Mazovian Village in Sierpc is a detailed reconstruction of a little village lost in the plains of Mazovia sometime in the second half of the 19th century. Numerous tourist attractions and an ever-improving infrastructure acquaint the visitors with the heritage of Old Mazovia in an active and engrossing way. It is not only the visitors that are captivated with its beauty – the skansen provided backdrops to such films as With Fire and Sword [Ogniem i mieczem] and Master Thaddeus [Pan Tadeusz], as well as numerous advertisements and video clips.

The museum has been in existence since 1971. Presently, its exhibition covers the cultural heritage of north-western Mazovia, a region inhabited largely by peasants and minor gentry. With time and constant coexistence, these groups became mutually similar with regard to both material and spiritual culture. As a result of the late 19th-century land reforms, the most popular village plan in Old Mazovia (that is the north-western part of the present Mazovia) was one with cottages built in a row, or sometimes two rows, along the village road; the plots of land were also laid out in long strips, each belonging to a different owner. The Mazovian row village recreated in Sierpc consists of ten cottages reflecting their owners’ varying levels of affluence, fields arranged just like in the 19th-century village, and a wooden church. The cottages stand along one side of the road, and the wide strips of fields stretch on the other side, at the right angles to its line.

The main building material was timber, mainly pine. In this period, the arrangement of interiors in a building was usually bi-axial, symmetrical or non-symmetrical. The walls of cottages in Old Mazovia were initially joined in a dovetailed encircling frame, later also in a post-and-beam frame. Inside, the walls were covered with a thick layer of clay daub and then whitewashed, and outside the seams were caulked with moss or clay. Before winter, the walls were insulated with straw, leaves and conifer needles. 19th-century cottages usually had hipped roofs covered with straw thatch; as opposed to ecclesiastical buildings, they were very rarely shingled. The roofs of residential buildings had a rafter-and-queen-post construction. Usually there would be a cottage and just one outbuilding; this varied depending on the size of the homestead and the affluence of its owner, but only relatively large homesteads had more than one outbuilding.

The interiors recreate the decor of peasant cottages with extraordinary precision. The exhibition illustrates changes in folk aesthetics: from the decorations of a mid-19th century cottage to the peasant family house in the 1960’s. The interiors reflect also the professions of their owners; in one chamber there is a cobbler’s workshop, in another a little schoolroom dating from the inter-war period.

The permanent exhibition at the Museum of Mazovian Village is supplemented with temporary exhibitions. In the cottage interiors the visitors see different seasonal ornaments, depending on the time of year in which they visit the skansen: around Easter or Christmas the chambers are full of festive decorations, in summer they reflect everyday life.

The outbuildings often house exhibitions devoted to a single craft, but, since the Sierpc skansen is home to many farm animals, several byres and henhouses retain their original function. Hens, ducks and guinea fowl cluck and quack in the courtyards, and the cows and goats graze in the meadows. The surroundings of cottages were recreated with equal care. The description of a household garden by the great ethnographer Oskar Kolberg: Ground in front of the door is swept every day, some little flowers, usually marigolds or hollyhocks, grow below the window inside a low fence of woven branches, refers to a 19th-century Mazovian village, but could just as well refer to the Sierpc museum. And of course the village would be incomplete without roadside crosses and little shrines.

The environs of Sierpc, for instance the village of Zawidz, are famous for folk sculpture, and the museum naturally holds a collection. One of the best known local sculptors was Wincenty Krajewski, whose figurines of saints inspired other inhabitants of Zawidz to take up woodcarving. They usually copied Krajewski’s style, yet those more creative enriched it with stylistic elements which are recognizably their own. Among the more interesting are sculptures by Władysław Wójcik, which touch upon Biblical and historical topics, but include also genre scenes and fantastic elements. The enchanting simplicity of sculptures by Helena Ptaszyńska is quite remarkable: the artist’s only tools were an axe, a saw and a knife. There are also numerous figurines of the Skępe Madonna. Marian images are very frequent in folk graphic art and painting but, interestingly, much rarer in folk sculpture. The Skępe Madonna is one of the exceptions. One of the most precious

The Skansen Sunday is a weekly event from May to September. Many attractions await in every cottage: in one, our visitors can learn how to make butter from fresh milk, in another they see how the goodwives dealt with heaps of dirty clothing. The workshops of the basket weaver, smith, woodcarver, embroideress, weaver and potter are open, and the works of local craftsmen and folk artists are on sale: carved figurines of saints, wicker baskets and hand-woven fabrics. Apart from the Skansen Sundays, there are seasonal events relating to the cycle of village life: the Honey Gathering, the Harvest Festival and the Potato Digging, at which our visitors can get acquainted with the life and chores of a peasant in a 19th-century Mazovian village.

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