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The Bialystok Open Air Museum

The Białystok Country Museum

The idea of creating the Białystok Country Museum arose from the need to preserve the traditional timber architecture typical for the Białystok Region, which was beginning to rapidly disappear in the 20th century. The idea was put forward by Professor Ignacy Tloczek, while Professor Marian Pokropek gave the project its final shape. Their concept involved the reconstruction of entire settlement patterns appearing in north-eastern Poland. On an impressively large area (100 hectares between the Supraśl River, the Białystok – Sokółka railroad track, and the Białystok – Augustów road), the Museum was meant to collect farmsteads typical for the Białystok area.

One of the project’s main intents was to highlight the multicultural aspect of the Białystok Region, where different ethnic groups – the Poles, Tatars, Jews, Russians and Belarusians have co-existed for centuries. The plan entailed not only the reconstruction of farmsteads, but also the recreation of the typical village layout (villages of the ulicówka and szeregówka types), of the roads connecting different settlements and of traditional field and orchard utilization patterns.

The realization of these ambitious plans commenced in 1982 – the Białystok Open Air Museum was opened as a subsidiary of the Regional Museum in Białystok (today, the Podlaskie Museum in Białystok). Janina Hościłowicz, Tamara Samul, and Jadwiga Jakubowska are among the researchers who made significant contributions to the formation of the open air museum. The first building – a smithy form Gródek – was installed already in 1984. However, limitations in grants and complications of the economical nature forced a gradual diminution of the original concept. Nevertheless, since the beginning of the 1990s, the Museum succeeded in acquiring objects for 3 farmsteads and a complete manor house with a granary.

In 1994, fire consumed 9 buildings, among them a relic barn from the mid 18th century. The destruction of a large part of the collection forced the project authorities to make considerable limitations: the Museum area was decreased to 30 hectares and fenced in, and the idea of recreating settlement patterns was discarded.

Despite these mishaps and difficulties, the Białystok open air museum is still impressive in terms of its size and the richness of its collection. It comprises 33 relic buildings – heritage of the Białystok villages, all arranged in a picturesque park. Individual complexes are located a considerable distance away from each other, so visitors should be prepared for a little walk.

The arrangement of the structures is based on a thematic classification which assigns the objects either to the forest, the manor, or the petty gentry sector. The first sector, located nearest to the Museum entrance in a partly forested area, contains the farms of the forest ranger and gamekeeper from the mid 19th century and brought from Stara Grzybowszczyzna near the town of Krynki. It is an example of village architecture typical for a rather poor peasant – both the living quarters and the farm buildings are covered with the same roof. The interior of the cottage is available for touring.

The manor section centers around an impressive manor house from Bobra Wielka and represents the oldest and the largest of the Museum’s objects. Unfortunately, it is excluded from viewing. The building, kept in the classicist style, astounds with its architectural artistry. The structure features a half hip roof with bullseye windows and has a characteristic porch supported by columns.

The last sector demonstrates a petty gentry hamlet and consists of 4 farmsteads from piszcząt piekowięt, Pieczysk, Tymianek Buci oraz dąbrowy moczydły. The cottages vary in size and layout in accordance with the financial status of their owners.

Many of the Museum’s farms are excluded from viewing – some are inhabited by private persons, others contain administration and technical facilities.

The traditional look of a Białystok Region’s cottage interior can be admired in farms form Stara Grzybowszczyzna and Tymianki Bucie.

In addition to the possibility of viewing heritage buildings, the Museum offers many thematic exhibitions devoted to, among others, beekeeping, pottery, farming, rural means of transportation, or wooden ornamentation. The rich museum collection also contains an assemblage of photographs and postcards.

The most awe-inspiring feature of Białystok Region’s architecture is the ornamentaion of house-corners (called “węgły” in Polish), windows, porches, and gables. This custom appeared in the 19th century and was most likely inspired by the Russian culture. Although houses with this type of decoration can still be found today, the custom is fading. To preserve this unique heritage, the Museum’s ethnographers have commenced documentation of the decorated houses – their work has led to the publication of the album entitled “Zdobnictwo drewnianych domów na Bialostocczyźnie” (Białystok 2007) (“The Ornamentation of Wooden Houses in the Białystok Region”), by the current head of the open air museum Artur Gawel. Some of the photographic material can also be viewed at an exhibition presented at the open air museum.

In the picturesque wooden hut from Dabrowa moczydły one can admire the exhibition entitled “Children’s Cares and Care-freeness,” which features a collection of typically 19th century country items connected with infancy and childhood: cradles, garments, toys, school supplies. One of the rooms contains a detailed reconstruction of a classroom interior. Apart from the classroom furniture exhibited in the room, the exposition features schoolbooks, class registers, uniforms, and even badges form Białystok schools. Only a passive contemplation of the exhibition is allowed – touching of the many wooden figurines, dolls, mascots, or blocks is strictly forbidden; however, children are allowed more freedom is the farmstead, where a playground with a sandbox, various swings and rockers, and wooden carts has been built.

The forest moonshine still has become a tremendous tourist attraction, drawing the attention of the male audience in particular. Illegally constructed by one of the farmers, it functioned as a close-to-home ale factory form many years. Having finally confiscated the machinery, the Podlasie Region’s Police transferred it to the Museum, where we can now freely admire its intrinsic construction and peasant ingenuity. The still has been placed in a secluded area hidden among trees, which can be found by following the characteristic irritating smell.

The “Akacjowy Dworek” handcraft gallery is also noteworthy (www.akacjowydworek.sklep.pl). It is a private institution and unaffiliated with the Museum but located on its territory and occupying one of the heritage cottages – the gamekeeper’s cottage. The gallery’s owner, Elzbieta Zarzecka, deals with the creative reinterpretation of tradition – her work uses typically regional motifs in a modern, original fashion. The gallery is also devoted to the promotion of folk artists – among the things which can be purchased here are the intriguing angels by Dionizy Putra and examples of double-warp textiles typical for the region. The gallery is also open to more avant-garde enterprises: in cooperation with Warsaw’s Zoya Gallery, an original project has been carried out. Its purpose was to create traditional village tapestry depicting the most characteristic of Warsaw graffiti.

A real moonshine still and Warsaw graffiti on village tapestries – such wonders can only be found at the Białystok Country Museum.

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