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Museum - Teodora and Izydor Gulgowscy Kashubian Ethnographic Park in Wdzydze Kiszewskie

Museum – Teodora i Izydor Gulgowscy Kashubian Ethnographic Park in Wdzydze Kiszewskie

One hundred years ago Aleksander Majkowski described the museum in Wdzydze in the following words: “In summer the whole landscape was bathed in silence and a romantic mood, as though it belonged to a wonderful fairy tale or was part of the spirit world”. Nowadays, this wonderful atmosphere has not changed much. Quite the opposite: there are now many new features which further enhance this feeling. The spirits of Izydor i Teodora Gulgowscy, the first caretakers of this earliest open air museum in Poland “a museum created without a model, the one of its kind”, watch over this place.

The history of the museum in Wdzydze Kiszewskie starts with a misalliance. In 1898 Izydor Gulgowski, a 24-year old teacher, started work in a country school in Wdzydze. One year later he married Agatha Theodora Fethke. In spite of the difference of age (she was 15 years older) and origin (she was a noble lady, he was a country teacher), the young couple understood and completed each other perfectly. Teodora – a good organiser as well as an artist, and Izydor – an ethnographer by vocation and a collector, initiated a phenomenon whose effects we can admire today not only in Wdzydze Kiszewskie, but in the whole country. The Polish tradition of open air museums was indeed born in Wdzydze.

Before this came to be, however, “there, by the Kashubian Lake, the Kashubian spirit was reborn (…) the renaissance of the Kashubian tradition started in Wdzydze”. Teodora gathered a group of women whom she would incite to come back to folk handcraftsmanship and home craft. ”There were two reasons – one of economic nature, the second aesthetic. On the one hand, the idea was to use the domestic industry to give work and ensure remuneration to the inhabitants of poor regions, such as Wdzydze, especially in winter time when most of the people were doomed to idleness. On the other hand, however, this activity was supposed to revive and foster among the people their innate artistic sense” – Gulgowska explained many years later. Relics of old garments (mainly women’s bonnets, embroidered with a flat stitch, using silk golden or silvery threads) and folk patterns (tulips, hearts and circles) used to decorate furniture in peasant cottages – all these elements inspired Teodora to create a pattern book which was then used by the embroiderers from Wdzydze, giving them an occupation and earnings. “This was no by chance nor by fantasy that I came back to old embroidery techniques” – as Gulgowska explained – “I did not want to introduce anything new or foreign to the people. I only gave them back what they used to have in the past. (…) I told myself that, since in the past they used to do this, this occupation must have been suited to their characters. Today I know that I was right”.

Also Izydor was not mistaken when he copied the idea of Artur Hazelius who had opened the first open air museum on the Djurgarden island in Stokholm, protecting in this way historical folk monuments, mainly architectural features.

In the year 1906 Gulgowski bought from a farmer from Wdzydze, Michał Hinz, a homestead with an 18th century cottage decorated with a top arcade. At this time the first “museum garden” was opened on the territory of contemporary Poland (germ. Freilichtmuseen): a place dedicated to protecting folk architecture. In the purchased cottage the Gulgowscy could place the whole folkloric collection which they had gathered so far.

The idea to create such a place met with a vivid interest from the provincial and local authorities. The Gulgowscy obtained financial support for their museum from state institutions, and the provincial conservator of West Prussia, Bernhard Schmid, informed the public about the new museum which had just been opened in Wdzydze. He praised the idea to protect monuments of ancient wooden folk architecture and encouraged others to create similar facilities (urgently in Żuławy and Hel). Such an interest from a partitioner worried some activists of the Young Kashubian movement which was arising at that time. But Aleksander Majkowski reassured them : “Incredible things were going on by the Wdzydze Lake. Indeed, in times of a frantic Hakatism when every school inspector controlled even family prayer books, checking if they were not by any chance in Polish, at the Wdzydze school people spoke openly Polish”.

When Poland regained independence in 1918, the museum continued its activity. Izydor died in 1925. He was buried near his home. Teodora decorated his grave with a beautiful painting inspired by Kashubian patterns. In 1929 Gulgowska sold to the Polish State Treasury „all the collection belonging to the so-called Kashubian Museum in Wdzydze” and the „Parcel located in Wdzydze, poviat kościerski, of an area of 1 are 64 m2 (…) together with the stylish Kashubian cottage and all elements standing on the parcel”. In spite of this fact, just like when Izydor was still alive, Teodora continued to be “the good fairy of the fairytale kingdom”. She kept this role even when a great fire devastated the museum in 1932. Together with the local people “Enthusiastically, with common efforts” they rebuilt the cottage – checz Hinza.

In 1966 when the Kashubian Museum, under the care of the Pomeranian Museum in Gdańsk (formerly the State Museum in Gdańsk and currently the National Museum in Gdańsk) celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, the poviat authorities in Kościerzyna made a proposal to extend it. In 1969 the Presidium of the Poviat National Council in Kościerzyna commissioned a concept and project to extend the museum. On the 1st of January 1970, the Field Branch in Wdzydze Kiszewskie of the Pomeranian Museum in Gdańsk was renamed as Kashubian Ethnographic Park and became an independent unit. In 2000 it was renamed Museum – Teodora i Izydor Gulgowscy Kashubian Ethnographic Park in Wdzydze Kiszewskie.

The oldest part of the museum consists of the “Kashubian Cottages”. Around them separate sectors were created to regroup traditional architecture from Southern and Western, Central and Northern Kashubia, Kociewie and Bory Tucholskie. Every feature, of which there is now over sixty, has its own history, often documented in details by its former occupants who donated their home archives to the museum.

The Management of the museum does not only follow the idea of an open air museum but also, and maybe primarily, the inspiration of a living, genuine facility. The museum lives its former and present life. At church people really pray, and the kitchen is filled with smells of freshly baked bread and gherkins from a huge barrel. The museologists from Wdzydze want to bring tradition closer to the visitors in such a way as to give the impression of a real world. For instance, when we visit the black room, the chamber is in a state as though the lady of the house had just left for a few minutes. Children can mount a rocking horse and play as their great-grandparents used to do one century ago. One should add, however, that it is forbidden to touch historical exhibits. They are valuable and should be handed over to future generations. That is why we, the contemporaries, can manipulate copies made by local handicraftsmen. The fact that an item is a copy does not mean that it is not genuine. It is as authentic and handy as the historical original item. The only difference is that, should it be damaged, it will be replaced by another one modelled on the original object from one hundred years ago. More people will be able to use those items and learn about the daily lives of their forebears.

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