The Homestead of Felicja Curyłowa in Zalipie

The homestead of Felicja Curyłowa in Zalipie

The homestead of Felicja Curyłowa in Zalipie is a special place. This is where the famous artist from Zalipie, Felicja Curyłowa, used to live and work. Because of this deep passion of hers and mainly thanks to her mural paintings, her home village has become famous all around Poland. The painted flowers from Zalipie may be admired on the outside walls of the homestead which was turned into a museum, as well as in the interiors. June is the best time of the year to visit this place since the final of the competition “Painted cottage” ("Malowana Chata”) takes place on the first weekend after the Corpus Christi Feast.

The homestead of Felicja Curyłowa in Zalipie is a branch of the District Museum in Tarnów. In 1978, four years after the death of the famous artist from Zalipie, the whole farmyard and the parcel were bought by Cepelia (Centrala Przemysłu Ludowego i Artystycznego), and handed over six months later to the care of the museum in Tarnów. It was decided that the homestead, i.e. the residential building, the cowshed and the barn arranged in the shape of the letter U, would remain in the same place where it stood in Mrs Felicja’s time. In 1981, in order to add some diversity to the museum, a cottage belonging to a poor family from another part of Zalipie was relocated to a field neighbouring on the residence. The whole area of the museum was encircled with a plaited fence which is made in the same way as the lateral walls of the barn and the haystack shelter behind it. Mrs Wanda Racia, the granddaughter of the artist from Zalipie, is the caretaker of the whole facility. She lives next door. Her grandmother taught her how to paint, and nowadays, Mrs Wanda Racia not only guides visitors through the homestead, but also renovates the external paintings every year before the Corpus Christi Feast.

Felicja Curyłowa (1904-1974) was a unique artist. She dealt mainly with painting and would paint on anything that she put her hand on: from the walls of the buildings, the furniture, to paper bands and paper “carpets” later on glued beneath the ceiling or above the bed. Apart from painting she also made decorations of crepe paper, colourful paper cuts (e.g. two-coloured of the negative-positive type) or parchment curtains, called zazdrostki. She also had original ideas such as e.g. compositions showing an eagle and two fawns made of carefully selected scales of pinecones glued on paper. She soon became famous also outside her own village and Mrs Felicja was asked to paint e.g the interior of the famous restaurant “Wierzynek” in Cracow, or the dining room on the cruise ship “Batory”, and the company „Włocławek” produced china decorated with motifs she had designed.

Felicja Curyłowa, although the most distinguished propagator of cottage paintings and of fostering folk tradition, was not solitary in her artistic passion. The area of Powiśle Dąbrowskie, where Zalipie lies, was described already in 1905 by Władysław Hickel in the journal “Lud” as a region whose inhabitants, mainly women, decorated their home interiors with painted tapestries or even painted patterns directly on the whitewashed walls.

Mural paintings started to develop at the end of the 19th century, as chimneyless cabins with holes in the roof for the smoke (so-called kurna chata) became obsolete. Before that the interiors filled with smoke and soot were only lightened up using so-called paćki, i.e. circular patches of lime mixed with wood ash. Since the time when cottages started to be equipped with bread ovens with chimneys, interiors were decorated with more intricate paintings, which finally also started to be painted on the external walls. Initially, two pigments were used – lime diluted in milk with eggs for white (also used to whitewash the walls) and soot, taken from the chimney and buried in the ground below the eaves to soften, to obtain black. A willow stick crushed at the end with a hammer served as a brush, while horsehair rolled on a stick was used for smaller finishing elements. With time the brown colour started to appear, obtained from clay mixed with charcoal and lime (different hues could be made in this way). Blue was made by mixing ultramarine with lime. In the 1940s powder paints became available, offering a much wider colour scale. The Zalipie style was exceptional thanks to its large, flower compositions in bright colours. One should stress, however, that every paintress had her own individual style.

In the Zalipie museum, the only building untouched by Mrs Felicja’s brush is the barn. The wooden, boarded cottage painted yellow was decorated with a small band of blue flowers, and so it is today. When coming in, already in the entrance hall we can admire a ceiling painted with lime and soot. This is the first work by Mrs Felicja from 1914. She was only ten when she painted it! On the left from the entrance hall lies the white room, also with a painted ceiling, which had its flowers carefully repainted under the supervision of a conservator a few years ago. This was necessary because woodworms had damaged the beams. A renovation was in order and all the paintings had to be removed and then reproduced from phtographs. Mrs Wanda Racia undertook this tough challenge since she knew her grandmother’s Felicja’s style like no one else.

Apart from the paintings, in the white room we can also see the aforementioned eagle, made of pinecone scales, a hand embroidered traditional dress from the Zalipie region and chromolithographs decorated with colourful paper cuts depicting saints. On the right from the entrance hall lies the black room with a beautifully painted bread oven, with tiles and ceramics from Włocławek. The walls are covered with painted flowers forming a long carpet, and the windows are adorned with handmade parchment curtains. The whole house is filled with artistic works by Mrs Felicja, with paper cuts and decorations of crepe paper hanging everywhere.

The cowshed is also worth a visit; it was turned into an exhibition-workshop hall where paintings by local artists are presented. The barn, on the other hand, holds an exhibition of old farming tools.

A visit to Felicja Curyłowa’s homestead not only acquaints guests with the unprecedented and still alive tradition of Zalipie, but also sharpens one’s appetite for a visit to the rest of the village, in search for more “blossoming houses”.

The best time to visit Zalipie is the weekend after the Corpus Christi Feast, since this is the time when the final of the annual competition “Painted cottage” ("Malowana Chata”) takes place and when all external murals are renovated. At that time, it is also easier to visit the interiors of private houses and speak to local artists who uphold the tradition of painting walls of the now modern, brick homes, since there are very few wooden cottages left here. A visit to the House of Paintresses („Dom Malarek”) is a must. It holds, among other things, an exhibition of photographs showing painted homesteads. You should also visit the local church, beautifully decorated inside and the cemetery in Zalipie with the exceptional grave of Felicja Curyłowa, decorated with tiles painted by the great artist herself.

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