The Józef Żak Open Air Museum in Zawoja Markowa

The Józef Żak Skansen in Zawoja Markowa

The name of Zawoja is well known in Poland. In winter the village is popular with skiers. Hikers come to climb the mighty Babia Góra by the trail up its western slope. It is the seat of the Babia Góra National Park head office. Some people are familiar with Banana Bout, a local chantey band. The majority of Poles would have heard of Zawoja as the longest village in Poland. It stretches over 18 kilometres, and although in reality it is not the longest, it reputedly has the largest area – there are as many versions of this claim as there are reasons to visit Zawoja. One of those, however, is known to very few: some hundred metres from the entrance to the Babia Góra National Park there is a small museum which houses one of the most interesting collections of oleographs in Poland, all of them with a religious topic and dating from the late 19th and early 20th century.

Oleographs were extremely popular in at the turn of the 19th century, as cheap and commonly available pictures. They were prints made in oleographic or chromolithographic technique on paper, canvas or some other material; the idea was to imitate an oil painting. They were printed in multicoloured oil colors and varnished in such a way that their surface became glossy. Oleographs looked like real oils, but they were easy to produce and consequently cheap, so they quickly became popular among all classes of society. Various images of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Family, Jesus Christ in various scenes from His life, and numerous saints graced the walls in the homes of burghers, peasants and workers alike. The cottage in the Zawoja skansen is decorated with oleographs of St. Anne, Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, Pieta, St. John Nepomucene, Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Gidle (an image very popular in the 19th century and now nearly forgotten), and many others.

This extraordinary collection can be viewed in the Józef Żak Skansen in Zawoja Markowa, on the plot of land known as Markowa Rola. This open-air museum was established by the Babia Góra District Division of the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society (PTTK) with its seat in Sucha Beskidzka, and its initiator was Józef Żak, a licensed Beskid guide and its present patron. Today, the skansen has three cottages, a smithy, a shrine and a freestanding cellar with a granary on the upper level. Yet initially, on 13th July 1973, the Babia Góra District Division purchased only the plot together with the in situ cottage for the sum of 100,000 old Polish zloty. This cottage, which was built at the turn of the 19th century and used to belong to Franciszek Kudzia, now houses an exhibition on mountain guides and hillwalking, especially in the Babia Góra region. Among the exhibits are guide’s certificates issued in 1906 to Wawrzyniec Szkolnik, the first licensed Babia Góra guide, by the Tatra Mountains Society.

Thirteen years later, in 1986, another cottage typical for the Zawoja region was purchased and moved to the skansen. Formerly owned by Stefan Gancarczyk, it dates from the period 1906-1910 and was built of logs joined in the dovetail technique. Following the adaptation permit from the Voivodship Monument Conservator, it was modernized and today it houses tourist facilities: the ticket office, common room and some guest rooms. The main chamber and the alcove were joined by Józef Żak to create the common room, which serves as a place for meetings or workshops. The stables, which were under one roof with the residential quarters, were turned into guest rooms with running water and electricity. It is a perfect place not only to buy postcards and souvenirs, but also to rest a while and have some tea or coffee.

The oldest cottage in the skansen was moved there from Zawoja Budzonie in 1987. It may date from 1802, 1806, 1810 or 1840, depending on interpretation. Although sold to the museum by Krystyna Solowska from Nowa Huta, it was formerly owned by Franciszek Słopniak and hence it is known as the Słopniak cottage. Mrs Solowska donated all the cottage’s furnishings to the museum.

The Słopniak cottage is a kurlok, which means that it has a stove with no chimney, just with a smoke-hole. It was built on a low foundation of fir and spruce logs. Its architectural features: wall logs joined at the corners by distinctive dovetail joints (having triangular points and tails, known as “fishtails”, without the projecting ends) and a gablet roof covered with wooden shingles, are typical at the border of Orava and Żywiec Beskids regions in Lesser Poland. The interior of the cottage is also interesting. It was divided with a large utility space into two parts: residential quarters and a service space with the byre and stable. The service space has been adapted to an exhibition room housing the collection of oleographs. Residential quarters, which consisted of the so-called black room, the white room and alcove, contain an ethnographic exhibition of furnishings and objects of everyday use, including holy images. The atmosphere of the place is enhanced by the view – outside the windows looms the impressive bulk of Babia Góra.

The open-air museum, together with the Zawoja Centrum parish church of St. Clement, are on the Wooden Architecture Trail running through the Silesian, Lesser Poland and Sub-Carpathian Voivodeships. So far the museum has not organised any annual events, but the 1st Haymaking Festival in Zawoja took place in its grounds in July 2009, and the event is planned to continue in the coming years.

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