“They were almost completely forgotten” PolandKarolina Merska said.
Refers to Merska Pajaki, an artist based in London, the craft is often thought of as the preserve of older women in the countryside of Poland, from which it is from. In the age of instant gratification, few people attribute it to art The slow demise of the form thanks to its time-consuming processes.
Pazaki (pronounced pah-yonk-ee), the Polish word for spider, are decorative folk mobiles comparable in size to chandeliers, usually suspended from the ceiling in striking webs of rye straw and paper. Known for its bright colors – magenta, lime, turquoise – mobiles were historically used to illuminate homes during the dark winter months. But a variety of these lattice designs have been displayed in homes throughout Poland since the 18th century – used as tokens of health and happiness, as well as gifts and decorations. weddings And the Christenings-pazaki were, by the mid-2010s, fast disappearing from cultural memory. Maerska now manufactures and sells pajaki for around $600 and has been running pajaki workshops from her art studio in east London for the past five years.
“Everything changes. People have advanced and times have moved on – they want the newest of things,” explained Sophie Hodorowicz Nab, author of “Polish Customs, and Traditions” social litrature“In open-air folk museums, the pajaki had even begun to collect dust, because no one was interested in them.”
It was in such a museum, in Merska’s home town of Lublin, that she saw her first pajaki at the age of 18. She was immediately attracted by their liveliness and the sense that “all of this knowledge was passed on for generations within families.”
The practice of making pajaki developed from the tradition of hanging the tip of an evergreen tree upside down from the middle of the ceiling, according to Hodorowicz Nab. With “heaps of wheat and rye” placed in the corners of their cottages, it was considered a symbol that the next year would be fertile. It was about respecting the earth, the land and the products of the land,” she said. Also, “people were copying” chandelier, creating their own version with the material available to them. It was a way to decorate their cottage.”
Merska credits Pazaki in addition to his discovery of the fragile disappearance. craft, She grew up in a town, the child of a doctor and a beautician, and had little contact with traditional folk art.
“I was always jealous of other people who had knowledge of the craft,” she said. Merska credits her interest in the design to her grandmother, who moonlighted as a fashion designer And to arouse her interest in design, many of the family’s clothes were created.
This is partly why, after high school, Meerska studied art history at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where she developed an interest in ethnography of Polish folk art and “fascinated in the crafts of self-taught artists – the kind of art you don’t often find in galleries,” she said.
Merska relocated to London in 2007, a move inspired by interest in the city’s multicultural creative scene, and did a variety of odd jobs ranging from supervising exhibition rooms in galleries. barista and bartenders, but she was looking for a creative outlet.
“I’ve always needed to present my legacy to the London scene,” Meerska said. It was here that he considered making his own pajaki. “Sometimes certain things stick on your mind.”
He started learning to make his own. With so little information available, it took trial and error, hours of experimenting with different shapes, forms, and colors. “I Made Them In Myself” BedroomWhich got difficult as both my floor and bed were a mess of tissue paper and string,” she said.
There were no classes or online instructions to take, so she studied the photos and tried to recreate them using her imagination. Seeing his parents back home, he stole some rye straw from the neighbor’s field, left over from their crop. His first attempt was a complete failure. “When I lifted it up, it turned back on itself. I didn’t build the middle structure well,” she said.
Pazaki quickly became the common thread in his work, piqued his longtime interest. Folk Art With a desire to promote our Polish heritage. He spent time traveling to various Polish villages to meet the artists, some of whom had experience making pazaki, and imparted their knowledge and tricks. Learning to make pajaki has been a journey for Merska, and with each creation, she has improved. One of the first he created still hangs in his studio – a piece that is more primary in style than his most recent works.
Given their symmetry, “getting the original material right is critical,” she said. Each summer, Merska stocks rye straw during her visits to Poland, the elegant sheaves of which stand out in the corner of her studio. “People always kept a pile of straw after the harvest,” Merska said. “He protected the house from demons, thunder and lightning, even fire. There was also a thought of bringing a good harvest next year.”
Straw has always been a part of pajaki, but their colors were added later, as the colors were not readily available. When dyes were needed, “traditionally these were dyed with vegetables, such as beets or potatoes,” she said. While brilliantly brushed, pajaki can also be made faux by limiting it to shades of white and gray, using more autumnal colors, or even spectral textures. These days, however, the basics of the craft are tied to tradition and thematic interpretation has room in the design – shells, pearls, dried beans and peas, flowers and ribbons are used to embellish copper tubes in lieu of paper. can go. ,
The Pazaki workshop she runs is a meditative experience and not one that can be rushed. Even the simplest pazaki take at least six hours to make (Merska offers a two-day course, three hours each day).
“People are very surprised how long it takes,” she said. “You have to cut the straws first, then the paper discs for all the pom-poms. It’s not difficult, but it requires a lot of patience and a lot of time. My workshops have a very therapeutic effect on people: folding paper, straws.” Cutting – It really gives this extra moment of peace.
But far from a focused silence, Merska found that her participants often wanted to take off. “We talk, sometimes we share very private things. It is reminiscent of the past when old women used to meet at someone’s house and make pajakis for Christmas or Easter. ,
The growing interest has largely been generated through word of mouth and Instagram. Some participants travel for more than an hour across the city to attend the workshop, while one woman recently flew from Switzerland specifically to learn the art of pajaki.
Although classes usually take place in Merska’s studio, they are sometimes held at Folka, the store she founded in 2019 in Stoke Newington, east London, to showcase the diversity and scope of Polish folk art (“Folka” is a portmanteau of “polka”, meaning “Polish girl” and “folk”). The store stocked Polish prints, ceramics, textiles, glassware, religious iconography, and jewelry—with— With specializes in one-of-a-kind Polish art, with Merska’s own pajaki hanging from the ceiling.
“When people visit my shop, many people think it’s Mexican folk art,” she said. “It is very interesting to me that such distinct cultures that are so far from each other can look alike.”
Inspired by the desire to keep this art form alive, Meerska has written a book in English on the craft “so that people can make them around the world,” she said. Published last spring by Pavilion, “Making Mobiles” is one of the only known books on the practice and has recently been translated into German.
“My idea was not just for the Polish people living in London, but to have a kind of collaboration between cultures,” she said.
The making of Pajaki has also had an unintended personal effect: Mereska feels more at home in a city famously difficult to “crack” as an outsider. “I’m a foreigner here, so I’m trying to find my place in London,” she said. “Having this shop, and making pajaki – I think I’ve found my place.”
(This article originally appeared in The New York Times.)