A sad fate overtook the famed Petrykivka crafts factory Druzhba: the other day the unknown people removed its equipment for scrap metal. Though the factory stopped its work a couple of years ago the locals still hoped to find an investor. However, this miracle didn’t happen yet something usual for the “wild” privatization era took place. “While passing by the factory on Sunday I heard the noise made by the cutters and realized that something bad was happening there,” tells the former director of the factory Serhii Manzhos. “The territory of the factory doesn’t have any guards and metal there costs hundreds of thousand hryvnias. I called the police and we came to the department. It turned out that there were the guys at work there who explained that some foreman had employed them to cut the equipment for scrap metal. It was the second day of their work and they had already managed to cut all the machines.” The police sealed the premises yet only the walls remained at the factory now – its equipment cannot be restored. The local authorities concede that it was the owner of the factory living in Kyiv who decided to remove the equipment. “It is not ruled out that the people with the cutters were his representatives,” Volodymyr Mukha, the head of the Petrykivka district state administration, thinks. “Now the police is looking into everything. It should be noted that the factory was rented over the last years and its work wasn’t connected to the Petrykivka painting.”
“The factory Druzhba was started in Petrykivka over half a century ago, back in 1958,” Andrii Pikush, a traditional artist, tells. “It produced the wooden utensils for painting sold in souvenir shops all over Ukraine and in dozens of countries abroad. Afterwards, the Ministry of Local Industries which managed about 30 craft factories was turned into the public corporation Ukrkhudozhprom. The destiny of this organization situated in Kyiv is unclear but our factory ended up with a collapse after this reorganization. It has not been working over a decade and its territory became overgrown with weeds.” The locals long for the factory that provided work for hundreds of people and it could exist if the government hadn’t “wisely” used the people’s property.
Though it’s a pity that the factory was destroyed in a barbarous manner, Pikush believes that it does not mean the end of the Petrykivka painting. At the Soviet times the factory mass-produced the plates and boxes pressed out of sawdust which is untypical for the artisans. “We managed to preserve the Petrykivka painting because 20 years ago we created the Folk Art Center Petrykivka Painting,” Pikush recalls. “It was the first union of traditional artists in Ukraine who became co-owners of the factory.”
Now there are about 40 artists working in the center who make only exclusive works with the inimitable and original ornaments. “We survived during the hardest times despite all the laws of physics,” Pikush says. “Sometimes we worked with the bare enthusiasm and half-starving, but now we feel our feet, we don’t have any debts and pay taxes regularly. Some artists are private entrepreneurs; others are pensioners working from home. So, the traditional art in Petrykivka did not die and I am sure it will not, it will exist and develop further.”
The St. George Cathedral in Kyiv has been recently decorated with the Petrykivka paintings. The artists Halyna Nazarenko and Iryna Kibets from Petrykivka needed several weeks to paint it. This church is the first one painted in this manner and is situated in the Mykhailivska square behind the Intercontinental hotel. Neither the dean of the cathedral, nor the artists have seen a church decorated in such a manner before, though the Cossacks are said to paint their churches with vegetal ornaments as well as the artists of many religions used to decorate with them their religious buildings.
“Petrykivka is our Ukrainian reply to any religious ornaments of the world. There is no religion that would not use the vegetal motifs in the ornaments. Just have a look at the stone flowers made by the Armenians or the beautiful vegetal ornaments made by the Jewish or Muslims. The Petrykivka painting is our interpretation of the psalm “marvelous are thy works, O Lord, in all wisdom thou hast made.” “It means that even a small flower is the evidence of God’s beauty and wisdom,” Serhii Stankevych, the dean of the St. George Cathedral of the Kyiv Patriarchate, says.
According to him, while painting the cathedral, the painters were guided rather by some Christian traditions where each symbol and color has their own meaning than by their own tastes. For example, the rose is the symbol of Christ and the lily is the one of the Holy Virgin. The grape is the whole “story” about what a human life should be (the grape has its own meaning in numerous Bible’s parables). The same goes for colors used on the icons. According to Father Serhii, every decoration of the cathedral is not an aesthetic one but a specific prayer.
Natalka RYBAK, an Honored folk artist of Ukraine, member of the Union of the Ukrainian Folk Artists:
“The Petrykivka painting is unique. It is the ancient ornament popular back at Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s times: people often came from Russia to Ukraine to buy painted boxes back then. The village of Petrykivka never knew the serfdom. Now it is the largest center of arts in Ukraine. As for Druzhba factory with its mass-production, the life does not end with it. We have the center of folk art where I work and here everything continues. All our painters have their unique style and the works are often made in single exemplars. If they make copies they are ne-ver numerous.
“Previously they painted stoves, boxes, seeders, winnowers and walls. Now we paint the things that can be used. I have travelled over Ukraine, visited Japan and Canada and saw the same thing everywhere: if an artist sells small cards, people willingly buy them, but if a painter starts painting something, in any country people line up for the card being painted. It is very interesting to see how the work is done with a brush, a match or a sharpened stick. The instruments can’t be invented once for all.
“The technology we use has been handed down from one generation to another and every generation has lost or added something. If we had better laws it would develop better (I mean the taxes we have to pay). Everything is extremely expensive now: paints, lacquers and energy sources. It would be better if the government addressed our needs since the Petrykivka painting is a unique phenomenon. Unfortunately, everything is hanging by our patience. In many countries the traditional crafts like ours are mainly preserved in the museums. In our country the Petrykivka painting and many other crafts are alive but they will not last for a long time unless the government changes its attitude towards them.”