Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ukrainian Museum: 6th St between 2nd and 3rd Aves

The Ukrainian Museum is a beautiful contemporary building in the lower east side that was completed in 2005.  Currently there are exhibits about Ukrainian weddings and the clothes, wreaths, breads, head wraps, and ritual cloths related to Ukrainian weddings; the art and writings of Sviatoslav Hordynsky; and, of course, the famous Pysanka eggs from all the regions of the Ukraine. 

The textiles are colorful and beautifully decorated with embroidery and ribbons.  However, more than just pretty to look at, they embody the Ukrainian belief in warding off evil with good luck symbols in the decorations and positive thoughts of the maker while she is embroidering or embellishing.  The traditions and details vary from region to region (see right and left), but they all include emblems intended to protect the wearers. 

There are displays related to the decoration and giving of handkerchiefs from single women to single men to signify interest and courting.  There are blessed elaborate wedding breads decorated with ribbons and twisted knot birds made out of dough (see below). 

Really, all of this exhibit is a feast for the eyes and shouldn't be missed, but unfortunately it seems it usually is.  The receptionist seemed shocked to see me and when I told her I had discovered the museum's existence online, she was so pleased and surprised she couldn't do enough to make me feel welcome.  As the only visitor to the 3 story museum at the time of my visit, I was a little saddened by the lack of visitors much the way I was about the Hispanic Society of America.

Upstairs there is an exhibit that displays the breadth and depth of Sviatoslav Hordynsky, a talented Ukrainian artist and writer.  There are numerous works in a variety of styles--from German Expressionism, to Picasso-like cubism, delicate gestural and detailed watercolors (see left), and religious studies that were later used in the most famous piece by Hordynsky, the mosaic murals in St. Sophia Cathedral in Rome (see right).  I had never heard of this artist before, but I can assure you that I will be on the lookout going forward.

Finally, the piece de resistance, is their small but beautifully displayed collection of Pysanka eggs (see below).  If you are not careful, you could miss the whole thing.  They are in a small side room just inside the front doors on the left before you get to the admissions desk.  The eggs decorated using a wax-resist process, vary from region to region of the Ukraine, but are all decorated with the traditional symbols like eternity (never ending connected lines), the sun (circles, broken crosses, or stars with up to 8 points), triangles, animals, and nature (leaves, flowers, or trees) to protect and bring good fortune to the recipient of these eggs. Although now just decorative, originally they were thought of as talisman. 

If you find yourself in the Lower East Side, stop by the Ukrainian Museum and you won't be disappointed.

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