After many tears and sad goodbyes in Częstochowa, we set off for the Warszawa Centralna train station to meet my dad’s family (3 1/2 hours later). We then made the 30 minute drive to Józefów–the town in which my dad grew up. He really had the best of both worlds — he grew up right up the street from a river, where he was surrounded by nature, but went into the city to go to school, shop, etc. swider

Anyway, we had my dad’s enormous extended family over for dinner, talked a lot, caught up, etc. They all live on one street, in multi-generational homes. For example, my great aunt and her husband live one house over, on the bottom floor. They recently added onto the house and their son Piotruś (about whom you’ll hear more later), his wife and their twin boys live above them. Iza, Piotruś’ sister, lives in a little house right next to the bigger house with her husband and their little daughter, Litka. It’s nice, but I can imagine it gets sticky.

My brother had to get back to the States a little earlier than my parents because he only got a week of vacation, so we sent him off on Wednesday, Septemeber 2nd. Thursday, we drove over to Łódź to see my school and check out the city!


Łódź (pronounced woo-dj) is not one of the prettiest cities in Poland. It’s an industrial town– once the capital of the textile industry in Poland. There are many old factories and mills which continue to line its streets, some of which were turned into museums (the White Factory of Ludwik Geyer which is now the Central Museum of Textiles), others have been transformed into modern shopping centers (Poznanski’s Factory, which is now Manufaktura).
Łódź has a rich, multiethnic history, which once included large Polish, German, and Jewish communities. Andrzej Wajda’s film (based on the novel by Władysław Reymont) Ziemia Obiecana (The Promised Land) is an intriguing look into the cultural and ethnic dynamics of this city in the early 1800s… I’d recommend it.


Upon arriving in Łódź, we (meaning my parents, grandma, aunt, and myself) immediately stopped by my host institution– the Władysław Strzemiński Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź. There weren’t many people in the building, but we got to walk around and see some of the studios…


Hey, the door was open. This school is basically a museum… these old-school, punch-card jaquard looms are from the early 1900s.


This is some of what comes off the looms. I later found out that the students only design the patterns and they are handwoven by the technician (Pan Wojtek)! Luckkyyyy! I’m going to be weaving on the gobelin (tapestry) looms… a little different.


After visiting the school, we walked down Piotrkowska Street, the main artery of Łódź. Rather than a town square, Łódź has this long street, apparently one of the longest commercial streets in Europe (4.9 km/about 3 miles). Lots of nice cafes, shops, etc.


A lot of  factory owners became very wealthy from the textile trade in Łódź. They built themselves brownstones along Piotrkowska Street.


Here’s an example of the really ostentatious displays of wealth you can see along Piotrkowska…



Banner reads: "Częstochowa welcomes pilgrims"

I have been to Częstochowa every time I’ve come to Poland because my mom is from this city and I have family that lives here. However, it is a popular destination for others, too–whether they have family here or not. Częstochowa happens to be the national shrine of Poland and its religious capital. It also happens to be the third-largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, drawing millions of pilgrims from all over the world every year. Its monastery, Jasna Góra, is the country’s biggest shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary.


The monastery, founded by the Pauline order and dating back to 1382, houses the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, known as the Czarna Madonna (Black Madonna of Częstochowa) or Matka Boska Częstochowska (Our Lady of Częstochowa).


Pilgrims from all over Poland come to Częstochowa and walk straight up this alley, Aleja Najświętszej Maryi Panny (Alley of The Most Holy Virgin Mary) to pray in front of the icon of the Black Madonna in Jasna Góra.


We arrived in Częstochowa on August 26th, which happened to be the biggest Marian holiday in Poland: Matka Bostka Częstochowska, Królowa Polski (Holy Mother of Częstochowa, Queen of Poland). We went to visit Jasna Góra the next day in an effort to avoid the massive crowds (at times, hundreds of thousands of people).


The miraculous icon itself  is kept in its own chapel, next to the basilica — Bazylika św. Krzyża Świętego i Nawiedzenia Matki Boskiej (The Basilica of the Holy Cross and Nativity of Mary).


Entrance to chapel housing the miraculous icon

Luke the Apostle is considered to be the artist of the painting and it is said that the wooden board on which he painted it was taken from the household of Jesus himself.  The icon has been credited with many miracles throughout the centuries and was venerated by every Polish monarch — a visit to the monastery’s treasury, which showcases all the gifts they lavished upon the miraculous icon is proof enough. The most iconic gifts were the “robes,” which were designed to be placed on top of the painting. They have cut-outs for the face of the Virgin Mary and Child, as well as for their hands. There is a diamond robe, a sapphire robe, a ruby robe, a coral robe,… and they are interchanged periodically.


Jasna Góra is very special to me, personally. It inspired an entire semester’s worth of work. My designs for a silkscreened collection of drapery fabrics drew from the monastery’s architecture, the saturated colors of the icon tradition and its visual layering of texture (the wearing away of pigment as a metaphor for the passage of time), and the overall spiritual atmosphere of the place itself which I attempted to capture through specific color relationships.

As an accompanying piece to my drapery collection, I created a large, two-panel wooden piece inspired by the architecture of Jasna Góra. In making this artwork, I employed a very special Eastern European traditional technique of flattening wheat. My grandmother used to use this technique to create replicas of the Black Madonna. She taught my mother, who in turn, taught me. The stalks of wheat have to be boiled, split down the middle, and flattened with an iron against a wooden board. The result: thin, flat strips of what looks like gold. I then inlaid these strips into the birch boards. Here’s a picture of it on display at the Woods Gerry Gallery in Providence, RI.


So, I went to the semi-finals in Speedway with my cousin Mateusz. It’s basically drag-racing, but in circles. The turf they ride on is made of gravel, that’s why it’s called żużel. The home team, Włókniarz Częstochowa, was competing against Unia Leszno for a place in the finals. Here are some pictures.

round single

Four bikers go around the stadium four times… this guy was way out in front.


Because it was the semi-finals, there were so many people! The kids in the front would duck every time the bikers drove past because we all got showered with dirt and rocks on that turn.


These were the security guards, aka ninjas. The visiting fan club, Unia Leszno, arrived and left from a separate entrance and sat in a designated area. The “ninjas” made sure that these fans left only after the stadium was empty. Things get rough with sports fans…

me n mati

My cousin, Mateusz, and I… we had so much fun!