On Friday, I made the long train ride to Kraków from Łódź to spend some time with my cousin Rafał. He’s studying kulturoznawstwo (cultural anthropology– philosophy, psychology, sociology, linguistics, art history, history of film, literature, etc.) at the Akademia Górniczno-Hutnicza in Kraków. Another artistic soul in the family….

Anyway, the first two and a half hours of my train ride were nice… some time for quiet reflection. There was a 15 minute stop in Częstochowa, so my aunt and uncle met me on the platform and handed off a bag full of homemade pierogi for us to enjoy in Kraków!! The other 2.5 hours of my train ride to Kraków were spent talking to a lawyer for the Polish Army. I saw him running to the train right before it pulled away from Częstochowa and of all the compartments… he had to come panting into mine. Anyway, it made for some very interesting conversation and the time seemed to fly by. When my train finally pulled into Kraków, my cousin was on the platform to meet me. We ended up walking around the town square for a while, talking and catching up, waiting for his girlfriend’s train to come in from Sosnowiec– where she’s studying journalism. Her name is Klementyna (Klema). That night, we just hung out, ate the pierogi my aunt made for us, and watched a great Polish movie called “Dzień świra,” directed by Marek Koterski.

Saturday, we headed out early to do as much as possible before my train to Częstochowa that night at 6:15. We caught a tram into town and hit up possibly every cathedral and church in Kraków (I’m obviously exaggerating). My cousin knows I have an affinity for sacral architecture and wanted to show me the variety Kraków has to offer. We started with — of course — St. Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki).


This Gothic church dates back to the 13th century, but was rebuilt during the 14th and 15th centuries. Its most famous component is its wooden altarpiece carved by Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoß).


The interiors of the basilica were painted by Antoni Gramatyka, Edward Lepszy, Stanisław Bańkiewicz, Józef Mehoffer, and Stanisław Wyspiański– among others. The stained glass windows are by Józef Mehoffer, Stanisław Wyspiański and Tadeusz Dmochowski.


As a textile kid, I was drooling over all the patterns and colors…



Adjacent to the basilica is St. Barbara’s Church (Kościół św. Barbary), of the Jesuit Order.



The church was built in 1338 but has a predominantly Baroque interior…


Two noteworthy things about St. Barbara’s: Jakub Wujek–the Jesuit priest who translated the Bible into Polish–is buried here.


…and the back of the church looks completely different from the front… =)


Anyway, on the way to our next destination, we couldn’t help ourselves. We threw this guy a złoty… =)

krakow streets

We then headed to Plac Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints Square) to visit the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (Bazylika św. Franciszka z Asyżu).


The basilica was glorious. It dates back to 1249, but its interiors are neogothic… wait, there’s more. The walls of the nave and transcepts were painted by… none other than my favorite Polish artist ever: Stanisław Wyspiański. There were different patterns all over the walls… it was incredible. I didn’t even know Wyspiański designed repeating patterns… my soul grew that day.



Here’s a stained glass window by Stanisław Wyspiański.


The next church we visited was St. Gile’s Church (Kościół św. Idziego). I learned something new here… I had no idea that Idzi in Polish was Giles in English. Anyway, according to tradition, the church was founded by Prince Ladislaus Herman in the 11th century as thanksgiving for the birth of his son, Boleslaus…. however, it was most probably built  in the early14th century.


Right across Plac Wszystkich Świętych, opposite of St. Gile’s Church, is the Basilica of the Holy Trinity (Bazylika Świętej Trójcy), built in the 13th century. It is under the Dominican Order.


The interior of this basilica was incredible. I especially loved the blue ceilings…


There was an entrance to the Dominican monastery from the basilica… so obviously we wandered around a bit. The atmosphere in the monastery was incredible. There was this particular kind of light coming in through the windows (which looked out onto a courtyard). The floors were all worn-in and uneven from centuries of Dominican monks shuffling about. The history I sensed in this place was incredible. It was definitely one of the coolest places we visited that day…




Across from the basilica and monastery is the Bishop’s Palace, where Pope John Paul II would stay whenever he came to visit Kraków. Above the main gate of the Bishop’s Palace is the famous window (“okno papieskie“) from which the Pope would look out before going to sleep and talk to the masses of young people that would gather below.


Next, we made our way to the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (Kościół świętego Piotra i Pawła), the first baroque church in Kraków (17th century). The Jesuit church is best known for its statues of the 12 disciples, which line the entrance to the church.


I forgot to turn off my flash and I was scolded for taking this picture. So worth it, though…


I thought the interior of the church was very elegant–it was all white with gold and dark brown/black accents.



Next door to the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul is St. Andrew’s Church (Kościół św. Andrzeja). It dates back to the 11th century and is the finest example of Romanesque architecture in Kraków.


The interior of the church, however, was given a Baroque makeover in the 18th century. It’s quite surreal to walk into a church with such a humble exterior and unexpectedly find an excessively ornate interior… it just doesn’t seem to make sense.


But the most memorable thing about the church was its smell… it smelled like rosewood. It was so unusual.


So, that was it for churches and basilicas. Next, we hopped on a tram and (clumsily) made our way over to the Kopiec Kościuszki (Kościuszko Mound) across the Błońia krakowskie (Błońia Park). Błońia Park is a vast meadow measuring approximately 119 acres (48 hectares). It’s basically a huge expanse of… grass. It’s so big! It took us a good 5-10 minutes to walk to other side. Today it’s mostly used for concerts and large exhibitions, but it’s best known for hosting the masses celebrated by Pope John Paul II when he came to Poland in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1997 and 2002.

Anyway, we didn’t really know how to get to Kopiec Kościuszki, so we just hiked up to it through all the lovely fall foliage from one of the steep streets that seemed to be leading us towards it. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the end of it. We later found out there’s a bus that drops you off right in front…


The Kościuszko Mound was erected in commemoration of the Polish national leader Tadeusz Kościuszko.  The construction was financed by donations from Poles living in all territories of Poland under foreign occupation. It was completed in November 1823 and reaches 34 metres (112 ft) in height. Urns were buried inside the mound with soil from the Polish and American battlefields where Kościuszko fought. The location selected for the monument was the Blessed Bronisława Hill (Wzgórze bł. Bronisławy), also known as Sikornik. The brick citadel around the Mound and the neo-Gothic chapel of Blessed Bronisława were built between 1850 – 1854.



Klema ran ahead up the serpentine path that led to the top of the mound.


Rafał tried catching up…


Not quite at the top–almost there. We couldn’t help but stop to admire the view.


We made it! What a view. You can see Błońia Park behind us… I told you it was huge!


What a way to finish off the day.


On our way down, we finally figured out a way to get all three of us in a photo!


There is a great website for Kopiec Kościuszki, (the site can be viewed in English). I’d recommend a look at the history of the mound, but even moreso–the 360 panorama of Kraków from the top.


I thought I’d share some pictures of the weaving studio (Pracownia Nicielnicowa) at the Academy of Fine Arts!  krosna

Here’s the gobelin loom on which I’ll be weaving this year…


Here I am at work on my gobelin loom. There are two pedals that I step on to raise and lower the warp yarns (the vertical white yarns).


Here’s a closeup of the sumak weaving technique — it’s very time consuming. The weft is wrapped around each individual warp yarn, and then held in place with a plain weave. There  of course are variations, you can wrap the weft around every other warp yarn or every third warp yarn… but I think it looks best when it’s wrapped around every single one.


This is a gobelin frame…. for hardcore tapestry weaving. It’s just a wooden frame with nails at the top and bottom, around which the warp yarns are threaded. I think I’ll end up using one of these frames for the bigger piece I’m designing. I’m planning on using thick yarns and ropes, so I can thread the frame with thicker warp yarns that are spaced farther apart… I can’t really do that on a loom. Also, when weaving on a frame, you can weave in one area , really building it up. Later, you can weave around it to fill in the empty areas.  You can’t really do that on a loom… at least not to the extent you can on a frame. You need to weave fully across on a loom. That means that in one pick (one row across) you might be using 3 different wefts, all in different techniques. It gets confusing.


And the man himself — Pan Zygmunt Łukaszewicz — preparing a frame for weaving. He’s the one teaching me all the new weaving techniques. He’s a master at his craft. He’s got pieces in museums all over the world — Belgium, Switzerland, etc. He will be exhibiting work at the Tapestry Trienniale in the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź.


Pan Zygmunt showed us the coat he’s working on for a client. It’s hand woven on a gobelin frame. He even let me try it on…


Fun stuff, this weaving business!

Family Time in Częstochowa

October 22, 2009

On Wednesday, I took a train from Łódź to Częstochowa to spend some time with my mom’s family. And, most importantly, to be my cousin’s sponsor for his Confirmation. We never get to be together for these kind of things… there’s always 4000 miles (or so) separating us. Anyway, I was the only female sponsor for a boy! (Aside from a nun who was her brother’s sponsor… but come on). I was the only girl in the pews reserved for the boys’ sponsors! (My purple coat didn’t do much for helping me to blend in either). It took a lot of persuading to get the priest who was preparing my cousin for his Confirmation to let him pick me as his sponsor… boys typically have male sponsors and girls have females as their sponsors. So, I shook things up in Częstochowa — of all places. =)

By the way, Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church– performed by anointing the forehead with oil. This sacrament bestows the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the confirmed and marks them as a full member of the Church. The candidate picks the name of a saint he admires (or in my cousin’s case, the only saint he can recall when asked) to be his patron saint… silly boy. =)


All I really had to do was stand behind my cousin, with my right hand on his right shoulder. (Note all the boys around me).


This is the bishop of Częstochowa, Bishop Antoni Józef Długosz, confirming my cousin Mateusz as Krzysztof (Christopher).


I adore this photograph.

familyMe (in my purple coat) with my cousin and aunt. I’m so happy I could play some part in my cousin’s life this one time…

It’s hard living so far away from your family– normally, of course, because I’m here for a whole year now! =)

My Very Own Gobelin Loom!

October 21, 2009

In my previous post, I mentioned being frustrated with idleness. Well, let me tell you– I got myself going. All I really wanted was for someone to sit down with me at a gobelin loom, show me the basic techniques and let me play. And that’s exactly what I got…

I went back to the Paper-making Studio and chatted up the professor and her assistant. I told them how I felt a little useless at this point and that I’d really like for someone to show me how to weave on a gobelin loom so I can get going. Afterall, tapestry weaving is a long process… the sooner I get going, the more I can get done. At that moment, Pan Zygmunt Łukaszewicz walked in. He’s the school’s all-around gobelin weaving master. It was going to be either him or Iza (my professor’s assistant) who was going to teach me the techniques. Right away, we set up a one-on-one appointment for the next day and he agreed to show me what he knows! Just like that.

When I got to the studio the next day, Pan Zygmunt started me off right away. He showed me my loom, on which I’ll be weaving this year, and showed me how to weave a basic plain weave to finish off the weaving that was already on the loom. Pan Wojtek, who’s in charge of the jacquard looms, hung around as well. He’s quite the character. Recall the lesson in Polish formality in my previous post? He throws it out the window. He’s super laid-back and really funny. He showed me around the yarn room and let me take whatever I wanted to weave with… very cool. After that, I went at it. I made a quick sketch for a design — an abstraction of embroidery patterns I’ve been looking at — and drew out the pattern on the warp yarns. And then I started weaving! I heard some lady come into the studio and ask Pan Zygmunt who I was and he answered, “Oh, that’s the American going nuts on the loom.” And, indeed. I got about 2 inches woven…. hopefully, my beginner’s pace will pick up with time. =)

Today I checked out the Paper-making Studio (Pracownia Papieru) at the the Władysław Strzemiński Academy of Fine Arts, Łódź (Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w im. Władysława Strzemińskiego w Łodzi) with the ERASMUS students (two girls from Romania and a British girl). We got there a little late — but not to fret. The professor (prof. Ewa Latkowska-Żychska) and her assistant (mgr Magdalena Soboń) leisurely strolled in with their teas, immediately introducing the laid-back atmosphere with which I have come to associate the studio. That day was was a turning point in my Polish art school experience thus far: it was the first time I actually DID something(!) Hard to believe coming from RISD.

Upon entering the studio and chatting up some of the older students whom she recognized (as well as myself — I met her the previous week on a tour around the school), the professor immediately whipped out some wooden frames, rolled up her sleeves, and began demostrating (in English) the paper-making process. I was helpful here — whenever she couldn’t think of a word in English, I helped to translate it from its Polish counterpart. At any rate, within five minutes, we were all equipped with our own frames, a basic intro into the process, and a healthy attitude towards experimentation. Coming from a silk-screening/weaving background, I found the paper-making process an interesting mixture of the two, and truly, very liberating. Ironically, the professor has an EXTENSIVE textile/weaving background, herself (check out the link on her name). It was only after a Fulbrighter (go figure) introduced paper-making to her 20 years ago, that she made the switch. However, she finds the two completely related and continues to exhibit her handmade papers at textile exhibitions. I like this lady a lot.

I also headed over to the Carpet and Gobelin Studio (Pracownia dywanu i gobelinu) to attend a presentation by Professor Jolanta Rudzka-Habisiak — the professor in whose studio I will be working this year. I didn’t know what to expect, but it ended up being a presentation about trends in carpet and textile design. It was about an hour and a half long… and I didn’t find it very interesting. To be honest, I left a little discouraged. This was Week 2, and I hadn’t really done anything yet! Yes — the professor gave me an assignment she gives to all her students (to pick 4 different materials and create relief patterns/overall textures with them, using each material in 4 different ways), but there’s no deadline for it! And, you have to bring in samples of your ideas, and they are then either approved or denied. So far, two of mine have been approved. I’ve also noticed this CLEAR separation between student and professor… I’ve actually been working more with the professor’s assistant, mgr Izabela Walczak, than the professor herself. This might have something to do with formality…

(Cultural difference: in Poland, you have to pay great attention to the way you refer to or address other people depending on your level of familiarity, their social/academic stature, and customary politeness. You can really offend/astound someone by slipping up… trust me. For example, I would NEVER refer to my professor by her first name. Instead, I have to use her title: ‘Pani profesor.’ Furthermore, I have to use the third person singular form (rather than second person singular) when referring to/speaking with her. In other words, I can’t talk to her in the “you” form. (‘Do YOU know what time it is?’ should be ‘Does Pani profesor know what time it is?’) Weird, huh. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to get used to here. Having primarily talked to family members in Polish my whole life–and therefore having used the second person singular, “you” form–I really have to pay attention not to slip up… the most common mistake I make is in saying, “You know?” In English, it’s a force of habit, you know? But I have to catch myself and change it to “Does Pani profesor know?” Very frustrating… Another fun fact: the act of changing to the friendly “you” form should be acknowledged by both parties. For example, the professor’s assistant almost immediately asked me to call her Iza rather than ‘Pani Iza’… I think it was mostly because I kept messing up the formal-informal forms, but also, because we’re so close in age/she’s super friendly).

Check out this incredible article by Jakub Banasiak for Flash Art magazine entitled, “What is to be Done?”

It’s about how the contemporary Polish art scene is in what the author calls, an in-between period, “when the new has not fully emerged yet and the old still remains alive.” I mentioned that in my last blog entry, as well. But this in-between-ness is not just in art… it’s really visible everywhere, even while on daily errands. You need to ask the store clerk to hand you what you want. You have all the newest products that are out on the market, but that left-over bureaucratic confoundedness is still alive and well. (Granted, this is in small local grocery shops. Nevermind Real, or even Biedronka for that matter).

This fascinating ‘in-between phenomenon’ brought me here in the first place… (I really need to post my project description). There’s just one thing I didn’t like in this article… it might just be personal sentiment talking, but I oftentimes–as in this case–find Poles extremely self-critical (or on the other hand, overly defensive)… I think there is the possibility of another eruption of Polish art. The lack of expectation the author expresses and senses might just spur its development. I am by no means an expert in Polish art — it’s hard to be when you haven’t been in-country — but I sense a change on the horizon. Furthermore, that in-between-ness is a key factor, I feel. Isn’t that strange… what one person cites as a source of stagnation, another sees as potential for inspiration….

A BIG thank you to Lori who shared this article with me!!

An Introduction

October 14, 2009

The hardest part of any new project is actually starting it: sitting down, organizing everything, and beginning the process. I’ve been in Poland now for exactly 50 days and I’ve seen, heard, and experienced many interesting things–all of which I have been documenting along the way… just not on this blog. For those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you’ve probably perused my photo albums and come across my status updates. But this will be a nice way for me to condense what I’ve posted there, and look back at where I’ve been so far.

…no more cousins asking me to help them with their art homework, no more all-day family field trips… I’m on my own. I’ve settled down in Łódź,  Lodz Mapwhere I’ll be living for this year and I finally have time to officially start my blog. So now that it’s up and running, I will be updating it continually– its past entries, as well as its new ones. In that way, it’s a lot like the contemporary Polish experience: constantly moving forward, but simultaneously informed by the past. And anyway, I naturally tend to organize things in a cut-and-paste kind of way. =)

So, scroll all the way down to my first post, and begin reading! I hope you enjoy it and learn something new about Poland in the process! Be sure to check back every so often for new “old” posts.

Also, it’s probably worthwhile to check out “A Little Background” in the Extras tab for more information about why I’m here…