The world of Polish traditional crafts is colorful, culturally meaningful, and reflects regional aesthetics. It also has strong ties to traditional folk life and Polish identity.
Those who begin to explore the world of folk art from Poland find striking floral designs, bold hues, delicate patterns, symbolic imagery, and the perpetuation of traditional techniques passed down through generations.
Maybe you want to research before a visit to Poland, understand more about your Polish heritage, or source souvenirs and gifts for friends and loved ones. Maybe you’re searching for the perfect Polish folk art to buy for yourself or someone else. Are you ready to explore Polish traditional crafts? Let’s go.
Table of Contents
- What to Keep in Mind about Folk Art from Poland
- Types of Polish Traditional Crafts
- Where to Buy Polish Folk Art
What to Keep in Mind about Folk Art from Poland
Polish traditional crafts are special, telling the story about how ordinary Poles beautified the objects in their life throughout the ages.
When learning about or shopping for folk art from Poland, keep the following in mind:
- Certain styles, color combinations, or techniques are often regional in nature.
- It’s possible to find both traditional examples of Polish folk art as well as objects and accessories that have been given a modern twist.
- Because folk art from Poland originated in the needs of everyday life, materials and designs are often of a basic nature—which isn’t to say that skills, knowledge, and practice aren’t required to produce the desired results.
- Patterns, designs, and images used may date back generations and relate to calendar days, rituals, or nature.
Types of Polish Traditional Crafts
Poland’s folk art ranges from the ephemeral to the long-lasting, from the earthy to the imaginative. Discover your favorite type of traditional handicraft from Poland—the country’s artisans offer many styles and types to choose from!
Wycinanki is the Polish word for paper cuts and may be one of the most famous examples of Polish traditional art. Boldly colored blooming flowers, roosters with proud crests, and pleasingly symmetrical designs are some characteristics of Polish paper cuts.
Two types of Polish paper cuts are typically found: those that use multiple colors and multiple layers, and those that are cut from a single piece of paper and placed on a background of contrasting color. Either type can look extremely intricate and may look as delicate as lace once completed.
Paper cuts likely had their origin in other materials, such as leather. They were traditionally used to decorate the home, sometimes for holidays. Used on walls or furniture, Polish paper cutting enlivened interiors with patterns and colors.
Today, they’re sold as decorative elements for the interior. However, designs inspired by them may also be found printed on mugs, notebooks, or other accessories.
Pottery and Porcelain
The best-known type of Polish pottery is Bolesławiec pottery. The name refers to the town in which it is produced rather than the technique or pattern. Though the base of this type of pottery is often blue on a cream-colored base, other colors can be incorporated into more sophisticated patterns.
Authentic pieces of Bolesławiec pottery are produced in various factories in the town. Each is hand-decorated. It’s often possible to identify when a sponge has been used to stamp the pattern on each piece vs. when a brush has been used to create the design.
These pieces of Polish pottery are beautiful, functional, and increasingly collectible, whether a decorative piece for your home or a full dining set. During Christmas in Poland and throughout the year, you may be able to find Christmas ornaments made of traditional Polish pottery.
Another type of tableware popular from Poland is Opole hand-painted porcelain. The dishes that bear this work feature bursting bouquets of flowers in delicate designs. The Opole technique originated in the engraving of Easter eggs—to preserve this form of art, called kroszonka in Polish, it was transferred to a more durable medium.
Polish decorated eggs are called pisanki. The variety of pisanki techniques from Poland is limited only to the imagination. Though these eggs are often associated with Easter, they predate Christian religion in their origins and in fact held significance with ancient pagan peoples.
The use of the wax-resist method, where wax is applied and the egg is dyed to leave the waxed parts undyed, is one of the oldest and most widespread methods to decorate Polish Easter eggs.
But Polish Easter eggs can also be etched using a stylus, which removes dye through scratching. In the Polish paper cutting technique, they may even be decorated with paper cutouts.
These beautiful, delicate symbols of springtime are imbued with generations’ worth of skill and knowledge.
Poland’s embroidery reflects many of the same elements as other Polish traditional crafts: bright colors and floral patterns that make everything they decorate eye catching and unique.
As with many handicrafts from Poland, embroidery tends to be regional. For example:
- Red-and-white Kurpie embroidery
- The bright, floral embroidery from Kashubia
- Lowicz embroidery, characterized by bold-colored flowers on a black background
- White-on-white Makow embroidery
Polish embroidery decorates elements of traditional costume, bed linens, table linens, and other housewares.
Traditional Polish crocheted lace may recall Granny’s doilies. But this type of folk art is so important, it’s been inscribed by UNESCO as an aspect of intangible heritage.
Koniakow lace dates back more than a century and has such high regard, it’s even been gifted to Queen Elizabeth II.
Though the lace-making technique from Koniakow was long protected and kept secret from outsiders, those who want to learn how to make crocheted lace in this regional style can go there to take workshops and view preserved examples from history.
Straw gardens, an example of Lithuanian folk art, share some similarities with Polish straw spiders, especially those made of neutral-colored straw. In Polish, they are called pajaki (spiders) and are made of various materials. However, they are defined by being decorations that hang from the ceiling like a mobile.
Pajaki were originally protective in intent. And while they no longer play a part in ritual, they hearken back to when they were placed over a crib or near a bed.
Today, instead of being made only with straw, other materials, such as colored paper, may be incorporated.
Figurative Wood Carving
Wood carving has a long history in Poland. Today, fine examples of figurative wood carving from Poland, often painted, is highly collectible. The figures depict peasants, angels, or figures from The Bible. The angular, blocky style is distinctive and imbues the characters with personality.
Easter palms from Poland look similar to their Lithuanian counterparts, which come out for Velykos, or Lithuanian Easter. In fact, Easter palms in these countries are made of grasses and dried flowers that have been dyed in various colors.
Regional differences account for the variety in shape and size of Polish Easter palms. Taken to church for Palm Sunday, in times past, they may also have been “planted” in a field to ensure a good crop.
And indeed, though these elements of Polish folk crafts are associated with the Christian religion, the way they have been used over the course of generations also connects to pagan belief systems with relation to ritual and the turning of the seasons.
Carved and painted boxes from Poland are another example of a useful object made more beautiful with decoration. In the past, people would use these boxes to present as gifts, or they would keep their treasured items stored away in them.
The carved boxes of Polish folk art typically come from the Zakopane region of the country. They reflect the imagination of the artist, bearing symbolic imagery, intricate designs, and sometimes color.
The boxes may have a close-fitting top, or the top may be hinged. Some of these boxes are even given a lock and key.
Zalipie, in Lesser Poland, explodes with color. Here, a local style of painting decorates everything from the facades of buildings to dog houses to wells and beehives.
A rainbow of florals—which mimics embroidery designs—is characteristic of this work. Originally, this type of decoration was used to brighten up dingy interiors or hide flaws. Now it’s a tradition all its own.
Visitors flock to Zalipie to capture it in all its splendor. It’s Polish folk art taken to another level.
Where to Buy Polish Folk Art
Polish traditional crafts are best purchased from authorized sellers or from the source. This way, you’ll know your piece is authentic and be able to ask questions about how it was made and its origins.
Online shops of artists—or that buy directly from artists to resell—have a wide selection of Polish-made folk crafts.
Of course, you can also buy while traveling in Poland. Christmas markets in Poland are excellent sources for handmade goods. You may also find them at markets during other Polish holidays. However, larger cities in Poland will also have shops dedicated to selling only Polish handmade crafts.
For example, Polart, which has run a shop in Warsaw’s old town for many years, has a beautiful selection of high-quality pottery, wood carvings, embroidery, and other crafts.
But perhaps more meaningful is to visit the regions and cities where certain types of handicraft traditions originate and buy directly from the artists producing such work. You’ll have a beautiful piece of Polish folk art—but you’ll also have the memory of going directly to the source and learning about where and how your special souvenir was produced.