Ukrainian folk art represents thousands of years of culture, regional differences in techniques and designs, and skills perfected over generations.
Bright colors, traditional patterns, and useful and beautiful objects for the home preserve Ukrainian aesthetics and heritage.
Let’s delve into the colorful work of Ukrainian folk art and discover some of the most notable types.
Table of Contents
- Seed Bead Necklaces
- Decorated Eggs
- Petrykivka Decorative Painting
- Motanka Dolls
- Buying Ukrainian Folk Art
- Learning Ukrainian Folk Art
- Seeing Folk Art from Ukraine
The Ukrainian folk art tradition of weaving dates back centuries. The products are a sight to behold with bold patterns and colors that reflect local designs.
Weaving for traditional Ukrainian clothing and household linens used linen, hemp, and wool—natural fibers that could be procured locally.
One type of Ukrainian folk art weaving is Krolovets ceremonial towels (rushnyki). These towels are woven with red patterns on white. Rushnyki are so important to Ukrainian heritage, that a museum in Krolovets is dedicated to their preservation and display.
Krolovets towels often depict flowers, birds, or the Tree of Life.
Of course, Ukrainian weaving isn’t limited to towels. Many other staples for the wardrobe or interiors are created through weaving.
Clay deposits around Ukraine of varying types means that ceramics and pottery are a folk art tradition that has developed over centuries. The types of Ukrainian pottery are distinctive and beautiful, tying present techniques to the generations of artisans who perfected them.
Kosiv ceramics are a type of ceramics originating from the Carpathian region of Ukraine. Typically of brown and green, they depict plants, animals, people, and sometimes mythical creatures.
The variety of Kosiv ceramics grew out of tilework, early examples of which are found in museums today. Tiles were often used to decorate indoor stoves, which were used for heating rooms and often stood from floor to ceiling. You can imagine how striking such interior décor must have been!
Kosiv Ukrainian folk art ceramics have even made their place onto UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage.
Opishnya ceramics are another type of Ukrainian folk art. Many types of household utensils are produced from Opishne clay, including jugs and flasks.
Fliandrivka, the technique of painting on wet clay, is apparent in Opishnya ceramics. The floral or other patterns in white, blue, green, and red stand out against the natural clay color. Black outlines may help give the images definition. A coating of glaze gives these ceramics their shine.
Black pottery is made using an ancient technique that requires smoking the pottery to give it its dark color and slightly metallic sheen.
This beautiful type of pottery was surrounded by ritual and mysticism in Ukraine. For example, one tradition had potters throwing as many clay jugs as they could during Mass on the first Saturday of Lent—they would mark the jugs with a cross. These jugs were thought to have protective power.
The tradition of making black pottery is not unique to Ukraine, but it is special in that artisans have revived a technique that predates Christianity and may have disappeared if not for careful preservation. For example, black pottery can be found in both Lithuanian folk art and Latvian folk art.
Woodworking and carpentry were essential to early Ukrainians, who needed to furnish their homes and make utensils for everyday life. However, because folk art typically develops out of the need for everyday objects, wood carving was elevated to an art.
The Hutsul region may be the best known for its Ukrainian folk art carving and may contain inlays of different material such as bone or metal. Other decorative carving depicts flowers, geometric patterns, faces, or religious scenes.
Master carvers create boxes for holding precious objects, carvings for churches, or decorations for the home.
Seed Bead Necklaces
Jewelry has a long and complex history in Ukraine as various cultures settled or passed through the territory before the Slavic peoples arrived. However, Ukrainian folk art jewelry has some distinctive features and types.
One style is the necklace made of seed beads (gerdan). These necklaces show the traditional Ukrainian love for pattern and color.
Seed beads, originally prohibitively expensive for a regular individual, gradually became more accessible when they were produced by nearby Czech manufacturers. The tradition started by artisans crafting necklaces from these beads continues today, with seed beads now being universally available.
Geometric and floral patterns are characteristic of the gerdani. These necklaces can look like collars, like netting, or even like bibs. The intricacy of the designs and the denseness of the patterns make these necklaces a statement to elevate any outfit—whether traditional or modern.
Ukrainian women also wore beads made of coral or amber or necklaces of coins to adorn their traditional costumes. These were often passed down from mother to daughter.
Ukrainian embroidery has a rich heritage and is deeply symbolic of Ukrainian culture. In fact, embroidery is so deeply embedded in Ukrainian heritage that evidence of its use in pre-Christian times has been found by archeologists studying early societies.
Often people think about Ukrainian folk art embroidery decorating the Ukrainian folk blouse, or vyshyvanka. However, other items of clothing may be embroidered for traditional dress.
The most typical colors for Ukrainian embroidery are red and black, and similarities in style can be seen across all regions of the country. However, like other aspects of Ukrainian folk art, regional differences exist, making up a Ukrainian embroidery landscape that celebrates local skill, heritage, and traditional aesthetics.
Therefore, many deviations from what may be considered common or typical exist in Ukrainian embroidery. White-on-white openwork embroidery, blues and greens, geometric patterns or floral motifs—all can be found in Ukrainian embroidery.
Both Ukrainian artists and embroiderers around the world celebrate Ukrainian embroidery by perpetuating the techniques and patterns used and loved by generations of Ukrainians by incorporating them into their modern work.
When people think of Easter eggs from Eastern Europe, they often think of the elaborate and colorful pysanky—Ukrainian eggs.
Ukrainian eggs are indeed special. The word pysanky comes from the Ukrainian word “to write,” so they are, in essence, “written eggs.” Egg artisans “write” on the eggs with beeswax using a stylus called a kistka. The beeswax “resists” wax when the egg is dipped into a dye bath.
Many layers of egg dye may be applied, creating patterns on eggs that look almost woven so fine and tight the lines are.
Each region of Ukraine has its own characteristic type of egg reflecting local symbolism, color combinations, and pattern styles.
Created for Easter in Ukraine, sold as souvenirs, or decorated as a part of an artisan’s business or hobby, pysanky eggs are an important part of Ukrainian culture.
Petrykivka Decorative Painting
Petrykivka painting takes its name from the village of Petrykivka, known for its decorative painting style. This Ukrainian folk art tradition has been listed as an element of intangible heritage by UNESCO.
The fanciful floral, animal, or other folklore motifs are rich in color and bold of stroke. Typical brush strokes used to create Petrykivka decorations are learned by artists and repeated in each piece to achieve this specific style.
Pigments were originally derived from nature, much like the dyes for pysanky. Petrykivka artists became adept at extracting color from the natural world to enliven their motifs.
Motanka dolls are another kind of folk art from Ukraine with ancient origins. These dolls were made of natural materials and may be filled with herbs. The motanka dolls had mystical and protective properties, which may partly explain their facelessness—a face might give the doll a soul, which could be good or evil.
Motanka were synonymous with feminine power. They were often made to protect an infant or a bride, even as they were also made as toys for children to play with.
Buying Ukrainian Folk Art
Ukrainian folk art makes an excellent gift or addition to an interior. If you’re looking to purchase Ukrainian folk art, seek out artisans working in Ukraine or around the world or look online.
Both contemporary and vintage or antique examples of folk art from Ukraine can be found, each an individual example of a cherished handicraft.
Learning Ukrainian Folk Art
Looking to try your hand at making a folk-art-inspired piece of your own? Many Ukrainian artists sell embroidery or pysanky patterns online so that those who want to practice making Ukrainian folk art themselves may do so.
Of course, if you’re in an area with a significant Ukrainian population, handicrafts classes are another way to get a feel for how some categories of folk art are made.
Seeing Folk Art from Ukraine
Where can you see folk art from Ukraine? The best way is to go to markets or shops selling these crafts directly from those who produce them.
You can also see folk art and national dress preserved in museums. Museums in Ukraine are dedicated to folk art, but you may also see it at museums outside of Ukraine:
- Ukrainian Museum in New York
- Ukrainian Museum of Chicago
- Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, OH
- Ukrainian Museum and Library in Stamford, CT
- Ukrainian Museum of Canada
- Oseredok Ukrainian Culture and Education Centre in Winnipeg
The world of Ukrainian folk art is almost endless. And so fascinating, imaginative, and timeless is it that once you begin learning about it, you may never want to stop.