- February 28, 2014
Leokadia Szalkowska: I’ve been in a constant search for creativity
She belongs to that category of authors that are in a constant search for something, not able to satisfy with what they have already achieve.
She likes to experiment and to amaze, not only herself, but also the people around her.
The champion having the status of the Creator of Art given her by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania in 2005.
Leokadia Szalkowska, known far from the borders of our country, an outstanding palmer. The professional, so to speak, creator as with her mother (from the aut. – Jadwiga Kunicka – the senior of the palm art in the Vilnius region) they were the first and the only Polish women belonging to the Association of Folk Artists of Lithuania, and for many years they have been praising Lithuania with her floral masterpieces far beyond the borders of the country.
The palms by Leokadia Szalkowska and her mother has been known not only in Lithuania. The citizens of many Polish cities had the opportunity to see them. They were exposed in Hungary, Finland, America, during the world EXPO festival in Japan. They were not only exposed – the viewers saw the birth of the palm.
We have know with Lodzia for thirty years. And I owe the acquaintance with this talented woman also to… palms as, nearly three decades ago, in those Soviet years I had planned to celebrate the Palm Sunday on the pages of the newspaper – I did it secretly – that is, by showing this kind of art. That was because palms during the Soviet years could not be associated with a religious feast.
This is how I met the very welcoming home of Jadwiga Kunicka, the author of the highest at that time roller palm, a later gift for the Holy Father John Paul II.
Leokadia’s family home was and still is lying just outside Vilnius in Krawczuny (although she herself and her family have lived in Vilnius).
It is a special village not only because of its history, but also because of its tradition of palm plaitening. In the summer in front of almost every house there are various grass, flowers, and ears being dried up and then, when winter comes, the skilled hands of palmers entwine them into such a tiny floral carpets amazing the world. Such an incredible feeling that those are unique things had Szalkowska when she was in Japan. Almost every Japanese touched and smelled the grass, listening to the lesson patiently how, from that dry bouquet of such colourful plants, you can produce such a round a roller with so subtle the ornament. Every of them being different.
-Where has been this love for palms from? – repeats the question and then answers with zeal that her mother could sew clothes, knit thread collar, made beautiful paper curtains, and beautify the shelves in the kitchen with cutouts. And with a tiny graphite from an ordinary pencil she could draw wonderful pictures, or she could made pots out of clay…
-But we – me and my brother – remembered Santa Claus the most – says my speaker. – Firstly, we remembered that he was a forerunner of soon-to-come Christmas time, and secondly, the fact that he was so wonderful. And so… delicious. Because he was made of dough! It was a shame to eat him, however, the children’s greediness triumphed, as the times were different and there weren’t so many sweets at your fingertips at shops.
As she claims, they have also the loveliest Christmas tree, adorned with the toys made by mother and children.
The primary school was in Placieniszki.
Our speaker says that it also was a special institution – such teachers as you could find nowhere else. They were enlightened, bright, and patriotic men – starting with the headmaster Wladyslaw Tomaszewski and finishing with any other teacher.
How old she was when she made her first palm?
Lodzia doesn’t remember that. She jokes that it was in the cradle. As well as her children – daughter Agnieszka, who started her own family long time ago and who’s lived in Dublin, and son Rafal, who was able to plait a palm when he was only, I think, a three-year-old child.
-How much I adored Kaziuk when we were going with my mother to the Calvary Market in order to sell the palms, how much I adored the fact that people came to us asking about the way the palms were being made! – says the famous palmer.
After the graduation from the secondary school, the director of the Puppet Theatre late Laima Lankauskaitė, one of the admirers of Jadwiga Kunicka’s palm talent, took Lodzia to the Lithuanian Museum of Art directed by a great man, art historian, painter, and restorer Pranas Gudynas.
He Said: Show me what you can do. And she was given a probationary period in the pottery conservation studio.
-Of course I had some jitters – says Leokadia. – I was aware that the authoritative committee was going to decide on whether I know the form, the colour. But it turned out easy for me. So, as an 18-year-old girl I started working in this field and now it has been 38 year of my devotion to this profession – says Lodzia.
She was working and studying (graduated from Vilnius School of Art ) and… searching for herself in other fields of art.
Because despite the fact that theoretically the whole life is connected with pottery, she tried much more! After all, for many years there has been the Center of Restoration and Conservation of Monuments established by Lithuanian Museum of Fine Arts, where ceramic products are being conserved and then sent to the treasury of all the Lithuanian museums.
Is it hard to somehow revive the work?
-It depends – says Szalkowska – Sometimes you take these ceramic pieces found and extracted from the soil by archeologists and it might seem that they arrange themselves. They fit one to the other as giving you a hint where to put them – says the restorer.
– After All, for all these years – almost forty in this profession – I know well from what era they are from and what should they look like after the restoration. Besides, there is specialist literature constantly needed. But sometimes there are wayward exhibits, as I call them. – says Leokadia. – Nonetheless, I am stubborn. I can look for an hour or two on these “remains”, and then I even start talking to them. And this so far “stubborn” exhibit gives up – jokes my speaker, the conservator of monuments in the branch of restoring ceramics, having the highest qualification in her profession.
She’s been interested in new fields of art, in creating in completely new direction. As if from this very demanding accuracy and precision of the field she would like to move to completely another one. Hence, she started creating corals. Ceramic, of course.
„It was a kind of our friendly rivalry , each of us came to work and talked about what she had done at home. When the time for corals came, we showed one another our attempts in that. It is the life itself that tells you the fashion for particular products” – says Lodzia.
She loves to be at Kaziuka market because this is an opportunity for her to find out what other creators offer.
However, it is hard, almost impossible, to find her goods at the market. The reason for that is simple – palms made by her and her mother, who lives in their family house in Krawczuny – are being bought straight from the house. People say one another where you can buy them. Thus, for the market it is not enough.
But they are present each year for 25 years on Kaziuk in Warmian Lidzbark. It began when the team from Vilnius started taking part in this traditional feast in Warmia.
During this Polish feast by Lyna there are “relatives” awaiting Leokadia and Leon Szalkowski (although only because of the name) – the family of Joanna and Andrzej Szalkowscy with whom they got close to.
Last year Mr and Mrs Szałkowski from Lidzbark were enjoying in Vilnius the wedding party of Rafal – the son of Leokadia and Leon.
To her Lidzbark offer Leokadia adds more and more new products. Made by herself, of course. It was probably ten years ago that on the tree standing in a ceramic pot were hung colourful bells, and the palms were put in lovely wicker baskets. Because Lodzia would not have been an artist if she had not presented her products appropriately. She has this skill of creating such compositions that caress eyes and attract people to purchase them.
This year Lodzia is preparing one more surprise for the five cities of Warmia – some mini palms on which an Easter egg shell is going to be put.
She has been looking at this kind of art for a long time; the kind that is, just as Easter eggs, popular in Poland, but in Lithuania, especially in the Vilnius region, there are no creators of it. Easter eggs are being made rather by the Lithuanian women and the inhabitants of Vilnius were traditionally dying the eggs with onion skins or various types of grass.
-Years ago I was in America on the World Festival of Folk Artists „Smithsonian folk life festival” that took place in Washington. There was also a well-known creator Ada Mickuvienė. She was showing the technique for producing Easter egg shells, and I – plaiting the palms. I saw this technique there, then I studied it, and finally – I added some things. And this year is going to be the first of me presenting the Easter egg shells. But, obviously, they are going to be located on the palm – tells my speaker.
When she is showing the process of producing an Easter egg shell I cannot stop wondering how time-consuming it is. How gently you have to treat the shell for it not to break, for the pattern ornaments not only to be interesting when it comes to colours, but also the durability. Among ten of them already made I can barely see the two authentic ones.
-I do not like repeating myself and thus each Easter egg shells is different, just as different is each palm made by me, each bell, or brooch that, among others, I have started doing recently – I hear from Szalkowska.
And the love for these women’s ornaments arouse from a simple life need.
-When, just before Christmas, I had gone to all of the shops in order to buy some presents for my family and friends, I saw how hard it is to find anything original. And when there is something original, finally, it is very expensive. That is why I decided to make something myself – says Lodzia.
This was how she started making brooches. With velvet, each embellished with Svarovski small crystals. Each different, each unique.
„Sometimes my friends bring me some material, or a dress, for me to make it a fitting brooch. I like making them very much because I can see joy they bring to my family and friends.”
When does she have time for her production?
-It is easier now as our family nest is empty – their daughter Agnieszka lives in Dublin with her family, their son Rafal got married and lives close to us, in the same district. They don’t need our help on a daily basis. And my husband Leon is of great help for me. – she answers.
Leon Szalkowski is also a creator – he’s a photographer who has beautiful pictures of Vilnius in his account. He has also been exhibiting photographs in wooden frames in the same parts of the city as his wife has been exhibiting her products. They have been doing so every year not only in Lidzbark, but also one week before Palm Sunday in Bialystok, to where this talented Vilnius family’s visits became a tradition, too.
Tłumaczenie by Roksana Kasperek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Roksana Kasperek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.