Zalipie – a painted village
Zalipie is a small village in Lesser Poland, around 30 km from Tarnów, which has gained worldwide fame thanks to its long-standing local tradition of painting houses with decorative flower motifs. But it’s not just on houses where these floral folk art designs can be found, as they also adorn fences, wells, barns, pots, and even dog kennels.
How did it all start?
The beginnings of this tradition date back to the late 19th century, when the young women of the village decided they had simply had enough of gloomy interiors and walls covered with ugly-looking soot from the fireplace. At first, they didn’t paint flowers, but so-called “floats”, i.e. irregular spots where they painted over the soot with a milk mixture, using primitive brushes made from birch and willow sticks. When they found it worked as a form of decoration, the women also decided to decorate part of the foundations sticking out of the ground – only now they reversed the colours and used lime to make the floats. This way of decorating lasted for many years, and it was only with the spread of coloured paint that the women then started to depict flowers.
The beginnings of Zalipie’s fame
For years, the women of Zalipie developed their talents in secret from the world. But that all changed in 1905, when an Austrian official, Władysław Hickel, hired a peasant from Tarnów as his servant. On leaving Zalipie, the peasant took a piece of his house with him as a souvenir: two sheets of plain paper with flowers painted on them. When Hickel saw the patterns, he was immediately fascinated by the idea of painting houses. He therefore went to Zalipie and later described everything in “Lud” magazine, which was a very popular publication at the time.
The article gained instant popularity because it was the time when the bourgeoisie were just starting to become fascinated by the idea of an idyllic peasant lifestyle. It was when Stanisław Witkiewicz was admiring Podhale in his art, Wyspiański was describing Lucjan Rydel’s wedding to the peasant woman Jadwiga Mikołajczyk, and Reymont’s novel “Chłopi” (“The Peasants”) was proving a huge hit with readers.
Tough times and the later renaissance
The two world wars, which came practically one after the other, almost destroyed the Zalipie tradition. The women of the region, like the rest of the country, had more serious problems to occupy them than the aesthetic appeal of their cottages.
Fortunately, the decorating tradition remained in the memory of these women (known as Zalipianki) and after the war they were finally able to give free rein to their artistic talents.
The Zalipianki were also encouraged by the authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland to restore their tradition. A competition was therefore organised in Powiśle Dąbrowskie by the Ministry of Culture and Art in 1948 entitled “A painted cottage”. The first edition was attended by 40 women, who drew on card stock. The competition was dominated by Zalipianki, so it was then moved to Zalipie, where it has been held annually ever since.
After the competition, Felicja Curyłowa, a local legend of Zalipie, joined up with some of the other painters to found the “Creative Village” Painters Association. Zalipie became famous all over Poland once again, and tour groups even began visiting the village. A prominent figure in the history of her hometown, Felicja Curyłowa not only promoted the idea of painting houses, but she was also a social activist. She became involved in other activities, such as the creation of the association, and her efforts led to Zalipie becoming connected to the electricity grid and the renovation of local roads in the area. She encouraged women to paint and take part in competitions. Working together with her husband, she decorated almost every surface of her cottage with flowers. While she was still alive, her house functioned as a living museum, and it is still open to the public today.
If you are going to Zalipie and expect to see a kind of folklore Disneyland, you might be disappointed. The village is not an open-air museum (or skansen), but a place where people still live. Interestingly, the inhabitants of Zalipie are not too interested in making money from being a tourist attraction, so there are no souvenir shops or fast-food carts there. Of course, there are some houses in Zalipie where tourists are welcome to go inside and admire the beautifully decorated interiors, but there is always a sign in front of the entrance saying that the house is open to visitors in return for a nominal tip “for the paint”. On the other hand, there are also some buildings with signs outside saying that photography is forbidden, and the privacy of these people does need to be respected. It’s also important to note that not all of the buildings are decorated. The most well-known building in the village, called the House of Painters, is the place to go for a map of all the most interesting places to see.
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