Saturday, April 11, 2009

It Takes A Village

This week I spent two days in Opishne, in the Poltava region, presenting a workshop at the National Museum of Ukrainian Ceramics. Opishne is a village, of about 6,000 people and it's unusual to see a museum of this size and activity in a Ukrainian village. The museum, under the active leadership of Oles Poshyvailo and with an enthusiastic dedicated staff, has spread its activities throughout the village.

The museum's collections storage and offices, along with a small hallway exhibit and a demonstration area are in a former workers' dormitory. Surrounding the building is a large installation of contemporary work by Ukrainian ceramicists--many use traditional motifs and forms, others do not, but all are fascinating. But that's not all of the museum. It also operates two small memorial museums. In Ukraine, a memorial museum (house or flat) is what we in the US would call a historic house. In this case, and somewhat unusually, it is not the house of a famous writer, but the small village houses of two potters. The museum also uses the former Palace of Culture in the village as a place for changing exhibitions and a school, formerly part of the museum, teaches art to young people.

So for a small village, the efforts of the museum, and the accompanying National Institute of Ceramics, are critical. It is an important economic factor in the village, at a time when many Ukrainian villages are only populated by older people struggling to survive, and as well, the work of the museum, connected so directly to the traditions of this community, provides an important source of pride for this place. While I was there, busloads of Ukrainian visitors arrived each day to visit the museum. I can imagine that the continued careful, thoughtful development of the museum and the village, with the museum's wonderful collection, the village's small historic homes, its carefully tended gardens and fields, and an ongoing involvement in traditional ceramics, will create a wonderful experience for many visitors and could become a model for sustainable tourism in Ukraine.

My deep thanks go to Ihor Poshyvailo, deputy director of the Ivan Honchar Museum, for arranging the trip. It's his grandparents' house that's a memorial museum and his passion for family traditions and for the village was a great thing to experience. Ihor's enthusiasm and help has been an important part of my entire experience here in Ukraine, and as my time draws to a close it was wonderful to see and understand a part of his own history. That's Ihor above, with his uncle who demonstrates at the museum. Below, his grandparents (from the National Museum of Ceramics)

And the best part of the really is finally spring and was great to be in the beautiful countryside!

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