Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
When WWII broke out, textile art faculty Stefan and Helena Galkowski left the Arts Academy in Crakow, Poland to take refuge in the countryside. There, they continued their artistic practice, utilizing materials close at hand - undyed sheep’s wool – to make work they regarded as carrying on a distinctly Polish and politically-charged weaving tradition. After the War, even sheep’s wool was scarce. Polish textile artists like Magdelena Abakanowicz seized upon a plentiful local material – sisal – to improvise new textile art-making methods and forms. In the wake of WWII, the nascent Polish communist government saw in pre-WWII artisan cooperatives connected with the arts academies in Crakow and Warsaw a model for post-war economic development. Under the auspices of an agency called Cepelia, the government organized a nationwide network of artists and artisan cooperatives that undertook primary ethnographic research on rural textile practices and then produced limited editions of textile art inspired by folk traditions. Cepelia also exported blankets, kilims, and tapestries to retail outlets in the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands. Emboldened by new international connections they were able to forge, Polish textile artists joined a vanguard of fiber artists who entered works in and traveled to the Lausanne International Tapestry Biennials (1962-1995). This paper will consider how Polish textile artists created place-based artwork in response to post-WWII material constraints, ideological shifts, and centralized governmental efforts to promote a nationalist Polish identity rooted in folk traditions to both local, national, and global audiences. It will review the experiments in materials, the varying visual iconographics of works made to articulate and “sell” a new Polish national identity, and the perhaps unintended consequences of Cepelia’s national and international reach.