Ukrainian National Museum's trunk brings past alive


With many representational items, this grouping includes an antique icon on glass and a trunk filled with hope for the future

With the exhibition of women's embroidered shirts "From the Museum's Trunk," the Ukrainian National Museum surrounds the visitor with a culture that no longer exists as it once did. Though the opening is Fri. June 8 at 7 p.m., the hand embroidered pieces have already brought tears to the eyes of several observers as they remember their loved ones.

Dedicated to mothers, keepers of the Ukrainian National Museum, who saved and preserved a priceless collection of folk costumes and embroidery, curator Maria Klimchak has performed miracles once again. With very little funding, Klimchak has produced a stunning exhibit. Borrowing mannequins from the Polish Museum of America; cleaning and repairing old hand-crafted, inlaid picture frames; hand washing many of the garments, she selected, organized and displayed an exquisite show. Selecting from 157 sorochka (embroidered shirts) dating from 1900, she chose pieces representing the 13 ethnographic Ukrainian regions.


From the Boika region


Red was the color for the young (under 30) and black was for the old (over 30)

Early embroidery patterns reflected the customs and beliefs of the people. Divided into two main categories of geometric motifs and plant and animal motifs, every design was framed in a repeat border pattern. Some designs were worn as protection against evil spirits or misfortune. Each Ukrainian region had its own distinct design patterns, colors and stitches.


So many shirts, so much culture


Many items that represent various parts of Ukrianian culture like poppies, blue cornflowers and daisies are favorites

In the context of folk customs, embroidered shirts relate to the main events of the four seasons. Easter in the spring, Ivana Kupala (St. John's Midsummer) fest in the summer, the Harvest Feast in the fall and Christmas in the winter.  The context also relates to the three rites in the cycle of life -- baptism, marriage and burial. Women adorned their shirts and amber beads, often embellishing them with crosses or coins.


This closeup shows two beaded necklaces that are part of this costume

As the object nearest to the body, the shirt was considered to be the twin of the person wearing it. Among the many beliefs and superstitions associated with the folk shirt are that it possessed the soul of the owner, along with his or her characteristics and physical conditions. The good and bad qualities that the owner possessed, were transferred to the shirt, which is why this garment was so personal and was never loaned. Owners never sold their shirts because that would mean you were selling your happiness, luck and fortune. So the women did everything they could to keep the shirts, giving them only to future generations, saving the happiness in the family.


On the left, the shirt's woolen embroidery is very thick

On one garment, 17 different embroider stitches were used, Klimchak was told. Many of the pieces have different cross stitches, satin and running stitches. According to Klimchak, there are many stitches that few if any people know how to create any more. Regarding color, rather uniformly across the regions, the color red was used by the young (under 30) and black by the old (over 30). Beading was used in regions close to Romania but infrequently elsewhere.


This closeup shows some intricate work of white embroidery on white material

Little did the Ukrainian women who treasured these amazing costumes know that they were not just perpetuating their legacy in their family but that they were safeguarding the telling of their culture to many other people with roots in many other cultures.


Created and stitched in 1975 by Myroslava Stachiv, this Ukrainian map shows designs by regions

The exhibition will continue through July 31. Hours: Thurs. through Sun.,11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults $5, Children under 12 - Free. Free Parking is available beside the Museum. For driving instructions, visit the Museum's website. For additional information, please call 312.421.8020 or email.



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