Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lemkovyna (annotated & reconsidered)

(Retitled: "Easter Sunday at Grandfather's House")

Well, I was going to enter the MOCA competition, and the image above would've been my entry - had there been no "Alfred", the recent freak snowstorm that blacked out all of Connecticut the Saturday before Halloween (my town remained in the dark for 5 days)... and the day before the competition ended. Was it a simple twist of fate... or just too much tweaking of an image - and rampant procrastination - on my part? Does it matter? Not really. As you can see by the winning entries, "Lemkovyna" would've appeared like a total anomaly. But then again, it would, as it's focal point is, in fact, a total anomaly... that is, a trans-figure!

Where do I and my muse come up with these things? This was, if you must know, my operative question all the while I was creating it's central, glutinous motif. At its completion, however, there was that magic moment of recognition, when I knew just what it was on a personal level... Why, it's obvious, I thought to myself, this strange organic mass is a clump of Easter egg mushrooms - what a marvelous find! But why Easter egg mushrooms? So, I continued creating this image... housing this strange organism within an almost Faberge-like egg - albeit rustic - realizing I needed an antique fabric as a background for this little treasure. It was the antique fabric which, in the end, was the give-away... for it was, I think, a swatch of fabric that belonged to my grandparents I had stashed away.

All those Easter Sundays at my Grandpa's house when I was a small child... and that mysterious hole which represents my familial history... Lemkovyna, (pronounced "lem ko VEE na", or "lem KO vee na"), an/or Lemkivshchyna in the Carpathian mountains - specifically in Galicia - where it seems - though I'm not quite sure -  both sets of grandparents emigrated to America from at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. They were Russian/Ukrainian - or, more appropriately, Rusyn... but, by the time their grandchildren arrived on the scene, America was in a "cold war" with Russia... and, hence, my heritage was "disappeared". No one, certainly not my grandparents, ever spoke of that place from whence they came... not to their own children - my parents - and certainly not to their grandchildren.* I 
distinctly remember my father saying to his father that he'd better not let it be known that he continued to write to a brother in Russia... hence, a relation I'll never know.

So, the only bits of being Russian or Rusyn to be found came wrapped in the guise of religious holidays - specifically the Byzantine Catholic (Russian Orthodox) version, and specifically Easter. Lemkovyna - my image - then, was an unconscious ode to that lost identity... and Easter Sundays at Grandpa's house. For a child, it was a rich, darkly mysterious place... and there I am in the photo below, in my Easter bonnet at my grandparent's home... sitting in the only patch of sunlight I could find, and snapped into eternity by my Dad's old Ansco camera.

* Later note (4/14): Adding to this mystery is an interesting fact I recently discovered... that is, my great grandparents might have been alive and in Galicia at the time of the 1846 "Galician Slaughter." ** This was, apparently, the last peasant uprising in European history. And, it's somewhat troubling, as I have no idea of their class or status, and there are no elders left in the family to question. I believe most Americans have held on to their history more tenaciously than those of us of Eastern European descent, but, I can't help but wonder why this might be so.

Eater egg mushrooms (Detail, Lemkovyna) - 2011, D (click to enlarge)

** Actually, it's unlikely that even my great grandparents had been born before the 1860's... but, all of this is probably moot. The reality is that I have no real knowledge of exactly where my grandparents emigrated from, or, for that matter when. A great deal more research would have to be done before I could determine  the reality of the family history. As a child, I was told I was of Russian descent. Period. Only much later, after reading about the history of my parent's Russian Orthodox church did the word "Lemko" surface. My father's father belonged to a Lemko organization... but, I don't know about my mother's parents or my father's mother.

Then, too, there's the unbelievably confusing history of the area itself. Lemkovyna - and/or parts of it - seems to have passed hands from one country to another... Moravia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, etc. Meanwhile, the Lemkos are themselves divided as to what country or to what ethnicity they belong. More alarming, there's a history of massacres, deportation, "ethnic cleansing", and the whole nine yards connected with the Lemko people. I suppose it's no wonder that any descendants - specifically Americans, should have little conception of their heritage.

I'm aware of only one celebrated American Lemko, who actually embraced his heritage, and that was, believe it or not, artist Andy Warhol (Andre Varhola, Jr), whose Lemko parents hailed from an area now in Slovakia.

Actually, one of my father's cousins once had the Sobin family tree drawn up, and it appears that branch of the family originated in Romania around the time of Vlad the Impaler! Oh joy. In any case, I think we see the problem by now.

But, after reconsidering all of this, I've decided to rename the image that inspired this post. I am now calling it "Easter Sunday at Grandfather's House"... because, in the end, that was what the image brought to mind, and, ultimately, is all I really know. It may represent the mysteries of heritage, specifically mine - and, as a Transfigure, may represent something beyond - but, currently, no other title seems genuine.


  1. Easter Mushrooms.......of course! This reminds me of a brooch fashioned from some magical naturalist representation of mushrooms via glass (such as the glass flowers at Harvard University)..but it also has a shell-like appearance. I find your work to be akin to something pulled from an alternate reality that only you can access and it reminds me of something familiar...yet, alien.

    This certainly fits transdimensionalism AND transfigurativism.

    Enjoyed the post.

  2. Thanks, Bob - glad you liked it!

    I guess my child's mind lives in a land where Easter eggs grow on mushrooms and mushrooms pop up inside of egg/shells... or is that, shell eggs... whatever. ;-)