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The Woodcuts of Jędrzej Wowro

An artistic soul was concealed within him from childhood, however, and he did not part with his wooden sculptures depicting holy figures as he went down the various paths in his life. Jędrzej Wowro would not have made woodcuts if it were not for Emil Zegadłowicz. It is possible to suppose that Wowro would not have been known to the public if it were not for his friendship with the poet. It all began when Wowro’s wife brought a number of her husband’s sculptures to Zegadłowicz, who lived nearby. The poet was fascinated with the works, which were also admired in his circle, and as such Wowro became popular and highly regarded. It was definite overstatement in the inter-war period, however, when Wowro was regarded as Poland’s greatest sculptor and raised to the ranks of Veit Stoss and Dunikowski.

The woodcuts themselves may seem surprising. Wowro was not convinced by them, and he was not interested in this form of art, although before he became acquainted with Zegadłowicz he had made a few “stamps”, wood blocks which he then printed on paper and sold at fairs in various towns. Zegadłowicz himself writes about this, explaining that Wowro’s travels from town to town earned him the moniker of the “Beskid Roamer”. However, these “stamps” were not the favoured works of Wowro, who said that they confine him and that they are “too shallow”. So why did he take up woodcutting again? The answer to this question is found in the friendship between the sculptor and the poet – Emil Zegadłowicz. It was he who persuaded Wowro to take up woodcutting, going so far as to bring him the right kind of wooden boards from Kraków. Wowro was persuaded, but he said that “I did not do it on my own will, but for Mr. Zegadłowicz.”  In this way, the extraordinary art of Wowro became supplemented with woodcuts. Straightforward, schematic, as if made by a child’s hand, yet simultaneously magical, full of depth and faith. It is impossible to give in to their beauty. In total, Wowro made twenty woodcutting blocks – it is interesting to note that he made five for Elma Pratt, the director of the International School of Art in New York, where in the 1930s there was an exhibition of Wowro’s work. Nothing certain can be said about the remaining woodblocks. During World War II, the works of the sculptor which were part of the collection of Zegadłowicz were stolen and dispersed. We currently know that some of the blocks are in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum, with some paper prints also found in MEK. It is worth taking a look at the works close up, and thanks to them see the extraordinary artist who was Jędrzej Wowro.

Anna Woźny