Tough questions – simple answers
To ask is no sin – thanks to the answers to the following questions you’ll find your way through woodcutting.
1. WHAT IS A WOODCUT?
A woodcut is a graphic technique which consists of printing a design onto paper thanks to a block template. The end result made using this technique is also called a woodcut.
2. HOW ARE WOODCUTS CREATED?
There are three stages in creating a woodcut: the drawing of an image onto a woodblock, cutting it out and then printing it onto paper.
3. WHAT ARE THE BASIC TYPES OF WOODCUTS?
Woodcuts, due to the methods used to cut the block from a tree trunk, can be separated into lengthwise – cut along the wood grain – or crosswise, against the grain. Folk woodcuts belong to the lengthwise group of prints.
4. WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT WOODCUT BLOCKS?
The making of a woodcut block was the hardest challenge facing a woodcut printer. A clear image would have to be drawn on a flat and smooth piece of wood, and then it would have to be cut in such a way that the raised elements are reflected on a paper print. Folk woodcuts were made from cutting along the wood grain of linden, pear, oak, apple, or walnut trees. Sometimes images would be carved out on both sides of a block. Knives and chisels would be used for the wood carving itself.
5. WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT THE PRINT?
If the lines of the image on the black would be left raised, then after printing the template on paper a black image would be left with a white background. If the raised element comprised the background to the image, then a tonal woodcut would be produced, with a white image on a black background. Folk woodcut artists would make their prints manually, most commonly placing the paper on the woodblock primed with paint, and then pressing down with their hands or rubbing it with a cloth. Sometimes a print would be further coloured by the printmaker.
6. WHAT DID FOLK WOODCUTS SHOW?
The woodcuts most commonly depict images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, as well as patron saints. Secular folk woodcuts are very rare. It is also worth mentioning the coltrina – woodcuts displaying flowers or animals.
7. WHAT WOULD WOODCUTS BE USED FOR?
Woodcuts would be sued by rural village dwellers for religious purposes, as well as for decorating the interiors of their abodes. They would be stuck directly onto the wall or placed in simple frames. They would also be placed into the inner lid of chests and in other farm buildings so that the holy figures would protect property. They could also be found in wayside chapels, as well as in Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Smaller prints would be inserted into prayer books and into the edges of picture frames.
8. WHERE WERE THE CENTRES OF WOODCUT PRINTMAKING?
Folk woodcuts were abundant across the entirety of Poland. It is established that they were made in Płazów near Lubaczów, in Bobrek near Chrzanów, as well as in centres of pilgrimage (Częstochowa, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Leżajsk, and Tursk). Unfortunately we still don’t know much about the woodcut printers themselves.
9. WHERE COULD YOU BUY A WOODCUT PRINT?
Woodcut prints could be bought at markets, fairs and indulgences in centres of pilgrimage, or from travelling salesmen. Sometimes the printers themselves would go on the road after making a large collection of prints, or they would travel with their blocks, paper, and paints to make them ‘on the spot’.
10. ARE THE FOLK WOODCUT ARTISTS KNOWN?
Folk woodcuts are for the most part never signed, and only a few were marked with initials, hence it is difficult to identify the authors of the prints. There are only a few well-known surnames of printmakers. In Płazów near Lubaczów, there are the Kostryckis – Maciej the father and Maciej the son; in Bobrek near Chrzanów, Wojciech Bryndza as well as an artist known simply as Sagan (Sagański) made prints.
11. WHAT IS THE OLDEST FOLK WOODCUT?
The oldest Polish woodcuts are from the beginning of the 18th century and have survived in the Lwów (Lviv) collection of the Pawlikowski family. These are ‘Saint Martin’ (1713), and the ‘Way of the Cross’ (1729), signed by Aleksander Ceglencki.
12. WHERE CAN FOLK WOODCUTS BE SEEN TODAY?
Not many folk woodcuts have survived until the present day. The most valuable collections of folk woodcuts may be found in the ethnographic museums in Kraków and Warsaw, in the Tatra Museum in Zakopane, as well as in other libraries and archives.
13. WHERE CAN I READ MORE INFORMATION ON FOLK WOODCUTS?
Ewa Fryś, Anna Iracka, and Marian Pokropek write on folk woodcuts in an interesting book entitled “Folk art in Poland” (“Sztuka ludowa w Polsce”, Warsaw 1988)