The Siberian Collection – A New Perspective

Izydor Sobański

1835–1906
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His initials appear on tags of a number of items currently in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. These objects are related to the culture of the Nenets and they primarily include elements of clothing, clothing which according to research is ritual clothing, used at weddings.

However, little is known about the donor itself. He was the son of Aleksander Uldaryk Sobański, one of the leaders of the November Uprising in Podolia. When, after the fall of the uprising, Aleksander Uldaryk was forced to flee from Poland, he bought the Swiss Kyburg castle where he settled down and where his two sons were born: Izydor, the one who is of interest to us, and his brother Aleksander. So Izydor’s first home was in Switzerland. We also know that after the death of his father, he moved with his mother, Melenia Uruska, to her ancestral estate in Łuczyńce in Podolia. It was there that Izydor first engaged in social and then clandestine activities. In 1863, the year of the January Uprising, he was arrested. As it seems, not for direct participation in the revolt but for supporting the insurgents. As Michał Sobański, one of his relatives who is alive today, says, Izydor Sobański’s court records were extensive, and consisted of as many as 3,000 pages. Enough for a conviction sending him to the Tobolsk Governorate. Izydor spent the time of the trial in prison in Kamieniec Podolski. How do we know that? In the collection of the Museum of Technology and Industry in Krakow, the one to which Izydor donated the Nenets clothing, there was also another item. It was a grey coat used by the prisoners of this fortress.

We do not know exactly how many years he spent in the Tobolsk Governorate and where exactly he was. In those days it was the most remote of the Russian provinces, reaching up to the shores of Icy Ocean. According to common practice of the day he may have been over the years gradually moved to some more liveable southern regions of the Governorate. But he might have also started serving the sentence in the far north. We also know that after about 10 years, he was transferred to the European Kostroma where he finished serving his exile sentence. We do not know what his stay in Siberia was like. He did not leave any notes; he did not keep a diary nor write anything about the people or the place where he had lived. We know, however, that he had come into contact with the indigenous people, then called the Samoyedic people. After many years, he donated clothes belonging to these people to the museum. Very personal items of clothing. The story on our website, Girl of the North Country is about it.

It seems that at first he was planning to spend his life after his release in Switzerland at Kefikon castle which he had he bought. Was he trying to follow in his father's footsteps? Was buying a castle in Switzerland a family tradition? Anyway, we know that in 1888 he sold this property, and then settled down in Odessa where he died in 1906. Before his death, he managed to make a donation of 150,000 krona to the Jagiellonian University. He also donated the items mentioned above to the Museum of Technology and Industry.  
That's all we know about Izydor Sobański. We also have two photos of him. One shows a young man, quite romantic looking, straddling a plush stool. In the second photograph, he is a thin grey-haired man with sunken cheeks. He is standing with a group of younger people, taller and more energetic than him, dressed in summer clothes of the Art Nouveau period.