In the center of “Anew” grows a tree, trunk broad and branches aswirl, around which we’ve spun a tale of springtime customs and ceremonies. Proud and unbowed, our spruce tree has here taken root once again, with the tree’s roots themselves underpinning the long-term development and (re)presentation of our permanent collection.
In the mythological order, spring is a time when life is regenerated out of the deadness of winter. The natural world, vigorously reanimated and having emerged transfigured out of fecund commotion, now needs to be promptly interpreted and explained so that it might be understood within a traditional framework of inherited lore, wisdom, and commonsense practical endeavor.
An examination of that framework, this exhibition—of regional artifacts dating from the tail end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century—traces the contemporaneous development of scholarly interest in Polish folk customs, and the parallel creation of the first public ethnographic collections, at a time when springtime rituals demonstrated a distinct melding of Christian elements and motifs tied to Easter, and those derived from a mythical, pre-Christian conception of the world.
Attesting to the enduring relevance and resonance of springtime rites, the “Anew” exhibition is a spirited weave of artifacts and primary source documentation showcasing:
springtime caroling characters in whom we find preserved the tradition of groups of costumed boys visiting homes on “Wet Monday,” their visits meant to ensure a bright future through the ritual dousing of homeowners with water, as well as the exchange of ceremonial gestures, best wishes, and small gifts such as eggs;
a selection of some 300 Easter eggs, drawn from our extensive collection of more than 8,000, illustrating the diversity of decorative patterns and motifs to be found on these eggs, and the broad array of techniques used to execute a design upon eggshell;
Easter palms, some nearly a century old, which in their artful simplicity recall the custom of assembling such palms from hydrophilous plants symbolic of new life and a cyclical reawakening;
and a panoply of souvenir figurines and axes, whistles and bells, such as once stocked the stalls at the Emaus and Rękawka festivals, in the direction of which we now head as we join the residents of long-ago Krakow on their first jaunt of the springtime holiday season.