A story of Ukrainian artist Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit, a prominent photographer and folklorist
Photos by Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit documented entire generations of villagers’ lives in Hutsulshchyna, including birthdays, holidays, religious rites, and funerals. Her life story, as well as the story of her photographic and artistic archive, is fascinating. She is known as the ‘Homer of Hutsulshchyna’ because she wrote fairy tales and poems and created hand-made books, sculptures, ethnographic sketches, paintings, and graphics under the pseudonym Horytsvit (this is how the adonis plant is known to in Ukrainian). There are even icons among her works.
Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit (1927-1998) is a Hutsul artist, folklorist, ethnographer, philosopher, and photographer. She lived alone in the Carpathian village of Kryvorivnia and became a cultural symbol for both Kryvorivnia and the entire Hutsul region.
Her father, Stefan Plytka, was a well-known blacksmith and spoke multiple languages. Her mother, Anna, was a skilled weaver and embroiderer. Paraska only completed four years of school, but she was fluent in several languages thanks to her father.
In 1943, Paraska traveled to Germany by herself to attend university. Rather than study, she went to work for a German family, where she was humiliated. She returned to Kryvorivnia and joined the national liberation movement, under the nickname ‘Lastivka’ and assisted the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
Paraska was sent to a labor camp by Soviet authorities in 1945, when she was 18 years old, for gathering food and sewing clothes for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. For the artist, nearly ten years in prison served as a watershed moment, surviving frostbite and returning to her native Kryvorivnia.
In Kryvorivnia she was met with suspicion by the locals, who remembered her exile. Paraska avoided discussing life in the camps because she believed it would incite hatred and pain in the audience. She was initially active in public life, working as an artist in the forest industry, founding a choir, and engaging in folklore, writing, drawing, and photography.
Paraska led expeditions to the Carpathians in the 1970s to show the students the beauty and diversity of the mountains. As a sign of appreciation, a group of Kyiv students decided to give her a typewriter, which she used to produce her works.
Landscapes, church rites, village life, and portraits of fellow villagers were all photographed by the artist. Paraska’s works can be found in almost every home in Kryvorivnia because she distributed photos among people.
“A Gift to the Native Land” is a collection of works by Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit. It includes 46 large manuscripts and typewritten books with 500 pages each and dozens of small books with her illustrations and homemade covers.
Paraska was a gifted and meticulous photographer with a small circle of friends in the village. She never displayed her photographs and kept negatives and printed photos under her bed until the end of her life. Later, exactly there, under the bed, some of her works were found in a package labeled by the author as “bad photos, pale.” Paraska learned on her own how to take photos, develop and print them.
She has lived in poverty and infirmity in later years of her life, nearly losing her sight. She mostly lived on rusks and herbal teas from the Carpathians. Her place of eternal rest is her native village of Kryvorivnia. The Plytka-Horytsvit Public Museum was founded there in 2005.