by Wislawa Kwiatkowska
Exhibit Date May 17 - September 8, 2005
In Praise of the Bogarodzica
Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of many friends, The Marian Library has the privilege and joy to present “Polish Madonnas in Art and Poetry,” an exhibit by the renowned Polish artist Wislawa Kwiatkowska.
There was a time when the cultural, religious, and artistic heritage of Poland was hidden behind the “iron curtain,” and unknown to most of us. Times have changed. The curtain came down. Valor and patient endurance of the Polish people prevailed thanks to a faith matured in trial and hardship. Back then, when the country was cut off from the free world, we intuitively knew that Poland was blessed with an extraordinary religious and artistic genius. We also knew about the marvelous love story between the Polish people and the Bogarodzica, the Polish “Mother of God.” It was John Paul II, the pope of the “Totus tuus,” who gave us an inkling of this enduring relationship of mutual affection.
Now, we are no longer riveted to glimpses and clues. Now we have a tangible proof, in word and image, of the riches of Polish faith and culture. The fifty paintings by Wislawa Kwiatkowska are more than isolated samples of Polish art and poetry. Wislawa Kwiatkowska’s art is a tribute to the Polish genius, marvelously gifted to bring into one the things of this world and the views of God and his saints. The paintings in this exhibit are overflowing with colorful mementos, idyllic and dramatic ones, of this sacred intermingling of two worlds. So, for example, a flower is more than a flower; it is the cape of the Virgin or the Madonna herself. Mother Mary worries about her child and, by the same token, she suffers with the Polish nation. There is no chasm between this world and the life to come. They are both filled to the brim with the vivid colors of the Polish character and daily life, and permeated with holy enthusiasm and gentle grace. Just as in Wislawa Kwiatkowska’s paintings there is no boundary between picture and frame, so there is no dichotomy in the Polish soul between reason and faith.
Art claims beauty. Beauty claims generosity. There is no true art without a generous commitment of the artist. And there are no exhibits without the help and generosity of those who are true lovers of art. This couldn’t have been more true for the “Polish Madonnas in Art and Poetry.” In this exhibit the love of the arts meets an even greater love: that of the Bogarodzica. We knew of and met a family who eagerly responded to this double appeal. True, they had done it before, over and over. The Glass family has been a pillar of the Polish parish and community—indeed the whole Dayton community—for many decades. The generosity of Marion Glass and his wife Irene has been well known. So has their personal commitment to social and religious endeavors, and their special affection for the Mother of God. Their love for all things Polish, for goodness and beauty, has crossed generations. Roger—the son of Marion and Irene—and his sisters Carol and Kathy have inherited the enthusiasm and generosity of their parents. It is thanks to the Glass family, in great part, that this exhibit was made possible. Thus, we would like to honor with these “Polish Madonnas” the memory of Irene Glass, beloved spouse and mother, devotee of Mary, and friend of all good causes.
Others, many others, have committed their enthusiasm, efforts, and talents to the success of this exhibit. I would like to mention in particular the Polish Heritage Foundation and its president, Ed Sypulski. Last but not least, and only to respect her noble and humble reserve, I would like to mention the role and importance of Mrs. Danuta Romanowska. Danuta has been the source of inspiration, the driving force, and the principal agent for the realization of this exhibit. Without her, nothing would have happened. She has been our Martha and Mary, in a most efficient and inspiring way. True, Danuta, too, has had her muse in the person of Carol McClennan whose wisdom and pen lent elegance and beauty to our common efforts. Ultimately, this exhibit is an artistic event in praise of the Bogarodzica. The praise we give to the Mother of God is not self-serving. Sacred art is true and beautiful if it evocates and gives praise to the transcendent mystery of God. May these “Polish Madonnas” open our eyes to the faith and culture of the Polish people. Most important, may they open a way to the heart of God.
Fr. Johann Roten, S.M.
The following comments on the Bogarodzica and Poland and Wislawa Kwiatkowska’s art are adaptations from the Polish. They are by the pen of Fr. Stefan Ceglowski, Director of the Diocesan Museum of Plock. They can be found in Madonny z Poezji Polskiej, along with the color reproductions of Kwiatkowska’s art. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the Diocesan Museum of Plock, to its director and collaborators for their untiring help and artistic advice.
The Bogarodzica and Poland
“Polish Madonnas in Art and Poetry” is a collection of fifty-four paintings by Wislawa Kwiatkowska from the Diocesan Museum in Plock, Poland. The inspiration for the paintings came from selected texts of Polish poetry. It is important to note that from the earliest beginnings of Polish literature to the present day, Polish poetry often is inspired by the Holy Mother. Indeed, one of the earliest examples of the written Polish language and the earliest extant document of Polish poetry is Bogarodzica (Mother of God). Dating back to the fifteenth century, this hymn illuminates the devotion of the Polish people to the Holy Mother and exemplifies the Polish understanding of Mary’s role as mediatrix. The hymn appeals to Mary to win favor for the people from her Son both in daily life and in battle. Sung by the knights in the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, Bogarodzica has become carmen patrium, (the hymn of the motherland), and has been a sign of Polish national identity through the centuries. It illustrates the Polish belief that human freedom and prosperity are connected to Mary’s intercession with her Son.
The verses of the modern Polish poets who inspired the paintings of Wieslawa Kwiatkowska likewise emphasize the presence and influence of Mary in Polish daily life. Mary is found in settings familiar to Poles — a garden of dill, a forest strewn with mushrooms, lush flower gardens, holy shrines, and sites that recall Poland’s tragic history; wherever Poles live and breathe, Mary is there with them, and her presence is commemorated in Polish poetry and painting. In fact, Mary is understood to be so intimately present in daily life that the poems — and the paintings — often reveal a folksy, humorous quality.
The Art of Wislawa Kwiatkowska
In the work of Mrs. Kwiatkowska, the influence of nineteenth century art can be detected, but it does not overpower her own unique style, which she developed through the years. She studied at the Academy of Art in Warsaw and in its Department of Art Preservation and Restoration.The world of her works is filled with imagination, decorum, fantasy, and fable, but her paintings are not without realism. Flowers, plants, and birds provide depth. She employs colors that are bold, bright, and crisp. A characteristic of her work is to join the picture, painted on canvas cloth, with the frame, which eliminates the distance between the work and the viewer. The pictures are painted in oil and measure 90 cm x 75 cm each.
Wislawa Kwiatkowska has also produced many pedagogical works for children, filled with drawings of butterflies, flowers, and animals. In addition, she illustrated the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery.
The artist, a great lover of classical music and good literature, is very modest and completely devoted to her work. Her paintings are in many museums and in private collections. A section of the Diocesan Museum in Plock has been named for Wislawa Kwiatkowska. She received the medal of “The Great Order of St. Sigmund,” an honor recognizing the contribution her paintings have made to the increase of devotion to the Holy Mother. Like the Polish poetry that inspired them, her paintings are a prayer that invites all who see them to enter a world permeated by the love of God and Mary, and to rejoice in the closeness of the Bogurodicza and her Son.
Polish Madonnas in Art and Poetry
Wislawa Kwiatkowska’s fifty paintings are listed, titled, and explained on the pages which follow. As mentioned, each of the paintings was inspired by the verses of a Polish poet. The poems were translated and summarized for English readers by Mrs. Danuta Romanowska. These inspirational texts introduce the explanation of each painting. They are followed by the name of the poet and his work. To facilitate a more adequate understanding of the Polish culture and customs expressed in these paintings, Mrs. Romanowski has provided the reader with an insightful and very helpful commentary for most of the artworks.
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