Creativity
The Tiny Polish Village Filled with Flower-Painted Cottages
Photo by Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Photo by Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

You won’t easily happen upon Zalipie, a tiny hamlet in the Polish countryside located within a patchwork of farms. But find yourself there, and you’ll experience the pleasant sensation of being transported into the pages of a fairytale.

The village, nestled some 60 miles northeast of Kraków, has become known for its unique homes: small, slanted structures, covered door-to-roof, dog house-to-chicken coop, in ecstatic paintings of flowers.

Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr.

Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr.

One abandoned farmhouse, for instance, boasts painted arrangements of blooms resembling peonies, daisies, and bluebells on every corner of its façade—shoehorned between windows, doors, and a sloping roof garnished with moss. Elsewhere, a barn becomes a canvas for a mural of birds cavorting in a landscape of giant daisies; the painting extends to a nearby tree, whose trunk exhibits the largest flower of the bunch. Even the town church is decorated with painted garlands that explode with deep red, hot pink, and sea-blue blossoms of all shapes and sizes.

According to the literature at Dom Malarek, Zalipie’s folk art museum, the town-wide tradition began as early as the late 1800s. Back then, the village’s homes weren’t equipped with chimneys—a trait that left most interiors coated in soot. In response, the women of Zalipie fashioned brushes from birch and willow sticks—which they splintered at the end to resemble horsehair bristles—and began to brighten their homes by covering the stains with white circles, made from a concoction of lime, milk, and eggs.

Photo by mksfca via Flickr.

Photo by mksfca via Flickr.

Soon, they began to use color in their DIY paint, and added horsehair to the tips of their brushes. Browns were created by folding clay and charcoal into the lime compound, blues by adding ultramarine. A more kaleidoscopic palette began to emerge in the 1940s, when powder pigments became available in the area.

In step, the white dots transformed into lupines, roses, lilies, and peonies, the likes of which could be seen in the fields surrounding Zalipie. They were found across other forms of Polish folk art, too, from painted Easter eggs (pisanki) to elaborate cut-paper artworks (wycinanki).

Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr.

Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr.

Before long, Zalipie became known throughout the region for the colorful paintings that were fanning out across its cottages’ façades. Word spread about one artist in particular, Felicja Curyłowa, who coated her entire homestead with elaborate tangles of bouquets and garlands, sometimes flanked by fawns and birds.

Curyłowa was born in 1904, and by the time she was 10 years old, she had already added her first painting to her family home. The ceiling fresco, crafted from lime and soot, marked the beginning of a series of compositions that festooned the walls, furniture, oven, and even plates. When she had filled the interior, she moved to the façade, adorning it with sprays of abundant roses and peonies, and then to the dog house, the chicken coop, and the well.

Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr.

Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr.


Her paintbrush made its way beyond Zalipie’s borders, too—into Kraków, where she decorated the famed Wierzynek restaurant; the luxury cruise ship, the Batory; and a china set produced by the Włocławek company. But her crowning achievement remains her home, where she lived and worked throughout her life, and the little houses scattered throughout Zalipie that are similarly adorned.

Today, the town celebrates the tradition each year through the Malowana Chata (Painted Cottage) competition. To enter, the residents must add new frescoes to their homes. So, happen upon the little Polish town in June, when the festival takes place, and you might just see the artists of Zalipie with brushes in hand, preserving the age-old art form—and ferrying it into the 21st century in the process.



Correction:

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Krakow is the capital of Poland. The capital of Poland is Warsaw.

Alexxa Gotthardt is a Staff Writer at Artsy.