Eleonora Plutyńska created a remarkable atmosphere into her techniques and teaching of the intricacies of making fabrics, weaving and using natural dyes in her studio, ennobling this field of art. Her students saw her as a warm and devoted person, but also as a demanding teacher.
Living between 1886-1969, designer of kilims and of double-woven fabrics, ambassador for reviving forgotten weaving techinques and applying natural colourings.
Eleonora Plutyńska, "Janosik", double-warp textile, made by folk weavers from Janów (near Sokółka), 1956 (based on a design from 1936), collections of the Central Textiles Museum in Łódź, photo: Michał Korta
She was a person fascinated with the art of weaving, someone delving into its deepest secrets, a discoverer and promoter of forgotten techniques, and one of the most highly praised masters of the loom. She educated several generations of one-of-a-kind fabric artists, among them the group that graduated in the mid-1950s,(2) who were emotionally involved with this field of art and won numerous awards at exhibitions both domestic and international. They went on to create the phenomenon of the Polish one-of-a-kind fabric in the 1960s, also known as the Polish School of Fabrics. As she once wrote of her craft:
The two surfaces of the fabric interlock where the patterns are; they do not interlock in the ready-made material, but in its entire consistency, as it were. The threads of the warp rise in tiny indentations, rising and falling, only to emerge again from the background in the vertical thorns of some twigs. The crosswise weft – essentially moving horizontally – inclines ever further toward a hoop-shape. However, then it becomes distended with the threads of the other weft (the color of the background), which juts out "for a moment" at selected points of the "earth", marking a clump of "berries" or the mottled shape of an "animal", before immediately slipping back again.(1)
Plutyńska’s interests in fabrics began with kilim courses run by Józef Czajkowski, and later by Wojciech Jastrzębowski, and with meetings with Karol Tichy and Edward Trojanowski. These instructors demanded a knowledge of technique from the students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, i.e., that they wove, produced the materials, studied the structure of fabrics, composed designs in accordance with the fabrics’ future use, and knew how to overcome technical restrictions. They believed that only these considerations would lead these future artists to create original pieces, and that a trust in intuition would shape true personalities, allowing them to create a new aesthetic order. They were not mistaken – they educated the first generation of artists who were fascinated with decorative arts and who knew how to use a variety of materials – clay, wood, metal, and yarn – to produce objects both beautiful and useful. Plutyńska took up this mission both in teaching and in creating works, in which the agreement of the motif with the structure is most visible and where the fabric was drawn "with the finger on the strings," without a previously prepared design.
Józef Czajkowski, as Plutyńska recalled:
sometimes brought in pieces of bark, slabs of moss, different kinds of grass, or birds’ feathers to increase his students’ perceptions of nature. He called this the source of pure water. (...) He taught us to appreciate true and honest values. I recall meeting him in the corridor carrying "raspberry-crimson" colored balls of yarn. He was obviously moved as he told me: "This is real cochineal dye, you have to respect these treasures." He brought them into the studio as back-ups for the exercises he was doing. That moment awoke in me an understanding of the advantages of plant-based dyes. He initiated all the work that went on for many years in the dye room of the School of Fine Arts.
In his lectures on the compositions of bodies and surfaces, Wojciech Jastrzębowski taught construction of form, clarity of composition, and agreement of the design with the destination of the fabric.
Plutyńska’s first kilim, Little People (1925), displayed at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in Paris the same year, is an ambitious attempt to create a figurative kilim in which the human figures recall toys on a chessboard. The next fabric to bear the same title (1934) was made with double-warp technique, much like Janosik. The Flowers, Fawns and Squares kilims had more geometrical compositions, typical for the later Ład fabrics. From the very beginning, Plutyńska wove kilims without previously preparing a drawing. They stood out with their originality, appearing to go beyond the kilim’s technological restrictions. These complicated compositions came about directly on the loom, and the design could be corrected while weaving, either independently or through the weaver’s supervision. In subsequent versions the design proportions, legibility, and color schemes underwent changes. This meant that no two kilims were exactly alike, although Plutyńska sometimes returned to the same subjects. She always aimed to make creative use of the loom’s limitations.
Plutyńska not only brought back weaving technique, but above all, natural materials – hand-spun and naturally-dyed yarn. This striving for perfection of form, material, and execution, introduced by the artist into the academy weaving studio, heralded the statute called to life in 1926 by teachers of the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw and members of the Ład Artists’ Association, of which she was a co-founder. Ład kilims were woven with woolen yarn and linen brought from the countryside and dyed in the dye-works founded with Wanda Szczepanowska. This method of preparing yarn brought intriguing and not entirely predictable results – various levels of color saturation, tones and streaks, a softness of the lines, and a gentle and harmonious composition.
They generally used exotic dyes sold by merchants wandering across Poland, but these were expensive and hard to come across. They could also use domestic plants, e.g., meadow plants of indigo, the brown bark of the oak or the alder, the yellow of the reseda, the red of the madder, the goose-grass, or the Polish scleranth. Plutyńska compared the replication of folk dye methods and recipes to a laborious excavation, with the dyeing results often random anyway – they frequently depended on the variety and thickness of the wool and on its level of saturation with sheep fat. In the Ład dye-works Plutyńska and Szczepanowska also did experiments with chemical dyes, striving for shades like the weaves in Polesie and Wileńszczyzna.
Plutyńska's interest in the vanishing European folk textile techniques compelled her to search in the Eastern Borderlands in the 1920s and 1930s. Employed at the Association for the Support of Folk Industry Council, she began working in Stradecz with weavers of perebors and peretyks (linen textiles ornamented with a design handmade on a warp), and organizing their production and purchase through Bazary TPPL.
I headed for the countryside because I was stifled by the atmosphere of designing on graph paper. Thus began the most important work of my life. (…) My task was to adjudicate and oversee, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to salvage these perishing old skills from oblivion. (…) I found unspoiled ancient weaving, art of the highest class: the peretyks and perebors of Polesie. The old women had the skill – but because they lacked the right dyes and materials, the art was perishing. I brought it back to life. In place of the cotton they’d purchased I brought them my own, beautiful Polesia linen (...)."(3)
In 1934, in the vicinity of Sokółka and Grodno, by request of the Ethnography Wing of Vilnius University, Plutyńska reactivated centers weaving the Grodno-style carpets of double-warp wool fabrics with a simple weave and colors that blended on two planes – the background and the pattern. This type of fabric became the artist’s passion, and she designed her own compositions with this technique till the end of her life.
out of the ordinary
The wealth of double-warp fabric designs came from variations on traditional motifs and from new solutions Plutyńska invented, composed directly on the loom. Adolf Jaroszewicz’s family of Janów created most of those found among the latter group. Jaroszewicz brought out the "beasts" on his carpets "from his own imagination, which had already been taught a more free sense of the necessity of technique." Beasts was woven in black and white, with overly-thick woolen yarn. "[In] this first carpet numerous motifs were born and shaped that no weaver had ever before imagined. These motifs were the seed for more that ‘came from the head,’ without prior designs or drawings (…) During the work the composition develops a natural logic of layering, the motifs assort themselves transparently and join to make an orderly whole."(4) The restoration of this old technique, its modernization, and the beauty of the fabrics made by Plutyńska’s team was shown appreciation in 1938, with the award of the Gold Medal at the International Exhibition of Arts and Crafts in Berlin.
The war interrupted collaboration with weavers from the areas of Sokółka, Augustów and Białystok, but Plutyńska picked it up afterward, making her own fabrics with the double-warp technique as well. As Irena Huml writes:
It was, above all, the double-warp fabrics, to some degree related to the kilim in spite of essential technical and formal differences, that gave Plutyńska a full creative outlet. This relationship strove to build a composition on classical principles, like in the Eastern carpets, with a division between the border and the main subject, contained in the central rectangle. […] This structured system of working with geometrical shapes, simple figures with variants, generally situated vertically and horizontally, became her most typical form of expression in double-warp fabrics as well. Even the human or animal figures often take on the attributes of rhythmical, geometrical ornaments, as in the "Festival" or "Beasts" fabrics."(5)
Knights – Forest (1949), a densely filled design, draws from traditional compositions, but the subsequent ones – Festival (1955), Squares (1958), Turquoise Triangles (1960), Ruby Triangles (1961), Abracadabra (1962), Hocus Pocus (1962/1963), and Blue Shrubs (1964) – are fabrics with large, abstract, geometrical patterns. The layout of these square and triangular elements is still traditionally arranged in a central field distinguished from the border, but the design itself is very schematic and simplified, and conforms to the principles of modern aesthetics. The figurative compositions become geometrical and structured, and the final ones – Blue Horseshoes (1964) and Green Dusk (1964) – are entirely new, disarming works that defy the construction principles of double-warp fabrics.
In 1946 Plutyńska also began work at the Fabric Arts Wing of her alma mater, the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She postulated to streams of education – manual techniques, such as the kilim, sumak, double-warp or harness fabrics, and gradually, mechanized and increasingly complicated techniques, up to the jacquard. She thought it necessary to prepare students to work with industry. She and some Sokól weavers prepared a collection of double-warp fabrics. From 1968–1969 a series of decorative-motif patterns, drawing from the folk fabrics of the Janów region, and designed for industrially-produced fabrics, were made under her supervision at the Industrial Design Institute.
Staying true to her ideals of honest artistic statements, she thought her ideas could be realized by using unspoiled folk art that directly drew, in turn, from beauty and the forms found in nature. The results of the collaboration between educated artists and "creative partners" – the village weavers – was to her mind the most interesting form. In one of her letters she wrote: "We don’t seek our motifs from the carpets of the East. But we try to derive from them the laws that are shared by all art the world round. If you start with the same laws and premises, come what may, you achieve similar results. They aren’t folk or oriental – they’re good or bad".
Eleonora Plutyńska (1886–1969) created double-warped kilims and fabrics, promoted the restoration of forgotten weaving techniques and the use of natural dyes. She was also the author of many publications devoted to fabric and folk arts. She graduated from the Académie de la Grand Chaumière in Paris, studying painting with Olga Boznańska (1910-1912), graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, studying fabrics with Professor Karol Tichy (1934); and she was a member of the Ład Artists’ Cooperative. From 1934-1939 she worked to develop folk fabrics in the Eastern borderlands. She organized the production and purchase of linen, the dyeing of yarn, and the production of linen and woolen fabrics. She tracked down weavers who used forgotten double-warp weaving techniques, encouraged them to resume work, and restored old dye recipes. After the Second World War, she reactivated double-weave fabric centers. From 1946-1961 she taught weaving at the Fabric Arts Wing of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She wrote many publications on kilims, dyeing, double-warp fabrics, and issues involving folk art.
Author: Anna Demska
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.
For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl
(1) E.Plutyńska, Podwójne tkaniny – "dywany" ziemi białostockiej i sokólskiej, "Problemy" 1950, no. 5, p. 306
(2) Including: Hanna Czajkowska, Krystyna Wojtyna-Drouet, Barbara Falkowska, Alicja Francman, Maria Chojnacka-Gontarska, Barbara Latocha, Jolanta Owidzka, Daromiła Przeorska, Teresa Reklewska, Agnieszka Ruszczyńska-Szafrańska, Danuta Eymont-Szarras.
(3) E. Plutyńska, Życiorys, undated typescript, Archive of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
(4) E. Plutyńska, O starych podwójnych tkaninach Sokółki, Augustowa i Białegostoku i o podwójnych tkaninach współczesnych [in:] Tkanina polska, ed. K. Piwocki, Warsaw 1959, p. 60.
(5) I. Huml, Eleonora Plutyńska, "Projekt" 1967, no. 3(59), p. 17.