Cossack Cycle in the Ceramics of Sevruk

SHE TURNED TO THE HISTORY of the Cossacks after a large cycle of work dedicated to the heathen gods of Kiev Rus. She was not interested in the gods themselves, but the heathen gods had one attractive feature. They were created by the people according to their own image and likeness. Nothing remained from these heathen gods but a legend. Not one person of our contemporaries knows, in reality, what the gods looked like in ancient times. The few idols that were discovered by archaeologists cannot give us an exact and vivid picture of the entire Slavic pagan mythology. But we do know that they were gay and earthy, as was the nature which surrounded the people.

Our ancient ancestors used clay and wood for art objects. Mainly it was clay. Then, many centuries later, the contemporary ceramic specialist, Halyna Sevruk turned to the heathen era. She works with clay and is reviving the images of these gods.

For several years she studied pagan mythology and legends. She had asound and extensive knowledge of ancient epochs and became truly carried away by ancient history and this brought with it a conception of one's country and a love for it, a loyalty to the selected path‹a loyalty to the study of one's country.

When she completed her pagan cycle, she continued the topic of her country and Ukrainian homeland in the Cossack cycle.

What attracted her attention to the Zaporozhian Sich, the Cossack fortress of Ukraine?

"It was the freedom of the free," said Halyna Sevruk. "It was the fight ofthe national spirit, the common struggle in which man was talented and good, courageous and loyal. I found a great amount of common human topics in this period‹ psychological, philosophic, social and moral. This tome was a unique 'golden source.' I was able to secure information from ancient songs and legends on Cossack themes which didn't simply awaken the imagination but made me deeply understand the world of mankind."

HER CREATIVE CYCLE "the Cossacks" also continued for several years. Here,of course, we cannot help but mention the inevitable searches and discoveries which exist in the life of every true artist. Several years can be considered such a period of time when inevitable changes come about in one's style, the artist rejects much of the earlier and arrives atsomething new and unexpected.

The creative cycle "the Cossacks' came to Halyna Sevruk exactly at a surprisingly interesting creative turning point in her style. Her earlier works were executed in graphics, but these were drawings in clay, soft and Iyrical, with delicate poetry, with a limited range of color in one work. These new items, created by Halyna, were unrecognizable. No trace remained from her former light drawing. There also remained no trace ofcolor range. She began to intersperse the clay with glass and metal, the entire remaining tone was one single discovery. She began to have a propensity for brown and gray colors. The color brought forth a feeling of strength and firmness.

I believe, that besides other factors, the change in style came about exactly when she was working on the Cossack cycle, because it was impossible to mould the Cossacks in any other way. If she had tried towork in her usual style, discord would have appeared between the idea and form of fulfillment.

I cannot tell you about the whole cycle, but I will mention several of the works.

"Cossacks in a Chayka." The Chaykas (pronounced chy-ka) were light boats with many oars, in which the Cossacks set out to free slaves and prisoners of war. They made these boats themselves, and often equipped them with cannons. In these naval expeditions the Ukrainian Cossacks freed their comrades from Turkish and Tatar prisons and returned them to the Sich.

"Cossacks in a Chayka" is a small work according to size and is executed in a brown tone. But when you view it hanging on the wall for several minutes, you seem to wonder why it hasn't moved in relation to the surface. Sevruk found such an exact way of conveying the boat's movement, the inclination of the rower's bodies, and even the expressionon their faces which are turned to the viewer.

TWO OTHER WORKS are "Cossack on Patrol" and "Cossack on Guard." The Cossack who is on guard, has one eye closed while the other is wide awake and vigilantly looking all around. This work is very human. There is nothing about, but you can feel the deep night and the lonely man, guarding the sleep of his comrades. His holy of holies is to guard them from the foe. The tired man, left alone with his thoughts, with his faith in freedom, his firm philosophy, is in reality two beings in one image.

The work "Cossack on Patrol" is similar to "Cossack on Guard," but the character of execution and depth, I believe, has far exceeded the latter. There is nothing unusual in the outward appearance of this work. A man is on horseback. True, the horse is exaggeratively small and the Cossack gigantic. He has stretched out his long neck and at this moment is looking into the distance with anxiety. Looking at him you realize that in their spiritual nature the Cossacks resembled Knights. And before us is truly a Knight.

"Adopted Brothers." Legends have been written about Cossack friendship. They gave themselves up and thus saved the lives of their adopted brothers. The adopted brother was dearer than one's own family, dearer than relatives. The spiritual togetherness was victorious over blood relations. Perhaps this friendship was as necessary as oxygen. Sevruk was amazed by this world of spiritual relations between people, the principles of loyalty among men.

THERE EXISTS AN EXTREMELY charming work entitled "Cossack in Hell." The picture portrays a Cossack smoking a pipe in no other place, but Hell. He is not afraid of anything. The great topic of courage is penetrated through with humor. In order to live such a life as did the Cossacks, a person had to believe and hold sacred the force of courage.

There also exists an interesting series of Cossack heroes.

"Baida Vyshnevetsky," first renowned Hetman of the Zaporozhian Sich. In the Sich nobody asked you where you were born, whether you were rich or poor, nor even your name. In time every Cossack received a name and the rest depended upon the man himself, his character, courage, noble nature and talent. Baida Vyshnevetsky became a Hetman and earned this post by the way he lived.

"Samiylo Kishka." Halyna Sevruk did a work entitled "Samiylo Kishka's Escape from Captivity." Kishka was a courageous Cossack chief of Ukraine.He never knew defeat, but once was taken prisoner and chained in a Turkish galley for 25 years. He escaped when he was an old man and was Hetman for several more years. He died a very old man and people composed a good song about him. "Escape" somehow reminds us of the Cossack boat. It might be its forcefulness, the same movement or may be even the expression of the faces. They convey neither fear, nor cruelty, nor grief. The inclination of the shoulder is barely visible, but you feel that this is the "remains" of a sharp backward turn, most likely a minute ago he glanced back to see if there was anyone in pursuit. Most likely there was no one, as his face reflects a feeling of peace.

"SlRKO" THIS IS PROBABLY the most impressive work. It is the largest work as to size. It is executed in the same red-brown tone. It portrays a simple face, full of life, struggle, with some doubt, strictness and grief. This Cossack chief was called Kharacternik, that is Scorcerer. Bullets never touched him, he never knew defeat, he was relentless when it concerned loyalty to the Ukrainian land.

An interesting legend about him has been preserved. Once he headed a campaign to the Crimea in order to free some women captives. He burst into the enemy's camp and took away the Ukrainian women. On their wayhome he saw that these young women were crying. They wanted to return. During their captivity they had become wives of Crimean Tatars. Then Sirko called the Cossacks and gave them what seemed to be a strange and cruel order to shoot these women.

"These women have nothing left of our country if they can cry for their Crimean homes," he said. (This legend usually is about Cossacks who in captivity have discarded Christianity for Islam - Editor)

What was going on in the soul of this man when he sent his Cossacks on such a mission? When you look into his face, moulded by Sevruk, you doubt this cruelty. Some higher and immovable understanding forces him to act insuch a way and no other. "Sirko" is one of the best works in the Cossackcycle.

Some of the work is distinguished by coloring. One of these is the "Rada (Council) of Cossacks." The picture portrays a group sitting in a tight circle. They are all equal, you cannot tell who is eldest and who is his junior. They are all holding council. There is no habitual humor in their features. No, these people are serious, good, and mainly very united.

The Cossack cycle is culminated by the work "Arrival of Bohdan Khmelnytsky with his Army in Kiev." In its execution, it reminds us of the "Council of Cossacks". The same light tone, the same colors and glaze. Only in the left top corner is there a small light boat. This is a reminder of earlier times and is also a unique oath of loyalty to those times.

Even after the Cossack cycle, the artist remained faithful. She is now studying the Ukrainian signs of the Zodiac. But that is another story.

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Copyright © 1974 Andrew Gregorovich

Reprinted from FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 24 1974
Published by the Ukrainian Fraternal Association
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Originally composed: Saturday November 1st, 1997.
Date last modified: Friday February 4th, 2000.