We remember. It was more than 190 years ago today, on March 9,
1814, that Shevchenko was born a serf. But his artistic talent,
with the help of compassionate friends, won him his freedom in 1838
and by his genius, both in art and literature, he rose to the highest
level of society in the Russian Empire.
The Shevchenko Museum has a fascinating collection of paintings,
etchings, illustrations, posters and colorful artifacts of Ukrainian
and Ukrainian Canadian cultural life. Perhaps the single most valuable
item on exhibit in the Museum is the death mask of Shevchenko made
on March 10, 1861 in St. Petersburg which survived a fire that destroyed
the original Shevchenko Museum in the Shevchenko Memorial Park,
North Oakville, Ontario.
But this Shevchenko Museum also possesses a hidden treasure of
considerable value. This is a special collection of about 1,200
books and pamphlets of Shevchenkiana which is a remarkable research
resource in my estimation as a professional librarian. These books
provide much material on the life and works of Shevchenko. One surprising
fact is that in the Shevchenko Research Collection of the Museum
there are some 120 different editions of the Kobzar, Shevchenko's
collected poetical and sometimes prose works.
Shevchenko's first Kobzar, consisting of eight poems, was published
in 1840 in St. Petersburg. Although our collection does not have
the first edition, it does have excellent facsimile copies. It is
of interest that the very first edition had a work of art as a frontispiece.
This was an etching of a Kobzar, or minstrel, playing a bandura*,
with a boy and a dog by his side. In reviewing our collection of
Kobzars I was struck by this surprising fact.
Ever since that first edition artists have often been inspired
to illustrate Shevchenko's poetic word. Many of the finest artists
of Ukraine such as O. Slastion, I. Izhakevich, V. Kasian, V. Kutkin,
M. Derehus and Vasyl Lopata have illustrated the Kobzar. They have
made these books a microcosm of the beauty of the Ukrainian word,
the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture by their decoration
and illustrations of Shevchenko's poetry. Shevchenko's works certainly
seem to have attracted a more artistic dimension as books than,
for example, those of William Shakespeare or Robert Burns.
Among the titles in the collection are the volume Kobzar-Haidamaky*
(St. Petersburg 1886) illustrated by Slastion; the first Kobzar
published in Canada by Prosvita in Winnipeg, 1918. We have the centennial
Ukrainian Canadian tribute celebrating the birth of Shevchenko published
in Winnipeg in 1914. There is a Kobzar from St. Petersburg 1896
and one from Kiev, 1899, by Kyivska Starina*, as well as the famous
Simovych Kobzar of 1921 with its valuable notes. A recent book on
Ira Aldridge, the famous American black Shakespearean tragedian,
who was a friend of Shevchenko and the subject of one of his portraits
has been added recently.
The Library also has some Shevchenkiana in English, although the
collection is far from complete. The Library needs to start the
systematic acquisition of these books since this material is so
important in confirming the world significance of his poetry and
his life, which makes accessible to the world the spirit and works
of a great world poet. To this should be added analyticals of chapters
in books for the catalogue. We should acquire copies of English
books not in our collection or obtain photocopies. The 52 books
I listed in my article Shevchenko Books in English 1911-1988 (Forum
no. 77, Spring 1989, p. 78-81) provides many of the basic titles
we need to acquire.
These few examples indicate the unique value of this collection
of Shevchenko books and pamphlets which includes valuable research
materials. This is a source of extensive reference material which
will be a valuable library once it is catalogued on the computer,
classified and organized. In order to fully serve researchers and
university students it will be necessary for the Shevchenko Library
to collect photocopies of journal, magazine and newspaper articles
on Shevchenko in English.
The museum should also consider collecting Shevchenko ephemera
such as program books and posters of Shevchenko concerts. All of
these, when brought together, will represent a unique collection
of value to the museum, to scholarship and education and fulfill
our responsibility to pass on to further generations our beautiful
By Andrew Gregorovich
Ukrainian Librarians Association of Canada
Ukrainian Canadian Research Foundation
* Bandura - a stringed Ukrainian folk musical instrument
* Haidamaky - 18th century Ukrainian peasant's struggle against serfdom
* Kyivska Starina - Kyiv publishing house of old literature.