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Oleksa Rudenko, an artist of heraldry
Oleksa Rudenko is an artist who specializes in heraldry, insignia and coats of arms. He also takes part in staging re-enactments of battles and makes faithful replicas of the period uniforms and headgear.
Mr Rudenko was interviewed for Welcome to Ukraine Magazine by Mariya VLAD.
MrRudenko, I know that one of your art projects was stolen. Is it true?
I’m not sure the word “stolen” quite applies here, but yes, after I submitted one of my art projects, which had taken us a lot of time to develop, to those who had commissioned it, it was approved and then it was patented without me being informed about it. Later, I learned that instead of one author, that is me, the project had several of them with me being at the bottom of the list. It was not the first time a similar thing happened to me. Besides, it happens to many people. You see, there is no clear-cut law in this country that would protect the intellectual property in the sphere of heraldry… In general, I find there has been a considerable devaluation of the concept of honesty in our society.
I can see a lot of curious things in your apartment. One of them is that very unusually looking hat over there.
It’s my reconstruction of a seventeenth-century Cossack hat. It’s made of sable fur. And over there you can see two hats of the early nineteenth century. Such hats were worn by soldiers in the Napoleon army. My stepson and I wear them during battle re-enactments.
Yes, we participate in staged reconstructions of major battle of the Napoleonic wars that were fought in the territory of the then Russian Empire. The military outfits are created as exact replicas of the real things — every little detail is faithfully represented.
The interviewee points to a hat, among other items, displayed on the shelves in Rudenko’s apartment.
Was that a hat of a foot soldier?
Not quite — such hats were worn by standard-bearers. The other thing that you point to is a Cossack hat. I was wearing it during a recent re-enactment of a battle that was staged in the town of Kamyanets-Podilsky. Of course, it’s not only the hat that is made as a faithful replica of the original but the whole outfit, to the very last button, the weapons, everything, even a leather purse for money.
Are those battle re-enactments just fun? Both for the participants and for the watchers?
Yes, you can call it a great “fun” but there’s much more to it than diversion or entertainment. I find that knowledge of history among the general public in this country is hardly more than rudimentary, and lack of historical knowledge is a dangerous thing. How can one be a true patriot of one’s country without knowing historical facts? Culture is more than traditional dances or wearing traditional dress. And battle re-enactments are one of the ways of making people aware of their history.
(Mr Rudenko’s involvement with Ukrainian history takes various forms — he reconstructs works of art, coats of arms, symbols and other important reminders of the past).
Judging by what I’ve already seen — and I know it’s only a little part of what you have created — you must be working day and night, non-stop.
Well, not exactly day and night, but I do work a lot. Much time is taken by historical research that I conduct before I get down to work. Besides, I’m also commissioned to do some work for private individuals who want to have their own blazons. Sometimes people request quite ridiculous things. Once, an MP wanted me to paint a coat of arms for him, which would include some elements taken from the coats of arms of the Russian Romanov tsarist dynasty, the Polish Potocky noble family and something else. I asked the customer whether he was a scion of these noble families but he admitted that he hailed form a small village in the middle of nowhere and that among his ancestors were only peasants…
To change the subject if I may — do you remember when your interest in art and drawing began?
No, I don’t remember that. But my father told me that when I was two and a half years old, I had seen a flower bed being watered by a sprinkler and then I tried to capture the scene on paper with colored pencils. My father was an artist too. He worked in graphics and was happy to see his son to start drawing. My mother, a literary critic, was no less excited at this demonstration of her son’s potential talent. I remember that when I was six, I copied a picture which depicted the crossing of the Alps by the Russian army in the eighteenth century — I was fascinated by the banners, standards, uniforms and I reproduced them faithfully — or so I thought.
It seems you had a happy childhood.
I did. Ours was a closely-knit family, friendly and supporting. My parents loved each other and lived in harmony. My grandmother called me “the apple of her eye.” In fact, it was she who insisted on putting me in an art school. I was accepted into the fifth grade of art school mostly thanks to her efforts. Strange as it may seem, my parents did not support that choice too much — they wanted me to be a historian. They were aware of my great interest in history, war history in particular.
Did you continue your education at an art college?
I did, but the first time I applied for admission I failed at the entrance exams. I suspect there was some foul play involved — I openly and publicly criticized someone’s art work and that someone turned out to be a relative of the college president. I was drafted into the army but it was a strange kind of military service — I was assigned to the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense and part of my duties was tending pigs at an animal farm that belonged to the Ministry. Later, the sergeant of the unit I was in, discovered my artistic talent and I was not mistreated the way I used to be. I even did some tattoos for fellow soldiers, and on the sergeant’s shoulder I tattooed Spartacus, a rebellious Roman slave. Later, I came to the conclusion that the service in the army was an experience worth having. It taught me a lot. Among other things, I had to write all kinds of signs and announcements, draw pictures for wall papers, and do other similar things, and it proved to be a good training, useful for my future art studies and work.
But eventually you did become a student of the Kyiv Art Institute, didn’t you?
I did. I specialized in graphics and for my graduation work I chose to do design and illustrations for the Ilyustrovana istoriya Ukrayiny (Illustrated History of Ukraine) by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, prominent Ukrainian historian of the early twentieth century and, incidentally, the first Ukrainian president.
Mr Rudenko, what or who is your main source of inspiration?
I have my Muse — my wife Olena. She supported me at the time when things were not going too well for me, never losing faith in me. We have two wonderful children, a son and a daughter. I think we are a good family. My daughter Myroslava is a musician with an interest in languages. We share this interest… Incidentally, we had our ears pierced for wearing earrings at the same time. She was a little girl then. She had both ears pierced, and I only the left one. And since then I’ve been wearing a gold earring.
Does it have any significance or is it just a decoration?
It does have a significance. Ukrainian Cossacks used to wear such earrings, and the French soldiers in the armies of Napoleon also wore silver earrings in their left ears. I’m allergic to silver so my earring is made of gold.
Among Oleksa Rudenko’s major works are the calendar Ukrainian Heraldry printed in the USA in 1992; designs for medals and other official awards of Ukraine; emblems, symbols, coats of arms and banners of state bodies and cities (these were created by a group of artists with Rudenko in charge), presidential emblems and insignia which were used at the inauguration ceremonies in 1999 and in 2005.
Oleksa Rudenko, 40, is a member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, he is a recipient of the honorary title of Zasluzheny khudozhnyk Ukrayiny (Merited Artist of Ukraine); the design of the badge that goes with the title was created by Rudenko himself.
Photos are from Oleksiy Rudenko’s archive
Regalia of the Kyiv City Mayor.
The Order of Princess Olga.
The Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
Official emblems of power of the President of Ukraine.
Oleksa Rudenko in the guise of the standard bearer
Reconstruction of the emblems of the Habsburgs
A badge of the Security Service of Ukraine.