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Embroider who was born in Russia to become a master embroiderer in the traditional Ukrainian style
Yevheniya Shudrya, for whom embroidery has always been a hobby, can be called “a master embroiderer.” Her needle work is amazing in its technique, scope and ingenuity. She was interviewed by Oksana SYDORENKO from Welcome to Ukraine Magazine.
Mrs Shudrya, as far as I know, you were educated to be an engineer; you spent your early years in Russia — can you explain how it happened that you became so interested in Ukrainian traditional embroidery?
I lived in the city of Tambov and really did not know anything about traditional Ukrainian folk art or embroidery, but there was a Ukrainian family that lived next door. I heard them talk Ukrainian, I saw the embroideries they did — and I was fascinated. At school I sang in a choir, attended dance classes and did embroideries. After I moved to Kyiv, I first went to study at a food industry college but then dropped out and went to study at the Polytechnic. My major, as it was called back in 1970, was “electronic computing machines.” In 1970 I graduated and worked at research centres. And then, about thirty years ago, I remembered my school-time fascination with needlework and in my free time I began doing some embroidery. Gradually, I got involved so much in it that it became much more than just a hobby.
Do you remember your first embroideries?
Of course, I do! When I was a forth-grader I attended an embroidery hobby centre and learnt to do embroideries in various techniques and use different types of stitches. My first big embroidery showed strawberries and my mother said it was so good and vivid that it should be hung on the wall. Later, I attended a concert which was given by a Ukrainian dance and song ensemble that came on a tour to Tambov. I liked not only the songs and dances but the performers’ embroidered dresses. Still later, I saw a rug embroidered in a Ukrainian style with flowers against the black background and I borrowed the pattern for my own embroidery.
You said embroidery became more than just a hobby. When did you find time for it?
In summer, I did some embroidery before work, very early in the morning, in other seasons — whenever I had some free time – when my children were away, visiting with their grandparents, or when I was sick and did not have to go to work.
You seem to prefer your embroideries to be of a large size, with lots of flowers in them. Such work must take a lot of time!
It does take a lot of time. Some of my embroideries took months to finish. I tried to do my embroidery only when I felt inspired, without forcing myself. Also, in the soviet times, not always could I find thread of colour and quality that I wanted. I created several carpet-size large pieces, two really very large ones, but altogether about three dozens of them. Some of Mariya Pryimachenko’s works were my inspiration.
Where did you keep your embroideries? Did you sell them?
No, I did not sell them at first. I kept them at home and gave them as presents to my friends. Once, when I went to the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine to look up books with pictures and prints, which I could use for my work, I showed the librarian a photograph of my tapestry which I called “Hetman.” The librarian was so impressed that offered to try to organize an exhibition of my works in that library. She did manage to do it and I chose to show twelve of my embroideries. They were on display for several days in May 1996. Many of the readers, who came to the library and saw my embroideries, liked them so much they brought in journalists to have a look and write articles about the exhibition. In fact, there were quite a few such articles written. My exhibition did make a splash. Among the journalists I talked to was Mykola Shudrya who later became my second husband. The Union of Artists of Ukraine also got interested and I was awarded the title of “A Master of Decorative and Applied Art.”
A year later, I showed my art at Benefis Theatre Centre in Kyiv, and still later my works were shown at several museums of Kyiv. When I went to Tambov to visit my mother there, I had some of my works shown at the local picture gallery, and they got a good press.
In 1997 my works were shown at the exhibition of folk art Rizdvyany salon-97 which was held at the Budynok Khudozhnykiv (House of Artists) in Kyiv. At that exhibition I could compare my works with other works, which included those from the ancient times up to the present, and they were from many parts of Ukraine too, and I saw that I had to change something in my art, to find new ways of expression. I realized then that I would hardly be able to do it and I laid down my needle. But I picked up another hobby — I began to do some research into Ukrainian traditional embroidery, into Ukrainian ethnographers and folk artists. I spent a lot of time in libraries and archives, and talked to people who provided some information I was interested in, and as a result I wrote three books of biographical essays, two of which have already been published.
The first book contained essays about twenty-one Ukrainian ethnographers and traditional culture researchers of the past and of the present-day too.
The second book was made up of essays that presented short biographies of the best known Ukrainian women embroiderers, reproductions of whose works could be found in some other publications.
The third book will be devoted to connoisseurs and researchers of Ukrainian crafts and applied and decorative arts. Some of these researchers studied such things as designs and patterns and ornamentation of Ukrainian traditional folk art, something that nobody else did.
Some of the people who appear on the pages of my books died in soviet concentration camps; some immigrated to foreign countries but made worthy contributions to Ukrainian studies.
In the soviet times, a great many Ukrainian professional and folk artists, writers, ethnographers, and Ukrainian culture researchers were arrested for “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism,” executed or sent to concentration camps where they disappeared, often without trace, and it was difficult to find any information about them in the archives. I traced relatives and friends of some of them, or those who had some information about them and all these people were of great help in my research. Probably, the most difficult thing was to find their portraits but I did discover quite a few. Vasyl Perevalsky, an artist, was particularly helpful — he drew some of the portraits using old and damaged photographs. But unfortunately, in some cases, I failed to find any portraits or photographs.
When will the third book be published?
The manuscript is now being edited by Mykhailo Selivachov, Ph.D. in art criticism and history, but there is not enough money to pay for the publication. Some financing was promised by the Trokhymenko Science Society but it’s only a small part of what we actually need. I hope some sponsors will turn up — maybe even some of the readers of your magazine will get interested and will help. Without proper financing my book will not be published. I can say that the book may be of interest to art historians and researchers of Ukrainian traditional culture.
Any plans for the future?
I would like to put all the biographical materials that I have found into one book, adding whatever new information I will be able to find. I regard my work as my small contribution to maintaining traditions of Ukrainian culture.
Photos have been provided
by Yevheniya SHUDRYA.
To contact with Ms Shudrya
please phone + 380 (44) 289-6063