by Myrna Zanetell
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Trip to Poland yields art for International Museum exhibit
A Glimpse of Poland,’ which shows April 8-26 at the International Museum of Art, 1211 Montana, is an exciting exhibition of paintings by Krystyna Robbins that takes viewers on a visual tour of the prolific artist’s ancestral Polish homeland. The paintings in the exhibition were inspired by a month-long journey traveling Poland from border to border that Krystyna and her husband, John, undertook last August.
Seeds were planted nearly a year ago for a dual exhibition of Krystyna’s paintings, one held in Poland focusing on her Southwestern paintings and the other in El Paso showcasing paintings of historical locations in Poland. The concept began last summer when the Polish Consul General to the United States visited El Paso for a Polish exhibit at the Holocaust Museum.
Krystyna explained, “During his visit, he viewed some of my Southwestern art, which he loved. Based on this, he sponsored me, through the Mazowiecki Institute of Art in Warsaw, for a one-woman exhibit at the Warsaw Governor’s Palace —what an honor.”
Asked to paint images for the show that depicted the area in which she lived, Krystyna created an exhibition entitled, “Along the Rio Grande,” which focused on local landmarks such as the Plaza Theater, the Lower Valley missions and themes indicative of the area’s Mexican heritage.
The show opened Aug. 18, hosted by the Mazovian Gallery inside the Governor’s Palace. The artist excitedly describes the opening reception in Warsaw:
“For one thing it was held in an absolutely gorgeous 13th century palace. The gallery itself was very open with lots of room to show my work, however, because of the stone walls, my paintings were hung on panels. The evening reception was attended by a great many dignitaries including the Governor General and his wife. During this time people came and went, and others actually came throughout the day prior to the opening. The crowd was a bit limited because their media coverage is not as timely as ours, so it was difficult to get the word out. However, many of those who did come had visited the U.S. at one time or another. One couple bought my painting of the San Xavier Mission in Tucson since it reminded them of a trip they had made to Arizona.
“They went all out to promote the show even producing a large brochure with reproductions of most of my paintings, and a TV crew did a live interview with me around midnight. It was scheduled that late so it could be streamed to the U.S. in real time. (Several cities have a Polish TV channel). The talk show hosts did a 10-minute interview with me asking about how and why I came to be showing my work in Poland. The lovely part was that they had hung many of my paintings as a backdrop to the interview.”
During WWII, Krystyna explained, her father had served in the Polish underground resistance and later as a commissioned officer in the Polish Army in Scotland, where Krystyna was born.
“Thanks to my parents, I grew up speaking Polish as well as English and after the war we emigrated to America. I still have a large family scattered across Poland and now I visit as often as I can. When the wonderful opportunity to be in Poland presented itself, it was only natural that John and I would take the time to visit many of the places that he had never seen and really spend some time with my Polish family.”
Krystyna was very pleased to observe that the Poland of today is “so very, very far from the grim reminder of the Poland my parents left in WWII and the country I visited many years ago before Polish independence from the Soviet Union.
“Arriving prior to the exhibit, we flew into Gdansk where my father’s family lives and the Polish Solidarity Union had its birth and led Poland to its freedom from the Soviet Union. Gdansk is a lovely, historic city on the Baltic Sea and home of much of the beautiful Polish amber you see in jewelry stores across the world.”
Painting plein air studies as they traveled along the Baltic coast, the artist shared that one of the subjects she especially wanted to paint was the fishing village of Hel. “At the end of a day’s ride up the peninsula, there it was, full of colorful old fishing boats which I couldn’t wait to commit to canvas,” she recalled.
“From Gdansk, we drove to Warsaw. We have visited there before and love the beauty of Warsaw architecture and, of course, the old city — another opportunity for me to paint, this time the Wawel Castle in Old Town Warsaw. We had a week to spare before my exhibit so we used it to visit with my mother’s family in Poznan west of Warsaw near the German border. Part of my youth was spent in Poznan where I have a lot of cousins — most of them in the old farming community outside of Poznan where we spent some wonderful days. I had a chance to paint a portrait of my uncle Henry while the family danced, enjoyed a real Polish meal, and of course a lot of beer and vodka. It was the emotional high of my trip and the time spent there will keep me warm forever.”
She emphasized, “The one thing that has never changed about the Polish people is their love for their culture, music, art and dance.”
Following the exhibit, the couple was off to the south of Poland.
“We headed for the Tarter Mountains and the famous town of Zakapone, home of the Guarales – the famous mountain men of Poland, and the annual Polish International Folk Dancing Festival, the largest in Europe, with more than two weeks of non-stop dancing. On the way we visited many towns and villages with long names—some famous like Boleslawiec, the home of Polish pottery, and Czestochowa, home of the Black Madonna. Others were just small rural villages, but each with a cherished icon of Polish architecture that I could not resist making a stop to sketch and photograph.”
Although this was a memorable experience, Krystyna admitted, “Truthfully, this was not the most economical exhibit I have done. Poland by our standards is still a rather poor country and very few can afford such luxuries as original oil paintings. I did make some sales; more than I had anticipated, but I don’t think I would do something like this again. The logistics were horrendous, all that crating and packing. Because the art was shipped by boat, during which time it was unloaded and inspected three times, it took more than a month to arrive in Poland. For this reason, I left many of the exhibit paintings with my relatives and as a donation to the institute and sponsors that helped with the exhibit. So part of my American heritage is there in Poland for all to see and enjoy.
“I did bring back several favorites that I had painted for the Polish exhibition including I think one of my best, a plein air oil of the Plaza Theatre here in El Paso. These will be included at my show at the International Museum.
To further share her Polish culture, Krystyna has made arrangements for a special production of the traditional folk dance, the Polonaise, to be presented by members of El Paso’s Polish American Dance Society at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the exhibit’s opening reception.
KCOS TV Art Auction 2017
Be sure to tune in to the KCOS annual art auction on the weekends of April 23-24 and April 29-30. More than 120 pieces of art by local artists will be displayed and up for bid during the El Paso public television station’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
This year’s judge, Socorro Diamondstein, an artist and former city Cultural Funding Coordinato, named seven artists as winners:
• Best of Show went to Travis Cosban for his oil entitled “Gradient Landscape”
• Local Flavor winner was Rami Scully for her landscape “Cottonwood Springs.”
• Margi Carrasco won the figurative category with her portrait “Texas Cowboy.”
• The winner of the Still Life and Landscapes category was Krystyna Robbins’ “Zion.”
• The award for Contemporary & Mixed media went to Torrance Flores for his piece “Aspen Snow.”
• Two pieces won Juror Awards: “Laundry” by Yvonne Postelle and “The Wise One” by Manuel Thompson.
These paintings and many others will be for sale to the highest bidder. Many fall under the “Special Collections” category, which includes original works and fine art prints by Early El Paso artists such as Tom Lea, Jose Cisneros, Manuel Acosta, Rudy Montoya, Frederick Carter, Fern Thurston and Bill Rakocy.
Given the proposed cuts to public television, it is more important than ever to make this the highest grossing auction ever!
Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts.
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