Painted or plain / by Sasha Ward

Painting on external wall of shed and museum

The village of Zalipie, Małopolska, Poland, is famous for its painted houses. These have been decorated by the women of the village since the late 19th century, with an annual competition and the cottage of the best known painter, Felicja Curyłowa, maintained as a museum. Flowers dominate the traditional, (dare I say it) formulaic designs; although it's fun to see painting on the electric trunking and the rabbit cages, we did start to wonder whether there was just too much decoration, and for my taste (trunking excepted) not enough geometry.

Electric trunking and rabbit cages

Sitting room of Felicja Curyłowa and the equivalent room in an unpainted interior next door.

One of the reasons given for the outburst of internal nineteenth century decoration is that the introduction of external cottage chimneys meant the rooms were no longer blackened by soot. The sitting room of Felicja Curyłowa's beautifully maintained cottage (above left) is dominated by the stove. You wonder at its marvellous, warm shape disguised by flowers whose charm, by now, has started to fade. When you visit the cottage next door help is at hand - in its whitewashed interior you can appreciate the sculptural blocks that make up the stove and see the wood that the cottage is made of.

The cottage next door, front windows inside and outside

On the way we had looked at an abandoned cottage with fine detailing in its decorative porch and windows, beautiful corner joints visible, unpainted. Similarly, the sheds in Zalipie using light pigment on dark wood, traditionally clay with wood ash on soot covered backgrounds, looked great - more simple (below). Simple in form, and therefore to my eyes preferable to the bouquets, are the blue flowers in stripes on the exterior of Felicja's cottage (above right) on a strong ochre background.

On the road home, in a village near the Vistula, I was thrilled to see another painted cottage that I actually liked. More strong colours and a pattern that relates to the shape of the building, with ochre spilling out of the roadside window and three huge triangles marching along its side.