Iryna Sulikovska: It happens that the dolls look for their masters
The artist has gathered a pretty large collection of national dolls over the winter: the bell-dolls, motankas (hand-made dolls, twisted and bound from cloth, threads or straw without sewing or cutting), beauties made of grass, small talisman dolls guarding homes – Beregynyas, Mavkas – mythological forest nymphs: practically a family of colorful girls. Iryna is ready to speak about every of them for hours. She likes to select the decorations and clothes for the dolls.
One of these days you with your goods have been to Andriivsky uzviz for the first time after the long winter. What are your impressions after the long work at home?
I was in the working mood and I was glad to see everyone. People go to Andriivsky uzviz to communicate with artists and craftsmen, so it is pleasant to work there. And the place is special, too. When I go home I usually have a feeling I am flying as if on the wings. When I go down the Uzviz slope I feel so good as if I have not worked for the entire day. And when I am at home I have no strength left. While you are at the Andriivsky you can feel the energy of the place and it keeps you up.
Do you count the number of dolls you manage to make in a winter?
I have never counted them, but it depends upon the dolls themselves. In January after the New Year celebration I started to make dolls for the exhibition which is to take place in May… They are complicated exhibition dolls with embroidery so I was making them for three weeks. And if the dolls are small and can be made quickly then it is possible to make ten of them in a day. If they are very small and simple then twenty a day are possible. There is no criterion. It happens that the work doesn’t advance. You sit selecting the decorations and it (the doll – auth.) doesn’t want any of them.
How do you create your toys? Do you sketch something in advance?
When I know that the work is difficult, it will consume a lot of time and not only one day, then it happens I make sketches. The point is that I can imagine the entire work very precisely, look it over in my imagination and can complete it in my head before I sit down to work with my hands. And my memory is organized in the way when I don’t have to write anything down because I remember everything. But as soon as the work is finished I immediately forget everything. I was making one of my dolls for a year and a half and kept it in mind all this time. The moments of creation are divine.
Do you remember your first doll?
I made my first doll when yet at school at the age of 11… Actually I’ve been familiar with the technology of making toys since my school and it is not a complicated one in any way. That is why I have made a lot of toys in my life, but started to make national dolls only from the time when in 2001 I came to Pyrohiv museum. And the moment I saw national dolls there I had a kind of inexplicable impression similar to what a child feels coming to a circus for the first time. The child sees some miracles there and it’s a holiday… So I had the same feeling, I experienced a kind of a cultural shock when I saw so many dolls. But where else could one have seen them? They were not sold in shops. Only recently they’ve started to make exhibitions devoted to the national toys and earlier there was nothing of the kind.
So, when Ludmila Teslenko-Ponomarenko held a master class in Pyrohov (and she makes her original dolls on the highest world level), I wanted it very much to try to make a doll of such kind. Well, my first doll was crooked and distorted but I had a strong wish to continue with these dolls.
At present I am studying different kinds of dolls and trying to master making them. I have never thought this work will carry me away. The more I work at them the more I like it. In addition, the dolls never look like one another. It is not possible to make for example a hundred dolls and have them the same because a human is not a factory.
With what kinds of national dolls do you work?
Knot dolls are made of cloth which it is necessary to twist, motankas (hand-made dolls, twisted and bound from different materials) can be made of cloth or threads, i.e. the materials which usually do not hold together and need clewing.
One evening I looked through a 1200 photographs of national dolls on the computer. At this, practically all of them were the works of foreign people and not Ukrainian artists. I found a lot of moments in those dolls I was not able to resolve myself… When I study the dolls of other countries I come to understand that all of us are the children of the same family, that is – there is a common ground for different things or for beliefs. Certainly, this fact does not mean that all the dolls are copies but certainly there are common techniques.
The Ukrainian doll is unique in that it looks the same as it did a thousand or maybe even two thousand years ago… It is very interesting to make ancient things.
It is necessary for the person to start the work with love for people. That is, before starting to make a doll it is necessary to come to love it and the people for whom you will make it and then to be able to pass all this love to the doll. Because when the work contains love inside it then everything will be great. That is why in hand-made things the positive attitude of the artist matters very much…
It happens you buy something, bring it home but you don’t like it. For example, an article of clothing which you don’t want to wear, or a cup from which you don’t want to drink. And you wish for such a thing to leave your house. It means these things contain negative energy; you need to get rid of them and try to fill you home with the things which bring good mood.
That is why I think the most difficult thing is to understand this, to come into the right mood and then start working. Even the colors of materials for the dolls need to be chosen thoughtfully because one can use colors which will transmit sadness.
Do you buy fabrics somewhere purposely?
In shops. You see, the point is when dolls were made 100-200 years ago no one was specially looking for fabrics and selecting them, everything was done from what was available in the house. That is why the dolls I make are modern dolls. They are made from what is available in shops. The colors we have now are not the same as in the old days, because the dyes and patterns were different. But I know that the modern doll is very well accepted by children because it is very close to them psychologically and they are raised up upon these colors.
How do you determine the price of your works?
I’ve made up my mind to take the time consumption as the basis, to this I add the amount of used materials and the taxes I pay. The cost comprises all this. So it happens two similar works can have different prices: one is more expensive and one is cheaper. And I honestly say then that some work advanced hard. There are situations when work slows down. For example I have intended a doll to look a certain way but it doesn’t want to. And until I go through all the materials I have and give it exactly what it wants, it will not be satisfied. As a result you have a work that you have never intended to make, that is the doll is born on its own, and not always what we do depends on us.
It happens I sell dolls cheaper than they cost. I will tell you a story. When I took my new place at the Andriivsky Uzviz I wanted very much to make an unusual doll. I was making it for two weeks. In the end it turned out to be large – 50 cm. It had splendid hair, embroidered clothes, decorations with beads and a wreath. But a week or two passed and the doll wasn’t sold yet; a month and even longer – and it was not sold. Then a day came when I understood: well, tomorrow I go to my place and sell the doll at the price given by the first person who wants to buy it. At night I had a dream: a friend from my childhood comes to me and I ask him: “Where are all my dolls? I am not able to find a single one.” And he replies: «A girl came, Christina by name, and she took all your dolls.” The following day a woman came to me holding a small girl by the hand. The girl wanted my doll the moment she saw it. Her mother asked me for the price and then said: “But I don’t have so much money.” And I told her: “Then I want to sell it at the price you name.” So the woman gave me very little money and the sum was actually not fair for that doll… But the girl took it and I saw they were like two sisters – so alike they were. Then the woman took the girl by the hand and said: “Let’s go, Christino!” Isn’t it magic? How can that be?
It means that doll was not selling for a month and a half not because it was too expensive but because it was intended for that very child.
It happens each doll has the master destined in advance?
Not all of them, certainly, but there are situations when you understand that a doll is specially intended for someone.
Those two dolls which can be found in the Olexander Nayden’s book (“O. Nayden. Ukrainian national doll” – auth.) were not selling for a long time. All the others did but not them. The pictures of them had been made a year before the book was issued. I couldn’t understand why it was so: a year had passed, and the dolls were good but they didn’t sell. Then the book was published and these two dolls were on the first page inside. What does this fact say? The God didn’t let me sell them because they had to be in the book. So now after all these cases I think that if a doll does not sell then it is just waiting for its master.
A similar case I had two years ago at the “Dream Country” festival. A doll was made in March and was not selling for one, then two and three months. Then at the festival a woman with a girl came up to me. They saw this doll and wanted to buy it but they didn’t have enough money, they owned just a fixed sum. I said I would sell it for that sum and added that the doll’s name was Dana. And the woman suddenly replied that her daughter’s name was Dana, too. That means the doll was not selling because it was waiting for that very girl. And it means that the girl is special to God and he wants to make her a present that way. But if to think only about the money – a kind of I want so much money, and each time it is more and more, than the connection between the man and the God breaks. When a person is making something then at these moments of creation he becomes similar to God, because God is the Creator. And when I am doing something it is not me who controls myself but it’s God who guides me and assists me. So these things are very serious and deep.
Would you tell us about your cooperation with the doll researcher Olexander Nayden? I saw your works published in his book.
Olexander Semenovych Nayden is a very respectable researcher and it was interesting for me to show him my works. I couldn’t imagine they would take my dolls into the book… For me this is the highest appreciation. Olexander is a very modest person. He devoted 20 years for revealing the Ukrainian doll to people. And there are very few people that ever worked in this… And I think if not for him and his work, we would not know what a doll is – even today. But now it is revived and there are a lot of artists that have started to work with dolls as a result of his research. Even ordinary people have started to make dolls just for themselves.
Olexander Semenovych Nayden has made a very important thing for the Ukrainian culture. But he is a very modest person, and it is difficult for him to take appraisals. He is very tactful, well-mannered and polite. It is always very pleasant to communicate with him and his wife Ludmila Semenivna Orlova.
Beside this, they both help people a lot. For example, when I show my works to them they tell me where and what I have done not very well. Because I have not seen as many dolls in my life as Olexander and his wife Ludmila Semenivna have. And she helps me and says sometimes, for example: “This color is too bright; you need a bit more red on this doll; this needs that; here the proportions are very good…” So for me this assistance is priceless because it is possible to learn something only if the knowlidge is transferred from a person to person…
Kateryna Kachur was on a visit to the artist.