I purchased six wonderful works from an expatriate Ukrainian folk artist in 1993, at Seattle’s Fremont Sunday Market. The market is a fantastic spot to find just about anything old, beautiful, unique, hand-crafted, decorative, collectible. The artist and his beautiful Mexican wife were preparing to move to the country of Israel, because the wife was threatened with deportation by the U.S. Government. The couple needed to sell as much of their folk art as possible, in order to finance their journey. They caught me at the right time, when I had a little extra to spend on art. Being a folk art collector, I had previously met and made friends with the young couple. (Having grown up in Yakima, WA, where I met, seemingly, about three people from foreign countries in 20 years, I was very happy to connect with these visitors.)
I remember my artist friend’s name was Seva, which he said was pronounced “Sevruh” (short u). — Not easy, but I managed to learn to say it correctly. His last name was spelled something like Phohakobcbknn. (Actually, some of those letters are turned around – reversed — a la the Cyrillic style.) I have no idea how to say the name! In doing research for this story, I tried Googling Seva Phohakobcbknn. Obviously, I arrived at the proverbial nowhere. Google suggested I “check my spelling”. — When I post a story highlighting examples from my folk art collection, I like to share as much information as possible. I like to help my readers get started, so they can do their own search/research. But go ahead. Search for Seva Phohakobcbknn and see if you get anywhere!
In creating this small painting on wood, Seva used his favorite media: traditional tempera paint. I’m not sure if it came from Russia or Ukraine. But he exhausted his supply, and was unable to replenish it. He told me this painting was the last one he had, created with tempera. It shows the oft-depicted horseman known as the Cossack. He is carrying the customary, curved sword known as the shashka. — That is the Russian word for the sword; I am not sure if it is the Ukrainian word. Contrary to what you may think, Cossacks are not all Russian. They are also Ukrainian. And I can assure you that my proud Ukrainian friend was depicting a Ukrainian Cossack here. — I love this painting. I love the border Seva painted.
Seva also marketed his work at Seattle’s Pioneer Square galleries, where the leading artists show off their work. I actually bought this one, also shown at the top, from him at one of those galleries. This painting is also done on wood. It depicts a Ukrainian country festival. I’ve seen other paintings on wood, done by Seva; he loves to depict this type of scene. Some of his paintings tell popular traditional folk tales, all in one panel. This piece is more of a slice-of-life depiction, portraying food vendors and attendees at a festival. (Quite coincidentally, another of my Ukrainian friends had a food booth very similar to this at the Fremont Sunday Market, where she proffered all manner of from-scratch Ukrainian culinary delights. So the tradition continues.) It is executed on a thick piece of wood, probably pine — very substantial for its small size. I’m uncertain what kind of paint Seva employed, since he ran out of tempera. I’m a collector rather than an expert. So I am not taking a guess here.
The following three paintings were disappointing in one way: I thought I was purchasing watercolors, but I think I actually purchased copies of watercolors. However, I wasn’t charged an arm and a leg for the three pictures, and they’re excellent examples of Seva’s work in the traditional style. Ukrainians love to depict folk musicians playing the old instruments. I had these framed in identical gold-leafed frames.
As I have mentioned, Seva customarily represented popular, well-known themes in his work. The Cossack Mamai was the most popular figure in Ukrainian folk painting of the 17th–20th centuries. The Cossak Mamai (also spelled Mamay) came to represent the generalized, popular image of the Ukrainian Cossack. This gentleman is referred to as a bandurist, as he is shown playing a bandura, a major traditional instrument of Ukraine. The bandura is also played in Poland and other countries in the region. There are many instruments similar to the bandura. — I love the large bird Seva added to this picture. I think it is a goose, rather than a swan. I grew up in a small town, and saw many domesticated geese. “Domesticated”, but not necessarily friendly!
This charming winter scene brings to life the performance of a trio of traditional Ukrainian musicians, playing the button accordion, fiddle and drum. While the drum appears to be European in style, it doesn’t look like a traditional Ukrainian drum, which is often smaller. The larger Ukrainian drum usually has an attached symbol. Ethnic musicians all over the world play a form of accordion. Mexican, Cajun, African, Polish, French, Argentinian, American country, and in this case, Ukrainian musicians rely upon an accordion as the backbone of their traditional music. — I’d so like to hear what these musicians are playing!
I love this scene, where the mandolin (yes, it appears to be what the Bulgarians call a mandolin) player is perched on a tree branch. Note the bird sharing the tree with him. Take note too, of the amazing pants the players are wearing. I’m confused by them, as they appear to be Cossack trousers. Not what I think of as Bulgarian. I need to ask Seva about this! — There exists a Bulgarian fiddle, the gadulka; but this appears to be a more common fiddle. A gadulka is not held and played in the manner of the common fiddle, as seen here. Although one is not portrayed in this scene, did you know the Bulgarians have their own bagpipes? They do! I think they sound wonderful.
Surprise: this little clay figure which hangs from my bedroom ceiling, was actually crafted by Seva’s wife, who again, is a Mexican national. I regret I can no longer remember her beautiful name. She has a degree in architecture (which apparently didn’t impress the U.S. Government sufficiently to allow her to stay in America), and model-making is one of her skills. She told me that learning to model figures from clay came to her easily. This figure is also of a Cossack Mamai, playing the bandura. When I visited the couple’s apartment, I was planning on buying only Seva’s art; but I couldn’t resist this little figure. I must say, Mrs. P’s work seems to be every bit as wonderful as Mr. P’s.
My fervent hope is that Mr. and Mrs. Phohakobcbknn are safe and sound in Israel, or in another friendly country, that they are doing their great art. Seva absolutely mastered the traditional Ukrainian style. The renderings are not “too schooled”; they are “just right”. I imagine his current work would be incredibly attractive. I would love to find out what became of this intriguing and talented couple. Have you any information? Just where are Mr. and Mrs. Seva Phohakobcbknn?
I used to have this painting by Seva. Sadly, I sold it about ten years ago. Not sure why! But amazingly, I found the photo on someone’s Facebook Page. It’s the only example of a Seva painting I’ve ever found on-line, other than the ones I’ve posted. This is a fabulous Day of the Dead-themed work. Perhaps Seva was influenced by his Mexican wife? (Note: on my blog site you’ll find two Day of the Dead posts from 10/2015.)
I recently attended a concert presented by a fantastic Ukrainian “art-folk” group at Seattle’s Bumbershoot, called DakhaBrakha. Their music was among the most compelling I’ve heard in my long life. I highly recommend you hear them, and that you support their cause of spreading not only incredible, unique music, but the living, breathing concept of freedom. — At the end of their concert, they raised a sign, which said, “Stop Putin”. Please click here, to hear an entire concert!
For more information regarding the Cossack Mamia, or other things Ukrainian, please see the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine: http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages%5CK%5CO%5CKozak6Mamai.htm
Below, is a little bonus. These dolls were not made by my friends. However, most people have seen only Russian nesting dolls. This little set of three from 1992 is purported to be from Ukraine, created by an artist whose last name appears to be Koukuma. This is a fine little set. The thing is: sometimes Russian doll makers will make Ukraine-style dolls, such as “Ukraine Family”. But I have seen sets that say “Imported from Ukraine”. The shopkeeper working where my ex-wife purchased these claimed they were Ukrainian. I will go with that. — But I just put them here for your enjoyment and edification, and to point out how hard it can be to totally “nail down” something such as a doll’s origin. It’s always wonderful to buy direct from the artist!