Self portrait 1987. Oil on board. 76×48 cm
Bronislaw Krawczuk was born in 1935 to a penniless family in Panasówka, a hamlet in the Podole region of eastern Poland (now Ukraine). His father worked as a farm laborer on the estate of a large landowner. In his early childhood Bronislaw contracted a serious illness which left him with permanent left-sided paralysis. In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union concluded a non-aggression pact (Molovov-Ribbentrop pacts) with a secret annex stipulating that the contracting parties would divide Poland among themselves in the event of war. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and the Soviet Union subsequently annexed the eastern part of Poland including the Podole region. The estate on which Krawczuk’s father worked was nationalized and turned into a collective state farm (kolkhoz). Krawczuk’s father was employed as an operator for the steam-driven threshing, mowing and harvesting machines. His mother looked after the family and some billeted Russian soldiers.
The village of Podole. Oil on board. 61×71 cm
The family suffered abject poverty, the winters were very harsh and the snow was high. Initially, the hunger could be curbed somewhat by owning a cow, but when the hay ran out, the animal had to be slaughtered. Due to his disability and the lack of shoes and adequate clothing, Bronislaw was unable to attend school. In the village church he had been impressed by the stained glass windows. He collected pieces of glass and painting them with religious images that he sometimes managed to sell. At a later stage he painted instructions on the machines and vehicles of the kolkhoz.Over time, he developed into the ‘court painter’ of the kolkhoz. He painted the Stachanow worker (a model worker who reached multiple production standards through swindling), village scenes, cheerful swineherds with piglets and portraits of Lenin. He did most of the painting on the celebrations of May 1 and the October Revolution.
Harvest in the village. Oil on board. 58×126 cm
In 1957 he married a “dark-haired” widow. Shortly afterwards, as ethnic Poles, they were forcibly ‘repatriated’. They settled in Gliwice (Silesia) where he found work in the mining industry as a night watchman, porter and stoker. Their son Eugeniusz was born in 1958 and their daughter Zofia in 1962.
Adjusting to the new environment was difficult for him. Everything had to be rebuilt and he longed for the rural environment and the clean skies of the Podole region. He incorporated the memories of his youth in his paintings. Later he also started working on Silesian landscapes and city scenes of Katowice and Kraków.
The road to Katowice 1987. Oil on board. 84×118 cm
In the late 1980s, he was inspired by the Solidarnosc movement with the major workers’ uprisings in Gdansk, the strike manifesto, the unveiling of the monument to the fallen construction workers and the visit of the Polish Pope John Paul II. Despite his physical limitations, he managed to record these events on sometimes very large paintings (2×2.5 metres). He shared his love for painting with artists from the so-called Janowska group from the Nikiszowiec mining district of Katowice. Over the years, through these contacts, he acquired an extensive database of beautiful works by Pawel Wróbel, Erwin Sówka and Eugeniusz Bak. With his artistic passion he has also infected his son, daughter and wife. All three have developed into respected painters.
Mary’s church in Kraków. Oil on board. 89×111 cm
Krawczuk’s work is included in the collections of museums in Zabrze, Bytom, Wroczlaw, Kraków and Warszawa and he had many one-man exhibitions in Poland, West Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. His work is included in important private collections at home and abroad.In 2022, the Silesia Museum – located in Katowice in a beautifully restored mining building – will organize a major exhibition of the works of the Krawczuk family. Bronislaw, who died in 1995, will view the event together with his great friend and drinking brother Pawel Wróbel from the heavenly artists’ lodge while enjoying a small bottle of vodka.
FOR MORE PHOTOS SEE:
INSTAGRAMACCOUNT WILLEM OTTEN (#bronisławkrawczuk)