A kitchen cabinet, topped with a ceramic rooster figurine, miraculously still attached onto the wall of an apartment building destroyed by the Russian invaders in the village of Borodyanka, Kyiv Oblast, has became a symbol of Ukrainian resilience. NV looked into the artist behind this now legendary figurine, in order to discover the history of its creation.
A photo of a kitchen cabinet that survived devastating bombing and shelling in Borodyanka, taken by Suspilne News photojournalist Yelyzaveta Servatynska, went viral on the Internet and was quickly called a symbol of Ukrainian resilience. However, the cabinet itself wasn’t the only thing that stood out in the photo - attentive viewers noted a ceramic figurine, in the shape of a rooster, perched on top of the cabinet, seemingly unharmed. Dusty, but not destroyed, it symbolizes the resilience of Ukrainians and Ukraine.
This rooster was unexpectedly presented to Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson during his visit to Kyiv on April 9. The same gift was received by Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky.
This figurine is made by Majolica factory in the town of Vasylkiv, around 35 km south of Kyiv. While their designs and tchotchkes are readily recognizable by Ukrainians, few would likely be able to say anything about the unassuming factory, or its artists.
For decades, this Vasylkiv factory has been creating majolica – pottery decorated with engobes (white or colored clay) using original techniques - flyandrovka and pastillage, and covered with a vitreous substance called glaze.
The history of the plant begins in 1928, when 16 potters united into a ceramics cartel in Vasylkiv, which has long been considered one of the pottery centers in around the Ukrainian Dnipro. They produced simple household pottery goods, such as pots, bowls, and makitras. The factory was created on the basis of this cartel in 1934. The potters were soon joined by engineers and craftsmen, who revolutionized the enterprise.
The factory flourished in the 1950-1960s. At that time it was one of the leading enterprises of the art industry in Ukraine, producing about 70 ceramic pottery products as household goods: plates, bowls, mugs, makitras, jugs, and pitchers, to decor and decorative sculptures. The factory’s work was featured in exhibitions of decorative art in Ukraine and abroad - in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and Finland.
There is no documentary evidence of the authorship of the world-famous rooster, which the plant has been replicating for many years, because there are no catalogs of the Vasylkiv Majolica factory as of yet. Some Internet sleuths believe it to be a design made by famed Ukrainian master of artistic ceramics, Prokop Bidasiuk (1895−1973), a representative of the Mezhyhiria Ceramics College and a student of the Ukrainian artist Vasyl Sedliar from the Boychukist movement, who had worked at the plant since 1940.
Prokop Bidasiuk was born in the village of Derkachi, near the town of Ovruch, Zhytomyr Oblast. He studied ceramic art at the Mezhyhiria Ceramics College. From 1930 to 1034, he worked as a designer, painter and sculptor at the Budyansk faience factory. And in 1940-1970 he worked as a designer, craftsman and artist at the Vasylkiv Majolica Plant.
Among his works are decorative vases, plates, kumanets, zoomorphic dishes, and toys, a researcher of Ukrainian ceramics and head of the ceramics foundation at the National Folk Decorative Art Museum, Iryna Beketova, told NV. The collection of this museum contains 12 works by Prokop Bidasiuk, including his rooster. However, the “Borodyanskyi rooster” is not similar in style and artistic features to the works of Prokop Bidasiuk.
“I also know that Bidasiuk's works could not be replicated,” Iryna Beketova said.
According to Serhii Denysenko, the chief artist at the Vasylkiv Majolica Plant and the son of the master of ceramics at the factory, Mykhailo Denysenko, Bidasiuk’s authorship of the rooster is inaccurate.
Denysenko was named the author of the exhibition project “Dobri Zviri” (Good Beasts) (curated by Pavel Hudimov) at the National Folk Decorative Art Museum in 2019.
Denysenko said that he had a mass-production rooster, identical to the rooster from Borodyanka, with a gift inscription dated 1967, and concluded that this decorative houseware was designed in the late 50's and early 60's. Denysenko believes that the author of the rooster is another master of artistic ceramics, who worked at the Vasylkiv Majolica Plant since the 1950s - Valerii Protoriev (1924-1997). He was born in the village of Voronivtsi, Khmelnytskyi district, Vinnytsia Oblast. In 1950, he graduated from the Kyiv State Institute of Applied Arts.
Among Protoriev’s well-known works are the sculptures “Good Beast”, “Evil Beast”, “Peacocks”, as well as figurative dishes based on Lesya Ukrainka’s Forest Song, and the decorative vases: “Ukraine”, “Kyiv”, “Redcurrant”. His wife, also a master of artistic ceramics, Nadiia Protorieva, worked with him at the factory.
Among other well-known masters of the Vasylkiv Majolica factory are Mykhailo and Hryhorii Denysenko, Liudmyla Vlasenko, Tetiana Muzychenko, Maryna Kryvonos, Volodymyr Kovalenko, Nelli Isupova, Maria Khomiakova, Nadiia Bilyk.
In 2000, the factory was declared bankrupt and ceased to exist. In 2004 it was privatized and an attempt was made to resume production, but in 2019 it was stopped for economic reasons.
Vasylkiv Majolica is a classic of Ukrainian pottery and ceramics. Now its samples may be purchased from collectors and antique shops, at flea markets, but many works are stored and used in everyday life in Ukrainian homes. The works of the Vasylkiv Majolica Plant are exhibits featured at the Vasylkiv Majolica Museum in Vasylkiv, the National Folk Decorative Art Museum in Kyiv and others.
In 2019, the National Folk Decorative Art Museum held the exhibition project “Zavod” (Factory), which presented the most interesting samples of production of different years from the collection of this museum, which houses more than 1,500 items.