Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Collecting Ukrainian Heritage: Peter Orshinsky and Leonard Krawchuk

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Collecting Ukrainian Heritage: Peter Orshinsky and Leonard Krawchuk

Article excerpt


Most discussions about collectors of folk art focus on financial issues, examining what makes an object valuable and worth collecting. But financial gain is not the primary motivation of all collectors. When it comes to folk art associated with heritage, collectors are driven by a desire to connect to a past. Often this is a past with which the collectors themselves had no direct contact, but one which they feel they need to understand in order to make sense of their own identity. Folk art objects make the past tangible; they allow a physical link to something that needs to be grasped to be understood. Peter Orshinsky and Leonard Krawchuk are two important collectors of Ukrainian folk art. Their lives provide instructive case studies that help us understand heritage collecting.


La plupart des travaux sur les collectionneurs d'art populaire sont focalises sur les problemes financiers; on y etudie ce qui rend un objet precieux et digne d'etre acquis. Mais le profit n'est pas la motivation principale des collectionneurs. Quand il s'agit d'art populaire associe a un patrimoine, c'est plutot le desir de se connecter a un passe qui les y pousse. Il n'y a souvent rien de commun entre eux et ce passe, mais ils eprouvent le besoin de le comprendre afin de donner du sens a leur propre identite. Les objets d'art populaire donnent au passe une realite que Ton peut toucher, ils permettent d'avoir un lien physique avec quelque chose que l'on doit saisir pour le comprendre. Peter Orshinsky et Leonard Krawchuk sont deux collectionneurs importants d'art populaire ukrainien. Leur vie nous fournit une etude de cas fort instructive qui nous aide a comprendre l'acquisition d'objets patrimoniaux.



What turns a person into a collector? Why would someone try to assemble examples of traditional folk costumes from every region of Ukraine? Why would a person travel miles and miles, dig through junk piles, and endure hardships to find and preserve old objects? Why would one spend money on objects that are essentially useless, such as clothes that can no longer be worn or tools from a bygone era that have been replaced by machinery?

One reason is money. The older an object, the more likely it is to be rare and, therefore, valuable. Perhaps the most extreme example of collecting objects on the basis of limited availability and primarily for the sake of money was the Beanie Baby craze of the 1990s. Ty Inc. made soft toys stuffed with pellets (the beans after which the toys were named) instead of the usual cotton or fibre fill. The toys were appealing in and of themselves, but what made them collectors' items was the fact that they were issued in limited numbers, a strategy originally designed to keep production costs, and thus selling price, relatively low. Children destroy toys or lose them and the fact that certain Beanie Babies went out of production led to the belief that, as the numbers of a particular toy type became smaller and smaller with time, the value of that toy would increase. People bought Beanie Babies, not to give them to their children, but in the anticipation of financial gain, and they kept them in pristine condition to maintain the highest possible value. So far the Beanie Babies have not increased substantially in price, but the assumption that they would and people's willingness to amass objects they were never going to actually use show that people do indeed collect for the sake of money.

Money appears as an important consideration in discussions of the collection of folk art. In his book, Everyday Genius, Gary Alan Fine spends as much time talking about collectors as he does about the artists themselves. Much of the discussion that deals with collectors revolves around financial issues. It is collectors, he argues, who determine what constitutes a good work--and a valuable one. Much of Fine's emphasis is on monetary value. …

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