by Elizabeth Broman
Reference Librarian, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library
This extremely rare 1940 trade catalog from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum Library, Katalog farforu fa︠i︡ansu i maĭoliky, represents the production of not any one company, but is the output of 10 state owned ceramics factories all over the Ukraine in small towns and villages after industry was nationalized in 1918.
This is a primary source document for the decorative arts and studying the material culture and political history of the Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
We tend to be more familiar with the graphic arts of Communist Russia as vehicles for propaganda – especially posters. The decorative arts, especially of utilitarian objects like the tableware featured in this catalog, were important vehicles for disseminating political concepts of the new social order and Soviet nationalism to the masses in everyday life.
The Stalinist era of the 1930’s combined “peasant” or folk art motifs and patterns with propagandist symbols, emphasizing social and communal values while depicting positive images of workers and peasants.
In Plate XI, there are many examples of propaganda and folk art used together. Cup 79 commemorates May 1st as International Workers’ Day, an annual celebration of the revolution of 1918. Cup 80 features a hammer and sickle, symbols of the industrial proletariat and the peasantry; together with the floral folk art motifs the design they symbolize the unity between industrial and agricultural workers. Cup 84 depicts a silhouette of Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861), a poet and painter who became a Ukrainian hero for his writings, which indicted his country’s oppression by Tsarist Russia. Cups 82 and 83 are decorated with fighter planes and parachutes, portraying the military might and wartime spirit of the Soviet Union.
Several of the designs come directly from traditional Ukrainian geometric folk patterns used in embroidery and textiles.