Did you hear the one about the Polish art show in Alabama? It opens September, 25, 1999 in Huntsville. That's it. No punch line. No joke. There's an actual, exhibit of Polish art and artifacts traveling around the country. It's already been to Baltimore and Chicago. It's called "Land of the Winged Horsemen: Art in Poland, 1572-1764." Though there is an art heritage dating back over a thousand years, Poland isn't exactly the FIRST place one thinks of with regard to great art. This show may change that. There's a little something for everyone with over 150 works including ceramics, painting, tapestries, armaments, furniture, glassware, and precious metals. Among the more interesting items are a silver-plated crown with fake jewels, a real, honest to goodness throne, even coffin plates which were once nailed to Polish coffins bearing portraits of the deceased.
The problem with art in Poland is the problem of Poland itself. Historically it has been one of the most fought-over pieces of turf on the whole planet. And with each war, from the Swedish invasion in the seventeenth century to Germans in WW II, has come a plundering of the art treasures of this troubled land. Normally, the churches of great European countries have been bastions of art wealth but in Poland, ancient Jewish art has been especially decimated and Catholic art has survived only somewhat better. Yet there is represented a gilded velvet Torah curtain, and eighteenth century Hanukkah lamps while the Catholic church has contributed several chalices and paintings. A sculpted wooden crucifix by Johan Georg Pinsel, from about 1758, is included in the exhibition. Ironically, it survived the German occupation only to be stolen from its church AFTER the war. In was recovered more than forty years later in 1990 from the wall of another Polish church.
One of the most interesting items from the exhibit is the Husaria suit of armor. The Husaria was a heavily armed Polish cavalry unit whose heavy steel, iron, and brass armor sported not only feathers and leopard skin, but "wings," causing it to make a rushing sound as the horseman rode into battle. It is from this piece that the exhibition gets its title. Curators hope that showcase sampling of the meager remnants of Poland's once considerable art treasures for the rest of the world to see will shed new light on Poland's place in the history of art. The show runs in Huntsville until November 28, then moves on to San Diego and Tulsa before returning to The Royal Castle in Warsaw next year.