Straw Art of Ukraine

When the state fair rolls into town, especially in the American Midwest, tourists flock to see visages of Elvis, the current president, or farm animals made from multi-colored corn seeds. Seed art is both a skill and an artistic expression of the agricultural life. Making art from the earth’s grains is not simply a tradition in the United States, however. Ukrainians with an agricultural background or a proclivity for celebrating the fruits of the earth harvest the straw left behind after the grain is threshed and separated.

Angels, birds, and wreaths, twisted from straw remind Ukrainians of their present as well as their past. Traditional figures made of straw, called didukhy, meaning ancestor and spirit, honor family members long passed and are lauded as a spiritual protection from life’s harms. A charm or oberehy is presented to those you care about at religious holidays, especially in the springtime to coax a good harvest from the ground. The traditional Christmas spider is hung on the tree to symbolize industrious work. Light and elegant angels with their wings spread in flight serve as a charm against any evil spirits.

Not all grains are created equal, however. Straw from wheat, rye, oats, and barley are optimal. Herbs also spice up a wreath exuding fragrances. Traditional decorative figurines grace every religious holiday and gifts are often decorated with a piece of artwork made from grain. On Easter, people take baskets of food, particularly bread, to the church to be blessed by the priest. Baskets are often decorated with scented garlands and straw bells.

Ukrainians are a whimsical as well as a religious people and children delight in horses and birds, rabbits and fish twisted from sheaths of dried grain. Delicate, yet wildly detailed and complex, straw art integrates the country’s reverence for the earth with its religious and pagan inclinations. Enhanced by history, created from the imagination of the artist, straw art evokes cultural connection and gentle emotion.