Dezider Milly and that other Carpatho-Rusyn artist family from what is now Slovakia.

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I purchased the art postcard booklet while visiting Slovakia.

Exactly which visit to Slovakia eludes me, although probably it was 1991-92, during my English teaching assignment in Košice, when the geopolitical designation still was Czechoslovakia.

Decades later, we often sift through the accumulated memorabilia, knickknacks and posters, and after one such expedition, Diana propped the booklet on her desk downstairs. I need my own museum for all this stuff.

After looking at the booklet every day for months, it finally occurred to me to find out who Dezider Milly was. Translating from the Slovak-language Wikipedia:

Dezider Milly

Professor Dezider Milly (* 7 August 1906, Kyjov – † 1 September 1971, Bratislava ) was a Slovak painter, graphic designer and pedagogue, a representative of the visual arts of the Rusyns in Slovakia.

Kyjov’s just north of Košice.

Dezider Milly – a big artist from a tiny village, at RUSYN ART (“Meet Carpatho-Rusyn visual artists”)

Dezider Milly was a Rusyn artist born in Kyjov, in the district of Stara Lubovna in eastern Slovakia. He achieved the status of a nationally recognized artist.

The most detailed on-line biography of Milly in English is here. Note the spelling of the artist’s name.

Myllyi’s active participation in the political and cultural life of post-World War II Communist Czechoslovakia had a negative impact on his artistic creativity. His paintings became little more than highly politicized figurative illustrations. This applied as well to his series entitled Tokaik (1959), based on the tragic wartime shootings of the village of Tokajik’s Rusyn inhabitants, an event which had deeply moved the artist. In the 1960s Myllyi moved away from his narrow politicized vision and began to create large-scale decorative panoramic landscapes. As if making up for the creative time lost during the post-1948 Communist era, Myllyi began in the last years of his life to paint a series of landscapes in his unique prewar style. While he was influenced by the various new artistic currents of the twentieth century, Myllyi’s true artistic roots were embedded in the realities of his native Carpathian region. Since his death, a permanent exhibit of his work is on display at the Dezyderii Myllyi Art Gallery (est. 1983), which is part of the *Museum of Ukrainian-Rus’ Culture in Svidnik, Slovakia.

You’re forgiven for being confused; we began this essay in Slovakia, and ever since it’s been about Milly as a Rusyn.

So, what’s a Rusyn?

Rusyns (sometimes spelled Rusins, or called Carpatho-Rusyns signifying their villages being in the Carpathian Mountains) are one of the many nationalities/ethnic groups of Slovakia, along with Slovaks, Hungarians, Germans, and Romanies (Gypsies). Rusyns are eastern Slavs, which means that their history, culture, and language are rooted in the medieval Kievan Rus’ kingdom (Slovaks, by contrast, are western Slavs), although Slovaks and Rusyns have lived together on the same territory for nearly 1000 years (and share some cultural traits). Traditionally, almost all Rusyns belong to the Byzantine/Greek Catholic or Orthodox Christian churches. Rusyns have never had their own country, but their homeland today lies in 3 countries: Slovakia, Ukraine (the Transcarpathian Oblast, former Subcarpathian Rus/Ruthenia, part of Czecho-Slovakia from 1919 until 1939), and Poland (the Lemko Region, formerly part of Galicia). There are approximately 1.5 million Rusyns in Europe today, and about 120,000 of them are in Slovakia.

Three of Milly’s late-period landscapes:

This brings me full circle, as there’s a Carpatho-Rusyn artist far better known internationally than Milly. It’s Andy Warhol, whose father came to the United States in 1914.

It boggles my mind that it’s been just shy of seven years since Warhol’s brother John died, prompting the most recent reference in NAC to Rusyns prior to today.

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John Warhola’s passing inspires a Medzilaborce remembrance.

John Warhola has died, and therein lies a story.

In the fall of 1991, having only recently assumed my duties teaching conversational English to staff members at Košice’s university hospital, I was asked by Dr. Roland, the hospital’s first non-Communust administrator, if I’d like to accompany him to a Saturday afternoon museum opening in Medzilaborce, Slovakia.

The trip involved a total of seven hours on the road, to and from Medzilaborce, a lengthy commute not fully suggested by maps which did not account for the fractured condition of rural Slovak roads and a handful of “touristic” stops along the way. Dr. Roland did not drive, and at the time, he still made use of the hospital’s de facto chauffered limo service, with its fleet of Soviet-made gas guzzlers and uniformed personnel.

What a ride!

Medzilaborce is cradled within the northern terminus of the Carpathians, which then veer westward to end in exclamatory fashion at the compact Tatra mountain range. Small towns are nestled between rugged, forested ridge lines. Poland is only a few miles away. This isolated area of Slovakia (as yet Czechoslovakia in 1991) is inhabited by Slovaks, Poles and indigenous Rusyns, the latter of the Orthodox persuasion, accounting for the gorgeous church in the center of town, and explaining the road signs in the Cyrillic alphabet: Меджильабірці.

Two large Campbell’s Tomato Soup cans guarding the doorway of an otherwise nondescript concrete building gave the game away, for Andy Warhol’s family was Rusyn, the collection now known as the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art was an embryonic East-West cultural venture in the immediate aftermath of Communism, and Andy’s brother John was on hand to speak for the foundation.

Andy Warhol’s elder brother dies aged 85; John Warhola was one of three founding members of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (in the Guardian)

After Warhola’s father, Andrij, died in 1942, Warhola raised his younger brother, Andy (born Andy Warhola), and made sure he attended college. Their father, who had emigrated to the US from what is now Slovakia in 1914, left enough to pay for Andy’s first two years of college, but his brother took responsibility for the reminder of the artist’s education.

And so, that’s how I came to meet John Warhola, if only for a few seconds and a handshake in a receiving line.

“Surreal” doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m happy to see that the museum has survived and apparently prospered during the two decades since my visit. In 1991, we capped the opening with early dinner at a restaurant down the street, which served delicious pork and knedlicky dumplings with roasted potatoes, all washed down with cool golden lager brewed down the road in Prešov.

With requisite condolences at John Warhola’s passing, I dedicate these memories of that singular day to him.

As you might imagine, I’d like to go back.

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