The School of Wood Industry in Zakopane owed its great success to its outstanding directors. At the beginning of the 20th century, Stanisław Barabasz, a great enthusiast of the highland Zakopane style, was appointed the director of the then School of Wood Carving. During the 1920s, architect Karol Stryjeński took over the management of the School, which at that time became known as the School of Wood Industry. Thanks to Stryjeński's reforms in 1925, the facility won the Grand Prix for its teaching methods at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris. The school could also pride itself on outstanding teaching staff, which included artists such as Wojciech Brzega, Władysław Skoczylas, or Antoni Kenar, who at that time was still at the beginning of his artistic career.


In the interwar period, the School of Wood Industry developed into a real art center which, while continuing the local tradition of folk sculpture, anticipated the newest, most progressive movements in the world - cubism, futurism, and expressionism. Before World War I, the School, despite its efforts to be artistically original, often fell into decorative and souvenir art. It was only under the direction of Karol Stryjeński (1922-27), and later under Marian Wimmer (1936-39) that the emphasis was put not only on functionality but also on the artistic value. Stryjeński created a contemporary, yet native style, referring in a deliberate way to Polish folklore.


This period was marked by a symbolic event which consisted in breaking and throwing into a stream all the gypsum models used for teaching. In this way, the architect broke with the eclectic historicism that constituted the School's domain before the reform. By introducing modern teaching methods, Stryjeński tried to fight the tackiness of Zakopane souvenir art, which included "carved plates to hang on the wall, knives for cutting books that no one reads, shepherd's axes with wooden heads, coffrets... everything with the motifs of edelweiss, chamois, eagles, figures and faces of brigands or shepherds, later decorated with polychrome"(Ferdynand Goetel, Tatry, Gdańsk 2000, p 20). The architect contributed to eliminating mindless copying of old patterns from the School's teachings, which was one of the main goals from the beginning of Stryjeński's term of office, "Having rejected the existing patterns and models of mostly Viennese origins (from 30 years ago), the method of teaching was based on the art unspoiled by anything, fresh souls of the youth. This method consists in the students, encouraged and supported in their efforts by teachers, being able to create art that is honest, suitable for them, which does not consist in mechanically copying alien and incomprehensible forms". (Katalog Wystawy prac uczniów Państwowej Szkoły Przemysłu Drzewnego w Zakopanem, 1924, pp. 2-3).


Stryjeński was not concerned with the academic education of his students, but with the development of a style that, drawing on local tradition, would be able to serve the renewed Polish state. The success of the students at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in Paris in 1925 proved that these methods and the manner of their implementation were going in the right direction. In addition to distinguishing student's works, public appreciated the applied teaching methods. The theory of the "Zakopane style" was born from the assumption that the art and architecture of Podhale were the only ones in Poland to retain native elements, unspoiled by cosmopolitan influence. The sculptures made in the Zakopane School in 1926-36 constituted the last consistent reception of Podhale's art. They had cubist, sharp, and dynamic forms, the topic of the work was virtually subdued to the depicted movement. 


The students of the School of Wood Industry frequently created wooden religious statuettes. They included the so-called "Madonnas of Karol Stryjeński". The depicted characters were synthesized, had simplified anatomy, and no unnecessary ornaments. Contrary to the most frequent representations of Virgin Mary, the Mother of God was dressed in simple clothes associated with regional costumes. Most often, Mary was presented without Baby Jesus in her arms, which broke the convention repeated for millennia. Her divinity was rendered through geometric mandoras and radiant halo, multi-layered rings, and wreaths. 


At the upcoming auction "Zakopane. City in the Mountains" we present a sculpture "The Radiant Mother of God" by Edward Wnęk, a graduate of the Zakopane School from 1933. The signature on the bottom of the sculpture ('POLONIA | ZAKOPANE | SCOLA | WNĘK EDWARD') indicates that the item was destined for export. After the success at the International Decorative Arts Exhibition, the works by the students of the School of Wood Industry began to enjoy great popularity in other countries. In Zakopane, foreign-language catalogs with the most appreciated items were also published, aiming at promoting Polish art abroad.


Stryjeński's style of running the School was completely innovative. It was direct, not stiff, and applied to both students and the teaching staff. Although he used to walk around the school in a bathrobe, he was a real authority among his pupils and teachers, which is reflected in the words of Władysław Skoczylas, "Looking at the achievements of the director of the School in Zakopane, Karol Stryjeński, one could take heart that this School, being such an important facility for the development of decorative art in Podhale, eventually found a suitable leader" (as cited in: Halina Kenarowa, Od zakopiańskiej Szkoły Przemysłu Drzewnego do Szkoły Kenara, Kraków 1978, p. 163). In his teaching method, Stryjeński referred to the artistic imagination of his students, the concise form of folk art, and the economical and synthetic means of expression associated with Polish formism, which made use of elements present in cubism, futurism, and expressionism. Stryjeński wrote, "[the school] tries to treat each student individually from the very moment he or she starts school, reveal the creative potential, which is hidden in the soul of every child. When teachers indicate the right direction and set the students on the right course, they provide the possibility of developing a common feature, which after many years will create a new, contemporary, and unique artistic style of the school"(Karol Stryjeński, Szkoła Przemysłu Drzewnego," Giewont" 1924, p. 27). 


Geometric compositions became the most characteristic forms of the School of Wood Industry. Figures with sharp, crystal shapes began to appear after the Paris exhibition in classes led by Wojciech Brzega and Roman Olszewski. Over time, this design began to be more clarified and the forms became increasingly dynamic, fractured, almost abstract. Over the course of several years, the Zakopane School created a completely new artistic language referring to European trends, especially expressionism, cubism, and futurism, combining them in a naturally surprising and refreshing manner. The woodcarving of the Zakopane school - sharply shaped - and therefore multi-faceted and dynamic, is the essence of Polish art deco.