past & present

past & present: pajaki chandeliers + get your own

by Amy Azzarito

A couple of years ago, these Polish paper chandeliers began popping up on design blogs. And a couple of years ago Grace asked me to write a Past & Present column on them. So two short years later, I finally decided to dig into the pajaki chandeliers. Luckily, they’re still as colorful and cheerful as ever. The literal translation of Pajaki is “spiders of straw” and these paper chandeliers were part of the elaborate Christmas celebration of Polish peasants. {Big thanks to Izabella Waszkielewicz for help with the Polish translation!}

Image above: Illustration by Julia Rothman

Image above: Pajak from PolArt, $129.95

There is a strong folk arts and crafts tradition in Poland and it was particularly strong in the Lowicz region of Poland – an area located little more than 50 miles outside Warsaw. And in the winter, when much of the outdoor work was suspended, Polish peasant families passed the time by preparing for their two major holidays – Christmas and Easter. Paper cutting became a popular folk craft in the mid-1800s when Polish peasants would create elaborate cutouts to decorate the walls and ceiling beams of their homes. These cutouts were called wycinanki and decorated the walls of peasant homes. For the ceiling decoration, pajaki were crafted using colored paper and straw.

Image about: Pajaki from the Polish Art Center $135

The most common type of pajakii were made from a bunch of wheat tied to one end and when opened, the grain formed a lacy border. This type of pajaki was known as the dziad and was hung over the Christmas Eve table. The pajaki remained over the table until New Year’s Day, when it was carried on visits to friends and was beaten with a stick while chanting “For your good luck, for your good health.” After the visiting concluded the wheat was thrown into the fields when cabbages would grow in the spring or placed under a cow in the stable as a symbol of hopefulness for the harvest in the year to come.

Books to Read
Polish-American folklore by Deborah Anders Silverman

Image above: Pajaki chandeliers from the Polish Arts Center, $95 – 175

Image above: Lena Corwin’s modern take on the pajaki

If you want to bring a Pajaki chandelier into your home, you can find ones made in Poland at Polish Arts Centers. But you can also try your hand at making your own like Lena Corwin (above). Sarah Neuburger from the small object has also tried her hand at making these mobiles and if you’re attempting your own, she suggested these Swedish straws. If you’d like to see a tutorial, Tea in The Sea made a pajaki with just things lying around her house! And if you’ve made a Pajaki, we’d love to see it! Put a link in the comments.

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