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The beginnings of this first open-air museum in post-war Poland trace its history back to the thirties of the 20th century. At that time, worthy descendants of the noble House of Moniak from Orava (performing hereditary role of the head of village) donated a remaining part of their heritage properties in favor of the State Treasury. They were Joanna Wilczkowa from the Łaciak family and her brother who had already lived permanently in Budapest - Alexander (actually Sándor Lattyak). Their old manor with a 17th-century small park preserved and surrounded by streams, with its irregular layout and a view of Babia Mountain in the background, greatly impressed each person visiting that place. But only the Manager of Tatra Museum in Zakopane - Juliusz Zborowski and the heritage conservator Bogdan Treter from Cracow knew how to save this unique place in the southern Małopolska from oblivion. Thanks to their intensive actions and efforts, on August 13, 1937 - the will of mentioned donors was finalized. Consequently, first works in order to preserve this unique manorly-economic-spatial complex were undertaken, while wondering what kind of organizational form should be given to the complex. Those actions were interrupted by war. Although monuments of the Orava region had ceased to be protected, the uniqueness of this place still attracted people to come here. There is an interesting note about that time and its end posted in the ‘Wierchów’ chronicle by a person knowing perfectly well this mountainous land - prof. Marian Gotkiewicz: Around the beginning of August 1945, I was walking again to Orava from Sidzina in the company of Janek Pluciński. After a few hours walking we talked with Mrs. Joanna Wilczkowa - Lattyak, from the Moniak's manor in Zubrzyca Górna. A few quarters later, when we were saying goodbye to Ms. Wilczkowa, she handed us a book, inviting us – Sign in to this memorial book. Throughout the whole war I was hiding it. Gen. Catlos and so many eminent Germans and their various allies were here in the manor, but I didn’t want them to sign in. The last who had signed in before the war, was a gentleman from Cracow. Oh! Here is his name. You are welcome to sign in as the first POLISH TOURISTS after the war.

I've been waiting for this moment for a long time – These are my signatures that will meet each other after 6 years - I replied, feeling touched – You are the one who had signed here before the war? - Mrs. Wilczkowa wondered.

Bogdan Treter, after returning from a difficult war wandering, undertook immediately necessary works in order to protect the deteriorating Moniak's manor. Unfortunately, his death interrupted further caring which also included the owner's lot - Joanna. Her function there was like the first curator. She also passed away a short time later, having experienced the hardships of the new socio-economic system. It happened on March 19, 1951. The 17th-century manor kept deteriorating and the whole economic assumption fell into complete ruin. New decision-making factors changed the function of the manor by converting it into a sheep stable.

In Cracow (Polish: Kraków), Hanna Pieńkowska took over the position after Bogdan Treter. When visiting for the first time Zubrzyca Górna in summer 1951, she met with the Podhale Commission for the Protection of Monuments of PTTK and the Cracow Regional Commission. As a result, a decision about the future of the historic manor was made. The renovation and restoration works were conducted in the years 1953-1954, after obtaining enough funds from the Ministry, after gathering building and impregnating materials for endangered timber. The works were conducted by a construction and restoration team under the direction of Jędrzej Chowaniec, a foreman from Nowy Targ. Contractors of undertaken works were the local people, among them was Andrzej Pilch who over time took charge of all organizational and technical works, performing this function for many years. Accounts concerning progress of the restoration works and the substantive reasons for all the decisions were published by Hanna Pieńkowska in the quarterly journal ‘Ochrona Zabytków’ (Protection of Historical Monuments). Earlier, the day of the official opening came - September 11, 1955 - ten years after the visit of prof. Gotkiewicz and Pluciński, mentioned at the beginning. At the opening ceremony Juliusz Zborowski - an initiator of the project to create the natural ethnographic park around the rescued Moniak's manor, took a speech. The opening of the Orava Touristic and Sightseeing Center in Zubrzyca Górna (Polish: Orawski Ośrodek Krajoznawczo-Turystyczny w Zubrzycy Górnej), because this was the first name given to the heritage park at that moment, was graced by the voice of prof. Walery Goetel, as well as by the artwork of the regional group, established and cared by the manager of the Institution. The institution name resulted from the fact that the Ministry entrusted administration issues to the Polish Touristic and Sightseeing Society (Polish: Polskie Towarzystwo Turystyczno-Krajoznawcze, abbr. PTTK) – its target was to combine most efficiently tourism and educational activity in the institution created. For this purpose, in the first building relocated from Podwilk in 1954 (that was a 18th-century inn), a tourist shelter was organized. The person responsible for the shelter for almost 20 years was Andrzej Pilch and his son whose name was also Andrzej.

The Tatra Museum was responsible for substantive care by delegating its employees to both outdoor research and organizational studies. It was mostly Dr. Wanda Jostowa who, after some research and consultations with Cracow restoration team and the Institute of Folk Art headed by prof. Roman Reinfuss, determined a development program for the museum in Zubrzyca Górna. She presented the first instructions in ‘People’. She writes there: The Orava Ethnographic Park is an intention of national importance and value. The exposition scenario envisages to organize in the left-wing an exhibition of an interior of a peasant's cottage of Orava, in form of a museum. The right-wing of the manor house has been destined for an exhibition of Orava folk art. She also stated that the number of purchased exhibits, that is the entire collection, was in total 36 pieces. The first wing was successfully and quickly developed, the concept of the second wing changed. Interiors of a living room, an alcove and a manor chancellery were recreated there, in compliance with the Hanna Pieńkowska’s scenario, following a request of the contributors:

Our wish is to protect the standard nature of this manor for future generations in form of a museum in which it could also be found place for movable property belonging to the family, related with the history of the manor and this land.

Simultaneously, from the very beginning, inventories of traditional construction were carried out along with studies on basic occupations of the local people - flock tending, farming in the so-called ‘Bory’ and on annual and family rituals and ceremonies. Wanda Jostowa compiled the first folder guidebook leading through the museum with photographs taken by Zofia Gorazdowska. Its second edition was enhanced by Pieńkowska’s introduction, explaining the composition principles of developing Ethnographic Park, whereas Tadeusz Staich compiled the so-called methodical guidebook ‘Na Polskiej Orawie’ (In Polish Orava) for the Tatra and Beskids guidebooks supporting educational work of the museum.

The activity of the Orava heritage park was observed in increasingly wider circles and mentioned in important publications, both domestic and foreign. The yearbook of the Ethnographic Museum in Cracow from 1972 intimates in the chronicles: The Museum in Zubrzyca Górna enlarged its collection in 1968 with a historic cottage from 1839 - from Jabłonka, and a bell tower transferred from the village. The exhibition area involves 17 rooms along with chambers of 280 m2, on 24 December 1968 a new exhibition ‘Christmas and New Year's rituals’ was opened. It inaugurates a series of exhibitions ‘The ritual year in Orava’. Since 1955, the curator function had been socially performed by Dr. Wanda Jostowa from Zakopane.

The nationalization of the Museum coincided with the administrative reform implemented in the country, Orava was incorporated in the nowosądeckie voivodeship. Dr. Wanda Jostowa was appointed the director of the institution, a fixed budget was allocated, the number of full-time jobs was increased and inventory documentation was carried on by authority of a new restorer. A team performing documentation was supervised by Dr. Marian Kornecki from WKZ-Cracow. The scope of research had been wided and educational activity had expanded, among others by hosting the event ‘Posiady Orawskie’ organized together with the local branch of Podhalanie Union. Its manager cand. Stanisław Wałach took care of the local regional group. That collaboration resulted in better association of museum's work with local community, undertaking a study on vocabulary and music folklore and attempts to make a film. Some parts of the historic buildings had been adapted for a reception area, offices and a special handy library room. The library existed, admittedly, in previous years, but with a modest book collection - it was formed and run from the very beginning by Dr. Jostowa. Moreover, there were beginnings of creating a photographic and ethnographic archive run by the Ethnographic Department. Despite having employed some people, considering new tasks adopted by the museum, they were rather a modest substantive staff. It was basically a one-department organization - the Ethnographic Department performed at the same time many functions: educational, documenting, consulting, inventory as well as library services, it remained like that until the end of the 20th century.

The latter half of the 70s was the end of a particular stage of activity, perhaps a bit pioneering, but with a great abundance of restoration progress and cultural successes. There were fundamental changes in the atmosphere around the Moniak's manor, created by the constant presence of tourists in the local PTTK's shelter, run with dedication by Andrzej Pilch, already mentioned before. The liquidation of the tourist shelter, then retiring of the manager - an irreplaceable museum guide, were noticeable in the further work and in the nature of this place. Further changes were also tough. Hanna Pieńkowska passed away, it was also the end of a fantastic period of managing by of Dr. Wanda Jostowa (however, the crew had been reckoning with her opinion for several years –in any more difficult substantive matter, and without her agreement they would have not approved many decisions).

The next 25 years is characterized by a fast rotation when it comes to the manger position, which, as it is known, is not conducive to maintaining the substantive line of development. However, the achievements at institution's work were amazing. Manager Teodor Pawlak who, by the authority of Tatra Museum Director - Tadeusz Szczepanik, took over the position after Wanda Jostowa, tried to appreciate the program and priorities of the Ethnographic Department. Threat to the development appeared only for a moment, but the library ultimately survived - it was oriented on so-called collections of ‘Oravians’- requiring laborious search and transactional operations, which taking into account the  museum’s location in terrain, after all, was not easy to undertake. The manager Pawlak developed significantly music and folklore events as well as shows of traditional rituals. Not only possessed he an extraordinary talent for interpreting them vigorously in the Oravian dialect, but also was a great musician himself, he founded a family band which along with other regional bands graced many meetings and community events.

The new regional conservator from Nowy Sącz - Małgorzata Biedroń, thinking about the spatial development of the Orava heritage park, appointed Grażyna Herzig-Wolska, an ethnographer from the Cracow school as a manager. The activity was clearly oriented on further protection of the traditional buildings disappearing at an alarming rate. Field studies were undertaken and several homesteads for relocation were tipped – not having been represented in the current exposition so far. There was also used the ‘in situ’ method for protection of the homesteads. The architectural collection was growing and it was necessary to think about acquiring new areas for future buildings. In the mid-1980s, a small open-air museum from Sidzina was additionally incorporated into the organizational structures and under the care of our museum - that had already been organized in the early 1960s by a well-known social worker and a veteran pedagogue - Adam Leśniak.

An exciting initiative of Mrs. Grażyna Herzig Wolska was to enable young generation from Orava to gain closer insight into regional and museum issues by establishing a theater ‘Kubuś-Orawiocek’. The entire project was run by a former research worker ASP from Cracow, Janusz Kaczorowski. The meetings took place in the museum with access to selected exhibits, children could derive inspirations from them in order to prepare theater designs for the plays, but in the Oravian spirit. Furthermore, the texts of classic fairy tales, both Polish and from all over the world, were translated by children to the Oravian dialect. The theater presented its small and big achievements at relevant theater reviews throughout Poland. Culture of Orava was promoted and children got familiar with the country.

When it comes to development of the ethnographic museum itself, prospective development plans for the future area (of the so-called the second sector) were formulated. Also, many new inventories were made with a view to extending the heritage park. However, works on the implementation had already begun during the term of the manager Eugeniusz Moniak (1993). The new part was intended to take on the spatial structure of the village and be situated in the north-western part of an area adjacent to the old park exhibition. On the 5-hectare area lying in the fork of two streams, there was created an outline of a scattered chain with a system of field plots, at least a little referring to old parcel areas, called in old times ‘łany leśne’, what can be translated as forest fields.

Very helpful at this time were activities of the ‘Friends of Orava Society’ (Polish: Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Orawy, abbr. TPO). Its first elected Managing Director was prof. Ryszard Kantor from the Department of Slavic Ethnography of Jagiellonian University in Cracow - a researcher and expert of Oravian issues with many years of experience. There were organized common exhibitions and popular science sessions on the museum premises. These actions were supported by the next TPO Managing Directors - Leon Rydel, Ryszard Remiszewski, and especially priest Władysław Pilarczyk. They published statements and articles about the museum's work in the TPO's body – ‘Orawa’. It was not until 1997 when the museum began publishing its own periodical ‘Rocznik Orawski’ (Orava Yearbook).

The museum's preservation activity as well as program activities got noticed and in 1999 the heritage park was awarded with an exceptional distinction – ‘Sybilla’.

The new manager of the heritage park for the new century became Emilia Rutkowska, a well-known pedagogue and employee at the office of Jabłonka commune. During her term (until 2012), the realization of new sector had been developed, largely thanks to acquired European funds. The church of Our Lady of the Snows was relocated from Tokarnia, next cottages, outbuildings and the presbitery from Podwilk were also transported here. The museum gained among others a playground and various objects of small architecture and began organizing its cyclical folklore event – ‘The Blueberry Festival’ and frequent temporary exhibitions, the curator of many those exhibitions was irreplaceable Mrs. Urszula Janicka-Krzywda. Moreover, educational activities have been introduced to the museum's offer.

From 2006, the Marshal's Office of the małopolskie voivodeship became the managing authority for the museum, and the heritage park, as the Museum - Orawa Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna was entered into the State Museum Register.

text: Jadwiga Pilch

compilation: Leszek Janiszewski


  • Sándor Lattyak and Joanna Wilczkowa
  • Moniak’s Manor, the beginning of the 1950s, WUOZ archive
  • The Heritage Park, 1960s, from the left: R. Reinfuss, W. Jostowa, H. Pieńkowska, A. Kydryńska, J. Pilch, NN, A. Pilch

Diploma - Sybilla 1999