Zoom photo

Maria Grzegorek


Category II. Master of Tradition

Field of activity:
A talented and versatile artist. Master of bibułkarstwo (paper tissue flowers), an outstanding storyteller and promotor of the local dialect from Żywiec, and a poet. A prominent educator, populariser of regional traditions and ambassador of the Żywiec

Juszczyna, Żywieckie, woj. śląskie

Maria Grzegorek was born on 26 July 1954 in Juszczyna, a charming village in the Żywiec region, where she has spent her entire life. She grew up in a highlandersʼ family that lived by traditional values. Her unusual personality was shaped not only by many years of personal experience but also by the traditional values passed down from her ancestors. She raised five children and is the happy grandmother of eleven grandchildren. She is a trained nurse but has not practised her profession for many years. She has devoted herself to working on the farm and raising her children. She enjoys putting her skills and medical knowledge at the service of others; combining her medical knowledge with folk medicine and herbalism.

Maria Grzegorek is an extremely versatile artist whose talents and skills she learned at home. She is a master of Żywiec paper tissue flowers and an unsurpassed storyteller. She has been a member of the Association of Folk Artists since 2003.

In her outstanding storytelling, she depicts the old life in the countryside, traditional beliefs, customs and various important events of the past. Her stories also reveal interesting trades, old farming methods, the hardships of life, the sorrows and joys of everyday life. She builds the narrative of her stories masterfully, keeping the listener engaged, and the beautiful dialect of Żywiec makes her storytelling moving and fascinating.

Maria Grzegorek invents stories and cultivates storytelling for herself, but also for others. She used to prepare them for her children, and now she does it for her grandchildren. She also presents her stories at various storytelling competitions, where she wins prizes and awards. These competitions are also attended by her students who are equally successful as their master. Some of her stories have been published, for example, in the volume Na góralskich posiadach (On Highlandersʼ Feasts) published in 2002 by the Social and Cultural Association “Grojcowianie” and released on CD entitled Żywiecczyzna w opowieściach ludowych (The Żywiec Region in Folk Stories), compiled in 2008 by the Association of Żywiec Land Enthusiasts. She promotes the traditions and culture of the Żywiec region in films produced by the Żywiec District Governorʼs Office. These films can also be seen on the website dedicated to the activities of Żywiec Highlanders – Grojcowians (www.grojcowianie.org) and on their YouTube channel.

Maria Grzegorek is also a master of paper tissue ornamentation. She inherited the skill of making ritual props and objects, especially paper tissue flowers, from her family. Her grandmother and mother made them. She can make traditional Christmas ornaments, as well as Christmas pająki (Polish himmeli – protective decorations made of straw) and Easter palms. She is the only one in the Żywiec region to make large nameʼs dayʼs beams, which requires extraordinary skill.

Her paper tissue ornaments are breathtaking and delightful little wonders. In addition to compositions that follow traditional rules and patterns, she also creates innovative forms that meet the needs and preferences of the contemporary audience, often in miniature. Her contemporary compositions, however, are rooted in the traditional folk customs of the region. She has won numerous top awards in folk art competitions for her paper tissue works that exhibit her talent and compositional mastery and brilliance. The artist developed her own recognisable style. And because she passed it on to her daughters and granddaughters, one can speak of a family-style.

Maria Grzegorek is a talented and versatile artist, also known as a wonderful and patient teacher and educator of young people. She is extremely willing to share her skills and knowledge with others and motivates young people to cherish the tradition. The main principle that guides her teaching says that if the culture, dialect and skill of making paper tissue flowers are to survive, they must be disseminated.

Many women in Żywiec, who are paper tissue artists have benefited from Maria Grzegorekʼs tips and tricks. She regularly teaches the making of paper tissue flowers and ritual props in workshops for children, young people and adults. These workshops are regularly organised by the Żywiec District Governorʼs Office and the Żywiec Museum, as well as in Gliwice. She has also renovated straw and tissue paper spiders - exhibits from the collection of the Żywiec Museum. She also taught the curators of the Żywiec Museum how to make and preserve Żywiec paper tissue ornaments and straw products. Her efforts to preserve and pass on traditional skills in her immediate environment are remarkable. She regularly collaborates with schools and educates children and young people in her hometown Juszczyna and throughout the municipality in these crafts.

An important role in the preservation of tradition and its transmission between generations is played by the artistʼs exceptional personality, the ease with which she makes contact with people, the awareness of the value of tradition and its transmission to others, and the authenticity, passion and joy with which she does this.

One, perhaps the most important student of Maria Grzegorek is her youngest daughter – Barbara Wandzel, who was born in 1989. Barbara and her children and husband live with her mother in their family home. Here, since childhood, Barbara has been immersed in Żywiec tradition and this is where she developed her flair for making paper tissue flowers, speaking the local dialect, and everything else that her mother does. Barbara speaks an equally beautiful dialect, makes fantastic paper tissue flowers and plays the violin, accompanying various regional bands from Żywiec. She wins prizes in storytelling and paper tissue competitions. Her daughter Marysia already has many of these valuable skills.

It is truly fortunate for the Żywiec region, but also for the entire Polish folk culture, that we have such unique and dedicated ambassadors, wonderful teachers and incomparable masters as Maria Grzegorek.

Krystyna Pieronkiewicz-Pieczko