Wonderful world of star wanderer

Vitebsk Region’s Glubokoe hosts Wonderful World of Uncle Yazep exhibition, devoted to 125th anniversary of artist Yazep Drozdovich’s birth
By Yuri Chernyakevich

Some Belarusian painters leave more of a legacy than others. An elite radiate such skill and national character that they shine like beacons. Famous Belarusian graphic artist, sculptor, writer, folklorist, ethnographer and archaeologist Yazep Drozdovich is one such: born 125 years ago in the Glubokoe District’s Punki, to a poor yet noble family.

Drozdovich’s range of talents and achievements was quite breath-taking: he painted wonderfully and taught others; he collected museum exhibits, participating in archaeological digs; he recorded folklore and sketched old castles; he established a school to teach in Belarusian; he set up an amateur theatre; he wrote papers on astronomy; and he was a skilled palm reader! His perfect knowledge of Belarusian enabled him to publish a book of prose and compile a diary describing the twists and turns of his life, as well as his thoughts, feelings and dreams.

Drozdovich is mainly known as an artist, having been taught painting by Professor Ivan Trutnev, at Vilno’s Artistic School. After graduating, Yazep joined the army but later lectured in drawing at Minsk’s Women’s Gymnasium. As an illustrator, he liaised with newspapers and magazines, with works printed in the 1910 Belarusian calendar and the Belarusian Konstantsia Builo’s Mount Flower book of poetry, as well as in his own books. 

By the late 1920s, Drozdovich had begun drawing castles, as well as Belarusian landscapes — for his Disnenshchyna series. Among these, his pictures devoted to medieval Belarus stand out: those showing scenes from the Polotsk Duchy and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Travelling across Belarus in Soviet times, Drozdovich visited hundreds of villages, chatting to local residents and recording their folk songs and lexicon, as well as sketching.

Drozdovich also painted works on the theme of the cosmos and, in 1931, published a popular book on astronomy in, Belarusian: Celestial Run. His keen interest led him to develop a city plan for the Moon — including quays and parks. Drozdovich’s wide reading on the subject of astronomy even led him to draw speculative images of creatures which might live on Mars and Saturn. He also designed spacecraft, which resembled those later made in the 20th century (after his death).

Quite a few of Drozdovich’s works were exhibited at the Historical-Ethnographical Museum in the Vitebsk Region’s Glubokoe this past December. The Wonderful World of Uncle Yazep was devoted to the 125th anniversary of the artist’s birth — organised by the Belarusian National Art Museum, the Zaslavl Historical-Cultural Museum-Reserve and the Germanovichi Culture and Life Museum (which shared Drozdovich’s works from its archive).

The museum’s five halls housed dozens of canvases, paintings and sculptures, including Welcoming Spring on Saturn, depicting outlandish alien residents, as well as his picture of the Roman Catholic church (in the village of Zadorozhye) and his vivid portrait of Polotsk’s Grand Duke Vseslav Polotsky.

Drozdovich’s life and artistry were rich enough to fill several volumes but Arseny Lis — who has studied the master — summed up the great man’s life succinctly in his book: ‘Yazep Drozdovich was a unique artist and an interesting person. He spent all his life travelling, searching for bread and truth. We can’t help but admire the breadth of his achievements in his endlessly nomadic, shifting life’.
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