object of the week

While the Pathfoot Building is closed, the Art Collection will each week focus on an object of interest. You can also search our entire collection online here.

Janka Malkowska
(Woodcut A/P)

The University Art Collection owns several prints by Polish artist Janka Malkowska. Born in in the early 20th century, and an artist from very early on, she had to go through quite a number of experiences and adventures before she settled in Scotland and became a print maker.

Janina (‘Janka’) E. Malkowska was born in Warsaw where she began her studies in art at the academy, later going to Vienna to do a graphic and fine arts degree at the Vienna Kunstgewerbe. Her longing then was for ”big decorative art – large-scale work!”.

The Village Party (Woodcut 2/6. Detail)
Generously donated by John McDougle

Back in Poland she married Wladyslaw Malkowski –they had known each other since childhood – but two months later the Nazis invaded and the couple were separated. During the German occupation, Janka hid in the mountains. There she discovered the ancient Polish folk art of woodcarving – she cut her designs out with a knife and printed them by hand using the back of a spoon. She also worked for the Polish underground: under cover of darkness she would walk the mountain trails, taking messages from one village to the next. This was an extremely dangerous undertaking – had she been caught she would have been executed. During the war her brother was killed while flying over Germany for the RAF and her parents also died. She found out however that her husband had escaped from a prisoner of war camp and was with the British and the American armies advancing towards Berlin.

Playtime (Woodcut, 3/24)

As the Nazis were retreating and the Russians drawing near she took her knapsack (she was always a great walker) and went west, spending eight days and nights on a cattle train with false German papers until by some miracle she got off the train and found her husband. She later exhibited her prints in Germany as a Polish Displaced Person. Because he spoke good English, her husband got to London and was sent to the Polish settlement in Inveraray. She joined him and by 1947 they were living in Edinburgh where her daughter was born. Later both became teachers at the Queen Victoria School in Dunblane.

Morning Sun (Screenprint,1/8, 1979)

Janka Malkowska joined Glasgow Print Studio in the early 1970s. She liked it as ”a great place with a special atmosphere”and she was much loved there as a colourful figure. A retrospective exhibition of her work was held there in 1993. Even at eighty five Malkowska worked big, hacking her vibrant woodcuts out of large planks of wood. In retirement she tried other print mediums like silkscreen but to the end woodcut remained her favourite. 

Our Cats (Woodcut, 6/10, 1968)

The day before she died she was still printing her art work on her own printing press. She really was a warrior of a woman who had experienced life to the full.

(Information in this text is based on an obituary printed in the Glasgow Herald in November 1997, with additional details provided by Josefina de Unamuno and Janka’s daughter Ania to both of whom many thanks).  

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