Photos prof. Roman Reinfuss in Museum Ethnographic in Krakow

Photographs by Professor Roman Reinfuss at the Ethnographical Museum in Krakow

A series of 32 photos was taken at Lipnica Wielka on April 30, 1969 at the Smreczak family farm. Due to the fact that at the end of August Heródek fell ill and got to hospital in Nowy Targ where he died on September 1, they are probably ones of his last photos,

The photographs register a few situations. The first of them show Heródek playing the violin, and his music is being recorded on the tape recorder. Next to him there are Bożena Kłobuszowska, a psychologist and Zbigniew Poprawski, a theatre director and a folklore lover. On other photos Heródek presents his sculptures (we can see as many as 15), placed on the ground, on the logs and on the top of a fuel wood pile. We can see his typical figures of angels with wings, Madonnas, bishops with miters and the Resurrected Christ with the banner. Such spontaneous ‘exhibitions’ of sculptures brought from the shed outside or to the meadow, were Heródek’s favorite performances. He enjoyed them even better when he found listeners to his tales of the saints’ good life.

Next photos show Karol Wójciak looking at the reproductions of works of art. Next to him there appears a curious elderly woman and a boy from the Smreczak family. It is possible that the boy acted as an interpreter since Heródek, as we know from several accounts expressed himself in a mumbling way and was best understood by children. The situation of looking at the pictures was registered in ten photos which may point to the longest lasting meeting with Heródek. On two of them we can see Heródek who is looking at Rubens’s Bacchanalia with focused attention. Most certainly it is the moment described by Kłobuszowska studying the sculptor’s esthetical taste and creative motivations. ‘He most strongly reacted to Rubens (…) Every painting gave rise to a long comment, cries of admiration; he touched the contours of the painted bodies and objects with his fingers, saying ‘how beautiful it is’. In order to make sure that such strong reactions were not a coincidence, I showed him a few days later 40 colorful reproductions, among which there was only one painting by Rubens. Karol looked through the pictures without any reaction and only when he got to ‘Bacchanalia’, he became clearly livened up, his mimics and gestures changed. He remained focused on the reproduction for half an hour’ (see B. Kłobuszowska, Karol Wójciak Heródek. A Portrait of a Folk Artist.; Polish Folk Art; Polska Sztuka Ludowa , 1972, vol 4, p. 213).

Further photographs show Wójciak carrying a basolia and sitting down with them on the stairs in front of a house. We learn from the article by Janusz Mroczek, that Heródek used to play not only the violin but the basolia when he participated in all the local celebrations such as weddings, christenings and even funeral parties.

The last three photos show Heródek carving with a clasp knife. There is one detail worth our attention, namely when he was bending over the illustrations of works of art and when he was carving a figure, he took off his cap from his head as if he wanted to underline that such moments should be distinguished by a gesture of respect.

Grzegorz Graff

*Dated on the basis of: Janusz Mroczek, Heródek’s Music Making (Heródkowe Muzykowanie), ‘Polish Folk Art’ (Polska Sztuka Ludowa), 1972, vol. 4, footnote 4.

NOVY MIT. Heródek.


What is Novy mit? We are interested in telling the history of Heródek from scratch and in a new way.

The facts first: We are interested in Heródek, the conscious artist. Heródek, the literate. Heródek the humanist. Heródek, the philosopher. Heródek, the jazzman. Heródek the activist. Heródek, the friend of animals. Heródek the prophet.

We actually began telling the new tale of Heródek in 2012. What happened in 2012 turned out to have triggered what is happening around Wójciak today, or even what is still to happen. It is 2017. Even two or three years ago it seemed impossible or rather unimagined.

Earlier Heródek returns to Lipnica Wielka in 2012. The inhabitants of Lipnica watch the performance entitled The Failed Relative. In 2013, after 44 years, the artist’s photograph appears on the gravestone. In 2014 Heródek’s dream comes true symbolically: in the parish church his sculptures are displayed for one day. Novy mit leads us to 2019. This is when we will be celebrating 50th anniversary of the artist’s death and, let’s hope, the exhibition NOVY MIT / TROPY HERÓDKA (NEV MYTH HERÓDEK’S TRACKS) will be opened. The first exhibition, including as many exhibits as possible, gathered through the online Gnotek Counter. Gnotek in Lipnica dialect means simply a woodblock and this is how he called his sculptures. This ‘Heródek Woodstock’ will bring plenty of his sculptures together.

Here are some motifs we are going to tackle in Novy mit. We wish for enhanced dimensions of Heródek. The merry peasant’ is no longer sufficient for us. There exist prerequisites pointing out to the fact that he had a sense of being different and being predestined for something more than just being a shepherd. The inhabitants of Lipnica Wielka will talk together with us. We are not going to interfere with their statements. We will leave them without an evaluation or comments. There will also be art historians, curators, passionate collectors, other amateur artists, sceptics and maybe doctors speaking as well.

The fact that Heródek was literate will come as a considerable surprise for the supporters of the theory of his illiteracy. There is remaining evidence to that on pieces of paper at the Władysław Orkan Museum in Rabka-Zdrój. Karol wrote his surname with ‘V’. The ‘V’ just had to appear in Novy mit (or The Nev Myth if you prefer the English version). We are investigating the impact of Heródek’s art on Polish culture. As the first ones, we weigh his sculptures. We want to undertake the discussion if the nickname ‘Orawski Nikifor’, brought him more good or harm.

The fans of in crudo music will enjoy a treat. Till now, Heródek the musician was assessed from the point of view of the musicologist Janusz Mroczek (Heródek’s Music Making; Heródkowe muzykowanie, PSL, 1972, vol. 26, issue 4, pp. 215–222). Ludwik Młynarczyk from Kiczory will tell a new story of Wójciak the musician. A violinist, a teacher, a genuine music maker, Młynarczyk played together with Heródek.

Art historian Żaneta Groborz-Mazanek will talk in Novy mit about the phenomenon of Heródek’s output, about his art evading traditional classification. She will give us the key to reading Heródek’s output. Heródek’s sculpture, on the borderline between incompatible styles of expression will put together what is separate and Heródek will reveal his face unknown to date.

Finally the question of the gender of sculptures, so far described as genderless.

Heródek as a sculptor is mainly associated with simple forms. Among them are vertical poles, vertical poles with wings, vertical poles with characteristic arms (Resurrected Christs), vertical poles with two persons from one trunk, and finally, vertical poles without polychrome. There are no horizontal forms (e.g. Christ’s falls, Infant Jesus in the cradle) nor sitting ones (Pensive Christs), nor crucified Christs. Instead, there appears another new form: a painted, slightly carved board. Two such exhibits can be found in the museums in Zubrzyca Górna and Zakopane. There is also the third board, yet we know nothing about what has happened to it and where it is.

Around the thread of discovering Heródek, there will appear a pioneering publication concerning the late Jerzy Darowski. It will be published thanks to the close cooperation of the project authors with Darowski’s relatives.

We will also be asking for the memories of the amateur actors participating in the performance The Failed Relative. They will be taken care of by Magdalena Urbańska, theatre studies graduate, currently doing her PhD in film studies.

There is much more to be told, possibly not everything can be told. The myth, to be enlivened, needs to be faced with a menace. It will do anything not to be annihilated through forgetting. The core of the tale will remain unchanged: Heródek who could weave his myth about the courage to live his own way.

How long will Heródek’s Novy mit last?

We are going to keep it on until the exhibition and the publishing of the accompanying publication in 2019. What will happen then? Some people believe that it is only the beginning of discovering Heródek’s world – what we know is only the top of an iceberg.

We are unable to predict it today. We hope we will be followed by others.

Whoever they will be, we want them to tell Heródek’s myth in a supernev way.


                                                                                                                         Maja Spychaj-Kubacka

Short film of Roman Reinfuss

Roman Reinfuss’s Short Film

In the archive of Ethnographic Museum in Krakow there is a short film material connected with Karol Wójciak Heródek, registered by Prof. Roman Reinfuss at Lipnica Wielka in 1969 (available at YouTube MEK; digitalized by M. Długosz and A. Kazanecki, 2009).

A frame from R. Reinfuss’s film

The film lasting less than five minutes is a black and white silent movie and it comprises two sequences. The first one was shot on 30 April at the Smreczak family farm, where Wójciak lived. We can see Heródek, who, encouraged by the visitors from outside Lipnica, plays the violin and sings. His music is being recorded on the tape recorder. A minute later, Heródek is listening to the recording played to him with visible curiosity and a smile on his face. We can see that the lively music makes him wish to dance, he spontaneously jiggles about and scuttles. Then for a moment there appear Heródek’s sculptures, standing near a pile of fuel wood. Next Heródek looks through the illustrations with painting masterpieces and talks to a lady sitting next to him, probably Bożena Kłobuszowska, the author of the most extensive article of Heródek’s life and output published in ‘Polish Folk Art’ (Polska Sztuka Ludowa, 1972, issue 4, pp. 207-214).


A frame from R. Reinfuss’s film

The other sequence was shot on 3 September and shows the funeral. The coffin with the body of Karol Wójciak is carried from the church at Lipnica Wielka to the parish cemetery. The funeral celebrations are performed by the parish priest Bolesław Góral, and Heródek is accompanied in his last way by the Smreczak family and numerous neighbors. Among the gathered people we may discern another person with a camcorder, which means that apart from the short material by Roman Reinfuss, also another film was made, unfound so far.

Most probably it was the first funeral at Lipnica Wielka which attracted the attention not only of its inhabitants but also of many people from outside the village and which was documented in such a detailed way.

PS. The authors of HERODEK.PL portal are looking for the recordings of Karol Wójciak’s compositions and the above mentioned film from the funeral. We will be grateful for any tips regarding the place where such materials could be kept.

You can contact:


Grzegorz Graff


Autograph Karol Wójciak “Heródek”

The autograph of Karol Wójciak ‘Heródek’a

It is difficult to decipher the content of the short text, written with a pencil on the pages of school notebook by Heródek’s hand, unskilled in handwriting. It is hard to say if it is a poem, a song or maybe a prayer. The religious oration referring to the matins, the early morning prayer, can be pointed out by the first and last words: velcome aurora (…) like to god (…) amen.

Karol Wójciak attended school for two years. It was enough to master the basics of reading, writing and counting only. Poverty in which he was born did not allow further education, he had to earn his living as a shepherd very early in his life.

When he grew up, he often used his ability to read and even improved it, reaching for occasionally obtained newspapers and religious handouts. He was remembered as a man ready to talk and sharing his reflections willingly. Many people recalling ‘Heródek’ mentioned the fact that he used to surprise, reciting long excerpts from the Bible by heart, interpreting them properly or the content of church sermons (see.  B. Kłobuszowska, Karol Wójciak Heródek. Portret ludowego artysty; A Portrait of Folk Artist, Polish Folk Art. „Polska Sztuka Ludowa”, 1972 issue 4, p. 210).

The autograph of Karol Wójciak ‘Heródek’ can be found in the Władysław Orkan Museum in Rabka-Zdrój.

 Grzegorz Graff

Eye to eye with Heródek

Face to face with Heródek

  1. The Phenomenon of Heródek’s Output

Karol Wójciak, called Heródek (1892-1969), a country shepherd from Lipnica Wielka [1]. A sculptor, but also a performer – a singing and dancing story-teller [2], a village outcast with mumbling speech and pure heart.

Today we would say professionally: an intellectually disabled artist, even if, after all the years it is difficult to assess the degree of the disability. Afflicted by physical suffering (a thyroid disease?), despite difficult childhood and life full of humiliations he maintained serenity and believed in the good of the world as a natural part of heaven. He used to live in stables on some farms. Since the day of his meeting with a sculptor of carved saints for the wayside shrines, a self-educated man named Przywara, instead of his favorite animals, he took up carving saint figures in woodblocks – Christ, Virgin Mary and saints.

The output of Karol Wójciak is an entirely separate phenomenon. It is set in the village environment, folk culture, traditional piety and it has nothing in common with traditional folk sculpture. Other than the topic.

Heródek’s unprofessional output reveals how much all the classifications aspiring to cover all the phenomena connected with art and artistic activity prove to be inadequate and the notions themselves ambiguous and not very precise. Heródek escapes. He escapes tradition, the tastes of fellow countrymen, already accustomed to city goods, more or less realistic in nature. Heródek’s figures are for them strange, unnecessary and worthless. The usual fantasies of the village freak.

He is not a folk sculptor although he is rooted in folk culture, he is not an entirely naïve artist. He presents, it is true, a naïve, devoid of intellectual distance vision of the world and he saves in himself a tiny bit of childlike naiveté, yet he does not apply an awkwardly simplified realistic tools. He is not an art brut artist sensu stricto, although he creates without any connection with the so-called high art, official currents or fashionable trends and patterns of traditional folk sculpture. He lives in the country and presents its values, not the hermetic world of his own imagination. A typical outsider creating out of his inner urge, driven by emotions and convinced of propagating an important mission. The artist on the borderline of folk art and art brut marked by the urge to create and religious mission. He does not care about the recipients’ tastes, yet he needs them. The recipients, or rather viewers and listeners are provided with the evidence of sincere faith. He educates and reassures, with his simple, pure vision of the world and afterlife. He carves with enthusiasm, yet he submits artistic matters to his mission that is beyond art.

Although, we have to admit, when ethnographers and collectors see an artist in Wójciak-Heródek, and they praise his performance, the issues of art and creative output arise, yet to be honest, they do not change anything.

Heródek shapes his material as he can and how it can be shaped with the use of primitive tools. He is unable to do it differently and he does not imitate anybody – neither traditional folk artists nor professional sculptors.

Traditional folk sculptors used to follow the iconographic and formal examples of available works in churches in official historical styles (gothic, baroque) and of devotional graphic art. They created variants within the convention approved of by the community and in accordance with its tastes. Heródek did not follow any examples. The Bible, lives of Saints, prayers and religious songs inspired his imagination and provided him with the subjects. The sculptures and pictures he saw somewhere were entirely transformed. His individual realizations shocked and still shock with roughness of the form, awkward finishing, simplicity and primitivism.

In his way of perceiving the world, phenomena and their interrelations, emphasizing two opposite orders of good and evil, sacrum and profanum, Heródek is well grounded in the so-called traditional culture, immersed in mythical thinking, based on the symbol. Deeply and sincerely religious, unwavering in his belief in the goodness of God and the beauty of the world, sensitive to suffering, in his ethical system he opposedinnocence’ and ‘pride’. Pride means arrogance, cruelty and vengeance while innocence signifies ‘all the honest life on earth’, humbleness and piety [3] that is the true values that guarantees salvation.

Figures – like the lives of saints – are to be evidence of a God abiding living, they are indications on how to deserve eternal happiness in heaven through avoiding pride. Through their existence they serve to emphasize moralizing content and instructing (didactic function). The Resurrected Christ is the previously tortured Savior of the world. St. Stephen or St. Nicholas are also victims of perpetrators who made them suffer physically. All these persons warn the man against the sin of pride and remind him of the virtue of innocence represented by such figures as Virgin Mary, angels or other saints.

Sensitive to the beauty of nature, Heródek liked arranging his figures on a meadow or on the boulders in the middle of the stream. Inspired by the urge to create a different order, ensuring safety, he arranged his own space of beauty and good, a different, sacral zone. It gave him a sense of stabilization and harmony juxtaposing the external chaos and internal world (compensational function of art). Heródek the performer told the curious viewers and listeners various ‘sacred stories’ and encouraged them to lead God abiding life. Heródek’s sacral space and its inhabitants entered the profanum when he gave his neighbors their carved figures, so that they could live merrily and happily. They were unable to appreciate it – they usually used them to burn in stoves….

Heródek delighted in the church sculptures, carved in naturalistic convention, admiring the workshop skills of their authors in rendering the details. Yet those figures were as beautiful as the ones he created himself. Equally beautiful as they represented the same beautiful persons. For Heródek, the beauty of the symbolic figures consists in the participation in the beauty of the saints. The saints are beautiful, so their images are also beautiful, no matter what degree of naturalism has been achieved while working on the material. It resembles the attitude of the faithful to the cult sculptures in the Middle Ages, taken over by the counterreformation piety in village environments and preserved in the popular piety in certain places until the middle of the previous century.

The verbal commentaries were not noted down by the author, what was preserved are only excerpts of his utterances recorded by researchers [4]. They should be treated as an important if not integral part of the sculptor’s output, complementing its sense. And the meaning of those single carved figures can be grasped most fully against the background of Christian folk culture and the whole of Heródek’s work. It can be treated as a kind of intermedial message, combining the sculpture and a vivid verbal communication, dramatized to some degree. Single figures, devoid of those references undoubtedly have a meaning but they are most whole in the proper and intended by the author manner, when they are included in the group of other heroes of Heródek’s performance.

The form of the carved figures is peculiar. Synthetic, simple, static, with details limited to the minimum. Woodblocks with the exposed faces of carved, clear eyes and pouted mouths. At times arms marked with a nail or drawn. Rough expression. Minimalized gestures. The details are unnecessary, they are not important. Neighbors helped to attach the shoulders and the banner to the resurrected Christ and the wings to the angels. The climax in the whole process of creating a sculpture was covering it with paints. The colors play a symbolically conventional function like in medieval art. He chose them on purpose. Red – for the blood and human suffering, green – for beautiful nature, blue and white for innocence and possibly a trace of heaven. When he ran out of the red paint, he did not hesitate to paint Christ’s robes with his own blood. He probably identified the image of resurrected Christ with the imagined person. Sanctity (like beauty) was gained by the sculpture through the sheer fact of rendering the saint, and to be more precise, through the participation in that sanctity.

You cannot be impartial to Heródek’s sculptures. Sometimes they terrify, cause disgust while at other times they fascinate. They point out to something that escapes everyday experience, they reach beyond the known representation schemes and they attract. They invite to confrontation, they provoke. They are a real phenomenon – an unusual phenomenon, a peculiarity among other artistic phenomena and an empirical fact which can be subjected to scientific research. Yet just as their author, calling into existence new sculptural worlds – in spite of his limitations, regardless of the limitations or among them – they will forever remain a mystery for us, the one we will not be able to decode entirely with the help of inadequate verbal analyses. A madman and God’s servant, a spontaneous discoverer in the area of art blessed with immense sensitivity and the gift of mediation between God’s and human spheres welcomes you to the secret, invisible world. The mystery keeps waiting for the viewers and invites them to a continuous dialogue.

Żaneta Groborz-Mazanek