Katarzyna Gawlowa (1896 – 2002) was born in 1896 in the small village of Zielonki, close to Krakow, Poland. As a child she worked long and hard on her father’s farm—working the fields, looking after the cows, and making trips to town to sell milk and vegetables. When she was inside of their humble thatched home, she would paint walls, filling every space with birds, flowers, saints and angels. When her parents died, she moved to a neighboring house and continued her passion, painting holy figures to wander the walls. This practice continued for years and fed Gawlowa’s spirit.
In the early 1970’s, a young artist from Krakow and Jacek Lodzinski, a collector, encouraged the now almost 80 year-old Gawlowa to do portable paintings. Though she was timid at first, she immediately loved the sensation of seeing her paintings framed. Before long, people visited her from Krakow, Warsaw, and countries whose language she did not understand. She was amazed that all of theses people wanted that to see her work.
Though much of Gawlowa’s work is religious in nature, she painted objects from her own environment and events from her childhood—wedding feasts, pilgrimages, and folk bands. Her religious work most often features the Virgin Mary decorated with flowers, birds and butterflies. Gawlowa was not wealthy, and her supplies were limited. So much of her work is on hard cardboard and plywood. Because she was taught not to waste, she wasted no space on her paintings, filling in many figures and often adding poems and lyrics in any free space. Other specific characteristics of her art include flat, white faces that are normally the starting points of her compositions. Her colors are generally bright, pure and direct, creating a two-dimensional feeling.
On December 28, 1977 Krakow’s Ethnographic Museum held an exhibition of her paintings, and art lovers were able to experience first hand an authentic talent that had grown out of contemporary Polish Folk Art. Gawlowa died in the 1980s, leaving behind a wealth of work that has dispersed across the world. She is surely one of Poland’s treasures.