Tag Archives: Carpatho-Rusyn

Andy Warhol’s Religious & Ethnic Roots: The Carpatho-Rusyn Influence on His Art by Raymond M. Herbenick: Book Review

I just realized that although Genea-Santa granted my Christmas wish last year and left my “most wanted” book under the tree last year, I’ve never shared it with my readers.

Andy Warhol died in 1987 and, while living, never said much about his ethnic and cultural roots. It wasn’t until after his death that researchers looked more closely at his family tree and ancestral origins and realized that he was of Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry..

For those who are interested in Warhol’s art, which went beyond the Campbell Soup label, and factors that influenced his works or for those who want to learn more about America’s most famous Carpatho-Rusyn citizen, Raymond Herbenick’s book will provide an excellent overview.

This isn’t one of those glossy coffee table books with lots of color images. It’s a scholarly work, well referenced, that examines the Rusyn cultural and social factors that made Andy Warhol who he was.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
Essay One – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Roots: Ethnographic Studies
Essay Two – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Art Roots: Biographical Studies
Essay Three – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Roots: Autobiographical Studies
Essay Four – Andy Warhol’s Carpatho-Rusyn Art Roots: Aesthetic Studies

The text of the book is 116 pages; the incredibly detailed index is 26 pages longer than the book at 142 pages!

I found the essay format an easy way to follow the author’s train of thought and compartmentalize all the information in my own mind. the author examined everything from Rusyn religious icons to Warhol’s mother’s New York city church of worship (St. Yary’s Byzantine Catholic Church at 246 E. 15th Street in Manhattan) to the Pittsburgh neighborhood in which Warhol grew up (the Warhol Museum)to many earlier scholarly works done by others that looked closely at his life and art.

Because of its cost, this book isn’t for everyone, but library collections make it accessible to all to read.

It’s an oldie, but goodie, first published in 1997 by the Edwin Mellen Press in New York. It’s still available on their website for a hefty $199.95. Other online copies are listed for double that price! I guess Santa was lucky when he found my book for little more than half that price.

If you are interested in reading the book, my first suggestion would be to check WorldCat for a library close to you that has it. Then, if interested in buying a copy, be patient and check often online for a reasonably priced copy (under $150, which is still steep).

Although Andy Warhol didn’t verbally point to his Rusyn heritage, there is no doubt that it directly affected his artistic works. There were a couple of comments in particular that I think describe Andy Warhol very well.

First, there is Andrew Warhola, the Carpatho-Ruysn American, who is the least known, then there is Andy Warhol, the celebrity artist, who is the most publicly known and, finally, there is Andy Warhol, the artist known by art critics.

The key here is in the statement “most PUBLICLY known,” because Warhol went to great lengths to maintain a very private life. He didn’t really want anyone to know about his deep belief in Greek Catholicism, his ethinicity or about his daily life in general.

Second, his art contains multiple references to Rusyn folk art, as seen in psyanky (decorated Easter eggs) and to religious images found in Greek Catholic churches.

I am very pleased that Genea-Santa found my book when he did and it sits proudly in my ever-growing Rusyn reference book collection.



A Carpatho-Rusyn Studies Bibliography

As many of my readers already know, my ethnic heritage is 50% Carpatho-Ruysn, due to my paternal family that lived in what is today Slovakia, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountians.

If you are of Carpatho-Rusyn descent and would like to read more about your heritage, here is bibliography of printed works.

Several of the books on this list include prices from C-RRC, which is the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, P.O. Box 35, Grand Isle, Vermont 05458-0035. They have a fairly extensive catalog of books about Carpatho-Ruthenia and ship quickly. Ask for a publications list – sometimes their prices are way better than online. (For example, The Lemko Studies handbook by Horbal online is $1495.50 !!!)

In addition to the listed books, I’d highly recommend purchasing the Map of Carpatho-Rusyn Villages – only $18.00 from C-RRC! All known villages are included on this large (30″ x 40″) map. It’s worth every penny of$18.00!

1. With Their Backs to the Mountains, Paul Robert Magocsi, Central European University Press, Budapest- New York, 2015. This is the premier book written about Rusyn history in terms of details and depth of information. Dr. Magocsi is a professor at the University of Toronto and has published many books and articles about Carpatho-Ruthenia and its peoples. I’d highly recommend purchasing this as a reference book. ($45.00 from C-RRC)

2. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Stephan Thernstrom, Editor, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1980. This book has nine pages (200-209) dedicated to statistical information about Rusyns who settled in the United States. There are also numerous footnotes identifying scholarly works for further reference. An added benefit is that information on the collateral ethnic group to which your family belongs (Polish, Romanian, Ukrainian or Slovak) can be found in this book, too. (There are copies on eBay now for under $25.00.)

3. Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture, Revised and Expanded Edition, Paul Robert Magocsi and Ivan Pop, University of Toronto Press, 2005. ($75.00 from C-RRC)

4. Carpathian Rus’ A Historical Atlas, Paul Robert Magocsi, Governing Council of the University of Toronto, 2017. ($28.00 from C-RRC)

5. The People from Nowhere, Paul Robert Magocsi, V. Padiak Publishers, Uzhhorod, Ukraine, 2006. ($24.50 from CRRC – see below)

6. The Rusyns of Hungary, Maria Mayer, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, New York, 1997. ($24.50 from C-RRC)

7. The Rusyns of Slovakia, Paul Robert Magocsi, 1994 ($65.00 on Amazon)

8. Our People, Carpatho-Rusyns and Their Descendants in North America, Paul Robert Magocsi, 2006 (Out of print from C-RRC. $50.00 on Amazon)

9. Lemko Studies: A Handbook, B. Horbal, 2010 (Out of print at C-RRC)

10. The Rusyn-Ukrainians of Czechoslovakia, Paul Robert Mabocsi, 1993 (Out of print at C-RRC)

11.  Byzantine Rite Rusins in Carpatho-Ruthenia and America by Walter C. Warzeski, 1971 ($45.00 on EBay)

12. The Byzantine Rite – A  Short History, Robert F. Taft, 1992 ($10.00 online)

13. Mapping Stateless People: The East Slavs of the Carpathians (revised), Paul Robert Magocsi, 2018, ($8.75 from C-RRC)

14. The Lost World of Subcarpathian Rus’: Photographs of Rudolph Hulka, 2016 ($45.00 from C-RRC)

15. God Is a Rusyn: An Anthology of Contemporary Carpatho-Rusyn Literature, edited by Elaine Rusinko, 2011 ($30.00+ online)

16. Peoples of North America: The Carpatho-Rusyn Americans, Paul Robert Magocsi, 1989 ($20.00 online)

These are just a sampling of books, many of which are available from the C-RRC.

There are two other books, which are definitely in the collectible category, as they are somewhat rare and expensive.

Andy Warhol is arguably the most famous Rusyn. Raymond M. Herbenick wrote Andy Warhol’s Religious and Ethnic Roots: The Carpatho-Rusyn Influence on His Art. Mellen Press still carries the book, but it’s $200.00. However, that is much cheaper than the $350-500 prices when the book is found on Amazon or EBay.

Another fun book is Rusyn Easter Eggs from Eastern Slovakia by Pavlo Markovyc, 1987. It costs around $100.00 when copies are sold online.

Learning to speak the Rusyn language is not for the faint of heart. C-RRC has several language books for sale, including Let’s Speak Rusyn (Presov Region edition, Transcarpathian edition and Lemko Region edition. Each is just $15.00.

These books are basic vocabulary and phrase guides, but are helpful because they present information in 3 columns – English translation, Cyrillic alphabet appearance and a pronunciation guide using our alphabet.

Stefan M. Pugh published an actual textbook (бітаеме! Welcome!) for learning Rusyn in 2021, but a sound knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet and its sound system is essential, as there are no tapes or videos to help with pronunciation. ($32.75 from C-RRC)

The Carpatho-Rusyn identity, after centuries of being ignored or subjugated, is flowering in the 21st century. If you have Rusyn heritage, now is the time to learn more about it.

Rusyn Easter Eggs from Slovakia: Psyanky

I remember decorating Easter eggs when I was a child. Many of us likely remember poking the hole in the top and bottom of the egg, blowing the egg out that tiny hole in the bottom (and turning red in the face as we struggled to get the egg through the little hole) and then dipping the eggshell in the messy dye that also turned many fingers into springlike colors.

I was also quite fascinated with one Easter egg that my Nana had for many years – all of my life, at least – that was kept in her china hutch. The beautiful little egg sat in a shot glass and out of the reach of curious children.

That same egg is now in my china hutch, sitting, remarkably, in the same shot glass.

I’m not sure why I was so attracted to this Easter egg – maybe because my little home-dyed eggs never looked anything like this one. I remember asking Nana where she got it and the only answer I received was that she had had it for “many” years.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned about the Carpatho-Rusyn ritual of elaborately decorating Easter eggs.

I even found a book about the skill – and it is a skill, not an amateur play activity – that I have coveted for a long time.

I finally bit the bullet and purchased the least expensive copy I could find – $99.95 with free shipping. I’ve added it to my treasured reference shelf of books on Carpatho-Rusyn history, culture and language.

Rusyn Easter Eggs from Eastern Slovakia by Pavlo Markovych, published in Vienna in 1987 by Wilhelm Braumuller Universitats-Verlagsbuchhandlun GmbH is in English.

The back cover explains a bit about this beautiful Easter tradition and mentions that “specific attention is given to the pysanka eggs from the Presov region of Slovakia, which is the area in which my ancestors lived.

Table of Contents


1. The Historic Pysanka
2. The Names of Pysanky
3. The Origins of Pysanka Ornamentation
4. the Influence of General Ornamental Devices on the Pysanka Ornament
5. The Composition of the Ornament
6. The Structure of Pysanka Motifs
7. The Circulation of Motifs
8. The Stylization of Motifs
9. Pysanka Motifs in Everyday Life and Customs
10. Techniques Used in Painting and Ornamentation of Pysanky
11. Coloring Pysanky
12. The Symbolism of Colors in Folk Art and Folklore
13. Games Played with Pysanky

Bibliography (with books written in multiple languages)
List of Illustrations (60 pages, many of pysanky in full colors)

This isn’t mean to be a book review, but if this tradition interests you, or you are of Rusyn heritage and want to learn more, Markovych’s book is excellent.

What did I learn about psyanky?

First, historically, Easter egg decorating, unsurprisingly, has been around for centuries. In the Rusyn culture, this folk art tradition needed only eggs from the chicken and plant dyes to decorate them.

Unlike my child’s fun blowing out eggs, pysanky are often hard boiled eggs.

Rusyn psyanky designs are quite intricate and include many motifs from nature – flowers, trees, water, birds, fish, wheat, etc. – which celebrate life. However, ordinary objects found in the home, such as a broom, a ladder and even a house, have been depicted on Easter eggs.

As you can see, my Easter egg is covered in flowers. Given the heavy coating of paint that was used to decorate, I suspect that Nana was given the egg as a gift, made by a Rusyn friend,  sometime during the first half of the 20th century. It’s also possible that a friend or relative brought it back from Udol, Slovakia for Nana.

Interestingly, pysanky were also used to comfort children who died during the Easter season. Beautifully painted eggs were placed in the shape of a wreath around the child’s body in the coffin. The eggs provided two supports for the child – food to eat and something to play with in the next world.

It is also said that only the most beautiful pysanky were given to the deceased child to take with them on their heavenly journey.

How are pysanky decorated?

There are several techniques used to create these beautiful designs. There are non-wax techniques, which involve dyes and scratching designs using tools such as a razor, needle or knife.

Using dye is an ancient technique, but these particular tools have only been used from the 20th century through today.

The second technique, using hot wax, is applied using different types of strokes and applications.

Easter egg decorating materials have modernized through time.

There are many images of pysanky viewable online. It’s fun to look at them and see the huge array of varied colors and styles.

If you’d like to try your hand at decorating pysanky, check out this YouTube tutorial.

The Carpatho-Rusyn Society blog features posts about Easter and the popularity of pysanky.

There are a number of websites that offer pysanky for sale – just do a quick online search.

Happy Easter!