Friday, January 21, 2011

The Lost Stories - Guest Post by Linda Norris

When Melissa asked me to write a guest post about the Pickle Project,  I pondered what to write about—recipes?  Oral histories?  Working in another culture?  So many paths to consider.   But historic photographs always intrigue me and they were no exception in Ukraine.

A bit of background:  in 2009 and 2010 I spent four months each living and working in Ukraine as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching museum studies and collaborating on workshops around Ukraine, a country I knew little about before I decided to go.   The Pickle Project is a collaboration with another Fulbrighter, Sarah Crow,  to document Ukrainian foodways, with their emphasis on sustainability and seasonality and to share, through exhibits and our blog,  that knowledge with audiences here in North America.   We’d both long had an interest in foodways, and we each found so much intriguing about food in Ukraine—pickles, but also home-made vodka, pampushki (donuts) and of course, borscht.

So I began to look for historic photographs about food.   About once a month, while living in Kyiv,  I would get up early on a Saturday, sometimes with friends, sometimes by myself and take the metro over to the Left Bank on the far side of the Dnieper River.  There, in a big convention hall, often housing other events at the same time (dog show, bridal show, garden show) was a weekly antiques and flea market—in many ways, much like any you might go to here.  There’s always something both compelling and depressing about flea markets for people who care about objects with their stories intact. There’s the feeling of a huge room of objects untethered from their owners.  The market always had all kinds of things:  beautiful Ukrainian textiles,  weapons,  Soviet realist paintings and murals stripped from public buildings,  and religious icons, along with small ceramic statues,  costume jewelry and the like.
But I began to seek out historic photographs of farming, eating, gardening and the like.  And I found some surprises—that seemed not so surprising once I thought a bit more about it.  I saw piles and piles of military photographs—not surprising when Ukraine has been fought over and over during the 20th century.   I found far fewer mid- and late- 20th century photographs than you would in the United States.   Not surprising when, under Soviet rule, so much was controlled and one goal was never to stand out.   And I found so many stiffly posed group photos:  again, not a surprise when Soviet life was entirely collective.   And sadly, I also found photographs with accession numbers that had clearly come out of museum collections.
But, I kept looking and found some wonderful images that conveyed both how much has changed in Ukraine (Kyiv is a modern city) and how much, in the villages, life continues at a pace of an earlier time (except of course, for the ubiquitous cell phones!)

The antique market always brought a sense of loss to me—but it was counterbalanced by one of my favorite museums in Kyiv—the Ivan Honchar Museum.   This museum aims  “to help revive national culture, promote ethnic consciousness, and preserve and develop the best traditions of Ukrainian folk art.” And according to the museum, “ In the 1960s his collection served as an alternative to the then official ideology and helped spark a renewed interest in national culture.”

Ivan Honchar went from village to village, collecting materials including photographs and carefully placing them in albums, along with his watercolor sketches of material culture.  Those albums, which the museum is in the process of reproducing, represent a traditional culture that, despite the best efforts of the Soviets, refused to die.   Ivan Honchar choose not to represent an official state culture, but rather the culture of villages and the museum that bears his name continues to develop lively programs on folk culture (become a fan of the Ivan Honchar on Facebook and check out their great photos!)

Across Ukraine’s diverse landscape, wars have been fought, genocide has been committed, and untold many stories have been lost.  When I pick up a photograph at the flea market, I hold just one of those forgotten stories in my hand and wonder.

And in the Pickle Project, we hope to capture those individual stories, photographs, and of course recipes.   To learn more about the Pickle Project, please check out our blog and become a backer on Kickstarter by February 1!


Hi everyone. This is Melissa here. I started following Linda on Twitter, learned about her fascinating Pickle Project and made a pledge to help her capture the vital Ukraine stories she describes above. Linda's project with Sarah Crow is a fabulous example of how people can help save culture. Linda's work gathering photographs, stories, and foodways is capturing unique traditions and heritage that can be shared around the world, blending the preservation of tangible and intangible heritage. Every day, we lose artifacts and knowledge that are among the best human beings have to offer. Our stories, recipes, languages, songs and dances can only be remembered when people make an effort to pass them on. Please join me in making a pledge to help the Pickle Project reach its goal so they may document and share the rich traditions and foods of the Ukraine. Every little bit counts.

Read Linda Norris' blog The Uncataloged Museum

For more on "Intangible Heritage" see and 


  1. My family in the west of Ukraine have photo albums, stored on their bookshelves, that are empty. Pages and pages of captions and those little glued corner pieces showing where the photographs had been. Stalin's police took and destroyed the photographs. It was decades before they felt safe taking pictures again.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. The image of those empty albums on the shelf is so incredible--and in a way, saving those empty albums also tells us about that terrible time. I feel honored whenever I hear family stories in Ukraine (and I'd love to hear more about yours) as it does involve a level of trust that was so damaged for so many years and that Ukraine still struggles with. Thanks again. Linda