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Voices Spring-Summer 2008:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the profile, “Pauline Yarema (1921–2005): Gifts of Love”.
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Voices SS08


Volume 34

Pauline Yarema (1921-2005): Gifts of Love

While conducting a regional survey of folk arts a few years ago, I had the good fortune to meet master folk artist Pauline Yarema. Pauline’s home in Auburn, New York, was a folklorist’s treasure trove. She was born in Ukraine, but when she was nineteen years old, she and her family were forced to flee the German invasion. Before they left, she and her sisters helped her mother bury their hand-embroidered linens in the backyard. After the war, her relatives returned to the family farm near Trybuchwci to retrieve the heirlooms. Many of these linens were in Pauline’s home in Auburn.

Pauline passed away in 2005. Although she was eighty years old when I last saw her, Pauline had continued to practice traditional Ukrainian embroidery, vyshyvky. Colorful embroidered linens made by Pauline decorated every table and sofa in her home; on every shelf she displayed her Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanky). These eggs were painstakingly made by alternating layered patterns in wax applied with a fine hot pen (kistka) and increasingly darker dyes.

Eggs are an important part of the Easter celebration, and many Ukrainians place decorated eggs in Easter baskets with special foods like kielbasa, ham, horseradish, beets, paska (Easter bread), babka (a sweet bread), salt, farmer’s cheese, and butter decorated with Easter symbols. Easter foods are covered with hand-embroidered cloths like Pauline’s and taken to the church on Easter morning to be blessed by the priest. Then the basket is taken home, where the food is served at breakfast, the biggest meal on Easter day. One hard-boiled egg is cut up, and the head of the family gives a piece to each family member to wish them a happy Easter.

A tiered korovai prepared by Pauline Yarema in 2002
A tiered korovai prepared by Pauline Yarema in 2002. Photo: Faye McMahon

But most amazing was Pauline’s traditional wedding cake, or korovai. The korovai is actually a large, circular tiered bread, richly decorated with pine cones and birds formed from the same baked dough. The birds symbolize love, and the pine cones represent fertility. After the baked korovai is assembled, it is decorated with real green periwinkle. Because the bread has religious significance, it is set in the center of the bridal table to link the newlyweds with their Ukrainian ancestors.

Over the years, Pauline made korovai’i for her Ukrainian relatives and many friends. In 2002 I invited Pauline to speak about her traditional art at the Symposium on Beauty at Syracuse University. She not only baked a tiered korovai for my class, but also gave each student an individual memento korovai topped by a tiny dough bird with poppy seed eyes. These gifts to my students were truly a labor of love, too beautiful to eat.
Artist Profile


Felicia Faye McMahon is acquisitions editor of Voices and research associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Syracuse University. Since 1998, she has coordinated the folk arts program for the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, New York.

Pauline Yarema demonstrates vyshyvky, traditional Ukranian embroidery
Pauline Yarema demonstrates vyshyvky, traditional Ukranian embroidery. Photo: Faye McMahon

This column appeared in Voices Vol. 34, Spring-Summer 2008. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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