Delightful collection of artist’s ceramic tiles found hidden behind walls of old milk bar
Depicting cows, goats, chickens, rams, flowers, and, even, lions, a series of decorative wall tiles have been uncovered inside a historic Warsaw milk bar.
Designed by one of the eminent ceramic artists of the PRL era, Bolesław Książek, the tiles were revealed while renovations were being conducted on Złota Kurka, a milk bar that first opened in 1952 in the capital’s MDM district.
A victim of the pandemic, the cult eatery closed recently after nearly 70-years of continuous service. Closure, however, afforded the city the chance to overhaul the property under the watchful eye of the Conservator of Monuments.
It was during this process that PVC wall cladding was removed to first expose a pair of colourful farmyard-themed mosaics by Hanna Żuławska. Those finds have now been further boosted by the discovery of a rich array of original tiles adorning the milk bar.
Measuring 15 cm by 15 cm, the tiles are thought to have been produced by Kamionka, a factory opened in 1947 in Łysa Góra and which specialized in the manufacture of folk-themed ceramics.
According to the conservator’s office, it’s likely they were rolled-out during a two-month period as part of a batch of 13,000 destined not just for Złota Kurka, but also other bars around MDM and beyond.
Defined by their jolly, almost innocent and childlike aesthetic, the tiles are a paean to the skills of Książek, an artist that survived a wartime stint in Płaszów concentration camp to become something of a post-war legend.
Described by Bożena Kostuch of the National Museum in Kraków as “a true master”, his work, says the art historian, was “extraordinary” in its scope, technical perfection, and sheer unpretentiousness.
Subsequently covered up at an undisclosed point in history, this is the first time the tiles in Złota Kurka have been seen for several years.
Their discovery, though, serves to only underscore the lingering legend of Złota Kurka. Featured in Leopold Tyrmand’s seminal work, Zły, the milk bar was the scene for what the author enthusiastically described as nothing less than a “sausage orgy” enjoyed by the characters of Marta and Dr. Halski.
Whilst discussing the health benefits of sausages (“good for the joints”, theorized Dr. Halski), it was here that the duo ate standing whilst enjoying frothy beers amid the rich smells of cabbage seeping from the kitchens.
Though the existence of milk bars (bar mleczny) pre-dated Communism, it was in the post-war years that these state subsidized canteens hit their zenith. So named for their predilection of serving dairy-based food, they became an established part of life during the single party system.
In more recent years, several have been relaunched as on-trend, retro-themed private enterprises; however, a handful have doggedly clung on to their past glories to present a compelling glimpse into Poland’s past.
Few, however, could compete with Złota Kurka in terms of its full-on immersion experience, and in many ways its location proved fundamental.
Constructed as a flagship ‘propaganda district’ to showcase the accomplishments of Communism, the MDM district – whose core, Pl. Konstytucji, lies just footsteps from Złota Kurka – has become well-known in architectural circles as one of the most convincing examples of the Socialist Realist style in the country.
Eating in Złota Kurka, it wasn’t difficult for diners to feel themselves being sucked back in time.
Although a new tenant has yet to be made public, that the current renovation work is taking place under the guidance of the city’s conservator has provided city enthusiasts with hope that any future occupant shall treat the address with the respect that it deserves.
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