Artistic activity, both by academic and amateur artists, has a special character in Kočevska region. On the one hand, it is strongly linked to the natural features of the area, while on the other hand it seeks expression in its past. Kočevsko area not only awakens the imagination of artists, but also serves as a place where artistic ideas intertwine with the cultural context, creating a unique artistic landscape. In it are interwoven the works of artists who worked in Kočevje before the war, Gottscheers working in the USA, Canada, Austria and Germany, where they emigrated because of the turbulent history, and those for whom Kočevsko area offered a new home after the World War II. Among the latter, there are many who have set off for other places or even abroad, in search of a living. What they all have in common is that the experience of Kočevsko area has in one way or another shaped their work.
Podobe trpljenja in težkega življenja
The painter and sculptor Stane Jarm, who left the greatest artistic mark in Kočevsko area with his works, often combined both – nature of Kočevje and its past. Wood served as the basic material for his sculptures. His sculptures, such as the Stations of the Cross at the Pod Krenom burial site and the images of the suffering Christ, depict the suffering that characterised the inhabitants of Kočevska region.
Jarm’s pupil, the amateur sculptor Matija Glad (1912–1995), depicted mainly scenes from everyday life. His sculptures bring to life the coarse faces of charcoal burners, pedlars, dormouse hunters, blacksmiths and other images from the pre-World War II times.
Images of everyday village life are also reflected in the paintings of Martha Hutter from New York. A woman carrying a pail on her head, two Gottscheer women talking in the Gottscheer dialect by the bread oven, or a mother making butter in a churn while children wait for a snack are just a few of them.
Podobe kočevskih vasi
Born in Ovčjak (Schaflein) near Koprivnik, the painter and sculptor Michael Ruppe (1863–1951) is better known in Austria, where he lived and worked for most of his life, than in Kočevje. In Salzburg, they even named a street after him. In August 1928, when he and his wife visited Kočevsko area, he found inspiration for his work in the Kočevje landscape and villages, which he painted on numerous occasions. Images of Kočevje also served as inspiration to Roman Erich Petsche (1907–1993), who depicted them in “lumigraphs” – the name he gave to his mixed collage and pastel painting technique. The artist, who was known for not selling his works, was awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Holocaust Memorial Centre in 1982. During the World War II, he saved two Jewish girls from the horrors of a concentration camp.
Photographers have also immortalised images of pre-war Kočevska region. The most widespread are photographs of Kočevje taken by a local Josef Dornig Jr. The photographic material from the period before the World War II was eventually “scattered around” various archives and museums in Slovenia, Austria and Germany. Among other things, there they store photographs of the so-called “German minority” researchers Hugo Grothe (1869–1954) and Rudolf Hartmann (1903–2002).
In the USA, John B. Gladitsch, who captured many images from the life of the emigrated Gottschee people and their associations. Photographers Vito Oražem (Germany) and Klavdij Sluban (France), both of whom were inspired by their experience of growing up in Kočevje, also found inspiration for (some of) their works in Kočevsko region. Oražem, in particular, with his keen eye for detail, captured with his works fragments of Kočevje’s reality that were hidden at first glance.
A particularly common motif of contemporary photographers of Kočevje, such as Petra and Stane Draškovič Pelc, Marjan Artnak and members of the Grča Photographic Society, is the Kočevje forests and their animal inhabitants. Every year, a nature photography exhibition is held under the auspices of the association.
Kočevska sodobna umetnost med lokalnostjo in identiteto
Artistic activity in Kočevska area is not only an aesthetic expression, but also a means of preserving identity, questioning the community and promoting dialogue between the past and the present. This is reflected in the work of writer and visual artist Lela B. Njatin, who, among other things, organised the exhibition Kočevje from the series Ljubljana is Making a Bow to Slovenia III at the Vžigalica Gallery in Ljubljana in 2019. She has selected works by some of the artists who have been connected to Kočevsko area, either professionally or residentially, between 2000 and 2019. They are linked into a thematic whole by the presence of death or passing, which have marked the past and present of Kočevje. Each of the works also reflects the content of the locale in the identity of the artist and/or his/her artistic expression, whether in the form of a (primeval)forest or urban infrastructure.
KočevArt: Gottschee (Kočevje) art exhibition
In September 2019, as part of the 5th Days of Gottschee Culture, which took place in Kočevje, the Putscherle Institute opened an exhibition of works made by Gottschee artists – KočevArt. The exhibition is the first broad presentation of artistic (academic and amateur) creation in the Kočevje region from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. Visitors were able to look at paintings, sculptures and photographs by 20 academic and amateur artists lent to us by the authors themselves or their relatives.
The works of artists who create or have created in the wider Kočevje region or in Gottscheer communities abroad (Austria, USA and Canada), provide insight into the depth of human perception and depict life in the Kočevje region in different periods, which gives them great ethnological value. The exhibition reflects the social reality in the Kočevje region over a long period of time, as the art work not only depicts everyday life (depicting a conversation in the Kočevje dialect, working in a mine, etc.) but also sheds a light to tragic interwar events (internment in Italian camps), and tells a story about people’s deepest and abstract experience of his their inner world.
With the exhibition, similar as with the exhibition Showcases of memory (in 2016-2018), I wanted to bring the cultural heritage of Gottscheers closer to a wider public and establish a space for connection and cooperation between all who have been shaping the fate of Kočevje region: Gottschee natives, emigrated Gottscheers (from the USA, Canada and Austria) and post-war immigrants. At the same time, the purpose of the project was to promote the Gottscheer culture with amateur and academic art productions in the Kočevje region and in the Republic of Slovenia, while contributing to breaking down stereotypes and promoting intercultural dialogue in the wider Kočevje region.
Photographs: Josef Dornig (1904–1983, born in USA, worked in Kočevje until 1942, died in Graz, Austria), John B. Gladitsch (lives in New York, USA, his family originates from Dolnja Briga), and Vito Oražem (grew up in Kočevje, now lives in Germany.
Sculptures: Matija Glad (1912–1995, born in Banja Loka, worked in Kočevje), Marko Glavač (1959–, works in Kočevje), Tomaž Hartman (1957–, works in Kočevje), Matija Kobola (works in Šalka Vas), Anton Križ (born in Tršče, Croatia, works in Dolga Vas), and Matjaž Matko (born in Novo Mesto in 1958, works in Koprivnik).
Carving: Heinrich Putre (1928–1994, born in Kočevska Reka, worked in USA).
Drawing: Martha Hutter (born in Livold, lives in New York, USA).
Paintings: Stane Jarm (1931–2011, born in Osilnica, worked in Kočevje), Irena Kapš (from Občice), Viktor Kobola (1923–, Šalka Vas), Sašo Koprivec (works in Kočevje), Anne Kroisenbrunner (Kitchener, Canada, her family originates from Polom), Elisabeth Pemberger (1948–, works in Kla- genfurt, Austria), Roman Erich Petsche (1907–1998, born in Kočevje, worked in Austria), Michael Ruppe (1863–1951, born in Ovčjak, worked in Austria), and Andrej Trobentar (1951–, worked in Kočevje in 70s and 80s).
In the previous article, read Lynx, the mysterious feline of Slovenian forests.