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Petronėlė Gerlikienė (June 19, 1905 Chicago, USA – March 14, 1979 Vilnius, Lithuania) was a Lithuanian folk artist. She lived and worked in a farm in Samogitia; after retirement she moved to Vilnius to live with her son's family. Gerlikienė began creating large scale tapestries in 1972, paintings in 1976 and began participating in exhibitions in 1974. Petronele Gerlikiene's art has won recognition and numerous prizes in Lithuania and abroad.
Life and works
Petronėlė Gerlikienė entered the Lithuanian art scene at quite a venerable age, after she retired and was living with her son's family in Vilnius. She started embroidering tapestries of a very large scale; to make them she used different techniques such as embroidery and application. She was fascinated with big trees and used it as a motive for her first tapestries “An Oak”, “A Rowan”, “A Maple Tree” and “A Red Tree”.
About tapestry “Man and Woman” Petronėlė said:
“I need to have a very translucent yellow background in order to embroider Paradise. Paradise is above the houses and only the thin branches of trees covered in blossoms and fruit support Adam and Eva. Adam is naked and worry free. His soft and relaxed body, with clearly marked Adam's apple, seems to sway weightlessly in the air. With his hands on the stomach he moves his toes enjoying Paradise. Eva by his side is interpreted very differently, as a contrast to Adam, she is full of anxiety: Her skirt is so bouffan ... The woman must always be more beautiful than the man. She holds a bouquet of forget-me-nots.” Eva’s body is tense, she is focused and ready--she knows what awaits her".
She was encouraged by her daughter-in-law, who brought pieces of cardboard and paint from her son's (professional painter) studio. Petronėlė was amazed that she could paint so quickly and effortlessly. She always had a clearly formed idea of the painting, its composition and combinations of colours in her head. She painted fast, hurrying as if in oblivion, without sketches, dabbing paint directly from the tube, mixing the colours right on the cardboard or canvas. First, with a dry brush, with its stem (“why stroke and daub needlessly”), Petronėlė would outline the place of the main character. She only used a palette for putting paint tubes on it. Like this, in one fell swoop, she made her first painting, “Under the Maple, Under the Green One…”: “This is after the song “under the maple, under the green one, there’s a young lad lying…” and, of course, a young girl is handing her heart to him. The girl’s heart is always bigger than the boy’s.
The very next day she demanded a large piece of cardboard-–she intended to draw Noah’s Ark. Petronėlė outlined a big oval-–the ship, and began placing people aboard. First of all, she drew Noah and his seven daughters, then animals and birds, a couple of each. Noah and his daughters are rowing. Noah often turns and watches his eldest daughter in the stern, because his wife is very old and she only sits by the chest with her cane. In this way the human race has survived.
Petronėlė Gerlikienė’s most mature and emotionally strongest works, “The Sorrowful One”, “A Mother”, “The Virgin”, and “Benefaction” are broad-brush works and extremely poignant. Each work has a diversity of colours, a freedom of composition, and a powerful sense of wholeness. The emotional expressiveness and inner strength allows the comparison of her paintings to works of professional painters. Moreover, Gerlikienė’s works often surpass those made by professionals in terms of originality of the vision, uniqueness of interpretation, and humour.
Petronėlės most characteristic way of expression is colour. One of the most painterly yet most laconic pictures is “The Sorrowful One”, she uses only three colours: red, black and white. Her intuitive feeling for colour dictates her very unusual, unexpected and contrasting cold and warm colour combinations.
Petronėlės world is dominated by people. Figures are often depicted in motion and communicating with each other and the beholder. Her creative world encompass whole human life with all its aspects, but most important subjects are woman’s fate and mans and woman’s relationship. These “eternal” subjects interpreted with understanding and humour, men are often ridiculed like in the picture “Picking Cherries”: calm, smiling woman pulls a man by the hand into a lake. “If a man is afraid, he can grab hold of a calf’s tail out of fear.” Petronėlė loved to paint piquant situations, love dramas and psychologically complicated situations. She was positive that she was portraying everything lifelike.
Petronėlė Gerlikienė was illiterate. As a child she had no possibility of going to school, later she felt there was no need for it. In seven intensely creative years Petronele has made 11 large scale tapestries and more than 60 paintings.
Prizes and awards
- Picking Cherries, 1977.
- A Difficult Year, 1977.
- A Mother, 1978.
- Tapestry The Song Festival. 1976.
- Tapestry Sweep the Yard on a Saturday... 1976.
- Tapestry The Red Tree, 1977.
Sources and publications
"Petronėlė Gerlikienė: tapestries, painting". Vilnius 2005.
Compilers: Jurgita Gerlikaitė and Darijus Gerlikas. Text: Jurgita Gerlikaitė.
Fully illustrated in colour; 26,7 × 22 cm, 156 p. Hardcover.
Text in Lithuanian and English. Gerlikiene Petronele // "World Encyclopedia of Naive Art". 1985, p. 267, 289.