The Broader Picture: Slovakia adores its simple saint

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The Independent Culture
'I come from nowhere,' Andy Warhol once said. He came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But his family came from a little village in the Carpathians, in what is now - as from this year - the new nation of Slovakia. In the years since Warhol's death in 1987, a new image of the all-American pop-artist has been emerging, too, returning him to his Slovakian roots. As the art historian John Richardson suggests, the attitude of wide-eyed detachment which Warhol turned on the surfaces of the Western media-world may have had deeper, ancestral origins: 'In his impregnable innocence and humility, Andy always struck me as a yurodstvo - one of those saintly simpletons who haunt Russian and Slavic villages, such as Mikova in Ruthenia, whence the Warhols stemmed.' And not far from there, on the Slovakian- Polish border, there's now a Warhol museum.

Born Andrew Warhola in 1928, Warhol never severed his family ties (though he dropped the 'a' quite early). His parents were very recent US citizens. His father Andrej emigrated from Mikova, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1913. His wife Julia joined him in 1921. Warhol was raised in Ruska dolina, the Ruthenian district of Pittsburgh, and through the years of his global fame he remained an adoring son to his mother, and a pious follower of her faith - Byzantine Catholicism. Almost nothing of this is directly registered in his work, and Warhol never visited or exhibited in his parents' homeland. Notwithstanding some screen-prints of Lenin and the hammer-and- sickle, Warhol's art (like most modern Western art) was non grata in the Eastern bloc. But he wasn't forgotten there. Members of the Warhola family, including his maternal uncle, Jan (above), still lived in Mikova, and the artist had a following among Czechoslovak youth and the intelligentsia. After the fall of Communism in 1989, a local art teacher, Mickal Bycko, contacted Warhol's older brother John Warhola, President of the Andy Warhol Foundation, with a view to a memorial to Mikova's most famous son. The Slovakian 'Andy Warhol Society' was established. And with the support of Culture Minister, Ladislav Snopko, a House of Culture in the nearby town of Medzilaborce, was made available.

The Foundation donated 13 Warhol prints of some of his most celebrated subjects (including a Lenin and a hammer-and- sickle). There were also such memorablilia as Julia's letters to her family and a smock worn by the infant Andy. And in October 1991 the Andy Warhol Museum opened with a two-day party. The global village idiot had come home.

Since then, there has been some local opposition to the museum, including a petition against 'propaganda for an American homosexual' which attracted 1,000 signatures. But the museum still stands, and a handful of new works has been added. Last year, on the anniversary of Warhol's death, a requiem service was held, with the priest later taking Warhol relatives on a guided tour of the collection. Scarved heads, respectful if bemused, bobbed among Campbell's soups and repeated cows. They always did call him an icon-maker.

Photographs by Karol Kallay

(Photographs omitted)

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