‘Gerdan’ in Ukrainian folk art
History and characteristics Gerdan, sylianka, pletenka, drabynka are all names for beaded necklaces that look like a narrow strip made of colored beads, strung on thread (often horsey thread) or fishing line, forming a colorful geometrical and sometimes floral ornament. Sometimes gerdans were either woolen strips or lace collars made of beads, which in Halychyna, Bukovyna and Transcarpathia women used to adorn the neck or head, and men - hats. Often gerdans are in the form of a loop made up of a continuous or openwork stripes of different width, which is put over the head and worn on the neck; the ends are connected with a locket in the front. The same decoration in different regions, even different villages, may have different names.
In eastern Ukraine, this decoration was unknown, and occurred mainly in Podillia and Volhynia, and was very common in Halychyna. According to a most widespread theory, sylianka (gerdan) came to Galicia from Hungary. Similar to gerdan decorations called margele are also common in the Romanian part of Bukovyna.
Beads were particularly popular in Ukrainian folk culture of the 19th century. Beaded ornament collections from that era preserved in museums, confirm an already high level of craftsmanship and technique or gerdan makers, and the patterns and color of these works reflect the local artistic features. At the beginning of 20th century beaded accessories become an important part of the national costume of western Ukrainian regions, as well as some villages of Eastern Polissia and the Middle Dnipro region. In the national dress ensemble beaded accessories carry a decorative and guarding function, at the same time being eloquent advocates on the age and social status of the owner.
Ancient Egypt is considered to be the homeland of beads. There from opaque glass local craftsmen made artificial pearls, which in Arabic were called "busra" (plural "buser"), which gave origin to the Ukrainian name – ‘бісер’ (biser). In ancient Egypt beaded jewelry was known to be the decoration for pharaohs’ clothing. From Byzantium beads were transferred to Europe. Here beaded embroidery flourished in the thirteenth century. And then bead making began in Venice, which to this day has retained the honorary title of the " glass capital". In our country first mentions about beads go back to the times of the Kyivan Rus, as evidenced by archaeological evidence and written records. Our ancestors knew of beaded necklaces and beads not only through trade relations with the Middle East and Byzantium; numerous goods and decorations found in the tombs of 8-12th centuries, show extensive development of glass works in the Kyivan Rus. Time of most widespread use of beads in Ukraine is the late 18th – early 19th centuries. The most common way to make gerdans was using horsey thread or regular thread soaked in wax.
Patterns and colors
The art of creating beaded jewelry has long lived in the Carpathian Mountains. It has become an integral part of national heritage.
Geometric patterns that evolved in the ancient times were a kind of symbols, a means for the craftman to express their worldview. Horizontal lines symbolized the land; wavy ones - water, a cross - fire; a rhomb, circle or square symbolized the sun. Hutsuls preferred bright, saturated colors, as representations of the forests, meadows, streams and waterfalls.
Beaded accessories have always served as amulets. Even the evil eye is first drawn to these skillfully created decorations. No one was supposed to start making gerdans in a bad mood, because it was believed that these creations ‘absorbed’ its creator’s mood, intentions and wishes – both positive and negative.
Modern beaded creations have somewhat simplified patterns and color combinations, and evloved shapes, but just like old ones, they are perfectly suited to modern clothing.
Beaded accessories can also be found in the cultural heritage of tribes in Africa, South America, Indonesia and many more.