Canadian Ethnic Studies, Pages 198-199. Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, 2006.

Folk Furniture of Canada's Doukhobors, Hutterites, Mennonites and Ukrainians.
John Fleming and Michael Rowan. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2004, 155 pp., including notes, bibliography, and index; $60.00 he.

The publisher appears to have made use of the latest in technological advances to present beautiful pictures featuring traditional designs of furniture unique to the four ethnocultural communities studied. The result is one of the most exquisitely illustrated books I have encountered in recent years.

Folk Furniture is divided into six major sections, the first of which often a discussion of utopian ideology and folk traditions. The authors readily admit that the origins of the Doukhobors, Hutterites, Mennonites, and Ukrainians ore very different, but at one time they all shared a common fate under the dictatorship of Russian tsars. All four groups were basically peasant folk and shared a love of the land, suffered economic hardship, and longed to leave the country where they were persecuted for their religious beliefs. All eventually made it to North America, the utopian dream, where their communities are still easily identified. Not long after their arrival, their utopian ideology and craft traditions gave way to products of industrialization and the principles of early capitalism.

The next four sections (chapters, actually) of the book describe and illustrate the crafts of the four groups, beginning with the Doukhobors. Originating in Russia, 7,500 Doukhobors migrated to Canada in 1899 with the blessing of Count Leo Tolstoy and the Quaker organization. Clifford Sifton, Canada's Minister of the Interior, made the arrangements. Featured themes of Doukhobor craftwork include their houses, furniture, picture frames, cupboards, chests, tables, cradles, spinning wheels, and even doors. The authors note that after arriving in Canada, the Doukhobors appear to have transformed their crafts to less heavy forms and made less use of embellishments such as diamonds, pinwheels, and rosettes.

The origin of Hutterites and Mennonites is similar, both having grown out of the Anabaptist wing of the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the early pail of the sixteenth century. During the late 1700s, they migrated to Russia to escape religious persecution, accepting the invitation of Catherine the Great. Eventually they made their way to the United States, but some soon opted to go to Canada to escape America's military mindset. The first Mennonites immigrated to Canada in 1874 while the Hutterites arrived in 191 S. Both groups flourished in agriculture,

Fleming and Rowan note that the kinds of furniture found in both Mennonite and Hutterite communities tend to reflect the functional and general needs of the community rather than the desires or eccentricities of the individual. Having spent a century in Russia, their crafts basically resembled those of the Doukhobors, their former communal neighbors. Hutterite furniture is generally well constructed, and its makers were always members of the local colony who tried hard to meet the needs of the community without giving any indication of personal "brand" on any of the finished pieces. The displays presented by the authors in both the Hutterite and Mennonite chapters are absolutely striking, both in colour as welt as in their choice of pieces illustrated.

Like the Doukhobors, the Ukrainians originated on the same continent but sought improved opportunities in Canada beginning in 1991, when 17,000 of them migrated to Alberta and Manitoba. Some later moved to Saskatchewan. The Ukrainians were pleased to find a familiar looking landscape in the Canadian west and quickly established themselves as successful farmers. Fleming and Rowan observe that the first houses erected by the Ukrainians resembled those they left behind. Similarly, their skilled craftsmanship traveled with them. The authors present a series of striking photographs of Ukrainian cradles, cupboards, storage chests, benches shelves and icons, and even a carved wooden chandelier!

After the four major presentations, Fleming and Rowan offer a section entitled "Tradition, Adaptation and Cultural Identity" in which they emphasize that folk furniture is usually tied to immediate, unmediated experience. Its function is primarily utilitarian. However, as the plates in this volume illustrate, this concern for the immediate did not in any way restrict the artistic abilities of the builders.

Normally when I review an exceptionally good book I urge readers to spend time appreciating its message. In this case, however, even though there is much to learn about these four communities in this coffee table masterpiece, I am urging readers of this review to find the book and look at the pictures!

John W. Friesen <>
"Calgary writer, Education professor and minister"
Graduate Division of Educational Research
University of Calgary

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