Polish Heritage Society of Rochester
Skalny Welcome Center
St. John Fisher College
3690 East Avenue
Rochester, NY 14618


Founded 1918
Web site updated 4 April 2013

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Polish Heritage Society of Rochester
Szopka Workshops

A szopka workshop (to learn to make these ornate creches) will be held October 23-24, 2010 at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Click to open the brochure (PDF, 2 MB).

Watch for information each Christmas season on programs to be presented by the Polish Heritage Society of Rochester, the Krakow Sister Cities Program and the Rochester Museum and Science Center, especially the annual Wigilia celebration and szopka workshop.

See the links page for additional information on the web related to this article.

This program is funded by a grant from the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York State Legislatures. Additional support has been provided by the Polish Heritage Society of Rochester and the volunteer support of its members.

One of the most beautiful European Christmas traditions, the Cracow szopka ("shop – kah" ; plural: "shop – key") is a folk art form with a rich history dating to the Middle Ages, when they originated as puppet theaters in the churches of Krakow, Poland. These structures were used for morality plays during the Christmas season. At a time when few people could read, these productions helped to convey moral and educational lessons. Over time, these productions became less religious and more secular and in the early 1700’s they were forbidden on church property. Denied the patronage of the church, szopka entertainers carried their creations through the streets and performed their plays to music, auditioning for peoples' holiday parties.
2007 Szopka exhibit

In the nineteenth century, szopki became a favorite performing art form in Cracow cafes and cabarets and featured much social and political satire. As Poland at this time was occupied by foreign powers, many of these performances critiqued foreign oppressors. At a time when books and newspapers were censored, these puppet shows become a powerful tool in criticizing foreign occupation. They become so political that the occupying authorities banned their construction and performance. When Poland became free again after World War I, Cracovians could once again make szopki and perform puppet shows.
2007 Szopka exhibit

2007 Szopka workshop with Dave Motak

In October 2007 the PHSR, KRSCC (Krakow Rochester Sister Cities Committee) and the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC) co-sponsored a 2-day Krakow Crèche (Szopka) workshop. The workshop was attended by 15 two-person teams who learned to construct crèches under the leadership of szopka artist David Motak of Pittsburgh, PA.

The Krakow szopki have been displayed at the RMSC during the Wigilia celebration on December 8, 2007 and at St. Stanislaus Church before Christmas 2007. The enthusiastic response to this first workshop has encouraged PHSR to continue to offer the workshop again in October 2008 and 2009. The two-day workshop conducted by Dave Motak covers the history of this unique Krakow tradition from its beginning as puppet theatres in churches to the present day art form competition in Poland which incorporates the beautiful architecture of our Sister City Krakow in these creative and colorful szopki. Participants receive hands-on instruction on constructing these beautiful Christmas crèches which are generally completed by early December.

During 2008 and 2009, the szopki resulting from these workshops have been displayed throughout the community at special events such as the 100th anniversary celebration of the renovation of St. Stanislaus Church (Norton and Hudson Ave.) in Rochester, NY (November 16th 2008). and at the Rochester City Hall Visitors Center.

Previous workshops have sold out, so if you are interested in the next workshop, please contact Bob and Barbara Pippen, for details and to reserve a place for the 2010 workshop, October 23, 24, 2010.

Szopka workshop photos (2008), Picasa.

Szopka workshop photos (2007), KodakGallery

Szopka display at the 2007 Wigilia Celebration, KodakGallery

Szopka workshop photos (2008), KodakGallery

Szopka workshop photos (2009), KodakGallery

Szopka Portraits, KodakGallery