Polish Studies Newsletter

Article / interview


On passions, sensitivity and valuable generations – an interview with Prof. Katarzyna Węgorowska

‘The most important thing in life is not to lose yourself and, at the end of your journey, to know that you have not done harm to others, that you did not do things ruthlessly, because this is not what life is about.” An interview with Prof. Katarzyna Węgorowska.

Prof. Katarzyna Węgorowska – linguist, creator and Director of the Folk Language and Culture Lab at University of Zielona Góra. Aficionado of stones, shells, cacti, orchids, embroidery, folk art and culture.

You mainly focus on language in your academic life. Moreover, your classes deal with other topics such as culture and art but you also pay a lot of attention to stones. Why? How was this passion born?

Well… I think it has come from the human need to simply have contact with nature. I have always been fascinated by stones and have been collecting them for as long as I can remember. As a child I was already bringing stones of different sizes to my home. I also had wonderful teachers who shared their love to biology and geography with me. The late Mrs Jadwiga Ignatowicz was my first mentor. She taught me how to recognise rocks and minerals. Of course, I have to mention my family home. The women in my family never wore imitation jewellery. They always chose real stones. I also adapted this principle. Once those persons taught me so much and I started understanding more about the world, I discovered that stones have such a magical power over me. This has remained the case until today.

What do you mean by the “magical power”?

I often enter a certain space or spend the time outside, then suddenly turn over and just know that a certain stone will belong to me. They attract me. I cannot imagine a life without stones. Stones allow one to create beautiful and magical objects, artistically speaking. They also have apotropaic traits, they protect and heal people. They are something incredible. When I look at natural stones I realise that every single one is unique.

Where has this sensitivity to beauty come from?

From my family home. I owe my life achievements to the close ones, including my parents. I was born to a highly educated family – there were plenty of books and art masterpieces at home. My family are friends with artists.

Does anyone in your family share your unique interests?

Yes, my brother is interested in entomology. I believe that he has one of the most interesting morpho butterfly collections in Poland. Marcin has his walls full of butterflies. Once you enter his home, it feels as if you were in a butterfly sanctuary. We complete each other in terms of sensitivity.

You wear beautiful jewellery. Apart from aesthetic factors, what influences your choice?

I prepare the jewellery to wear the day before. I cannot leave it till the last moment. If I teach a class on “stones” on a given day I try to consider this and to choose the stones accordingly. Of course, it often happens that we discuss a few stones at one class but I am not keen on mixing them and I never do so. It is pointless to have rings on your hand with all the possible stones. But on days when I do not teach and I do not need to intensely think what to emphasise, it is the stone that guides the decision on what I should wear. I think about which stones I have not worn for a while and what I would like to have on. Of course it depends on the season too. Some jewellery I would not wear in winter because it is too delicate and could be damaged. These might be nuances but it is important to keep the jewellery intact.

Do you collaborate with other stone experts?

Yes, and apart from this there are people who create jewellery for me, who discover it, because I like unusual jewellery. I appreciate this collaboration. I have been their consultant for some time, not as an art historian or a professional stone expert, but rather as a stone aficionado. I am a reviewer of a prestigious publication by art historians on Polish jewellery. This is why I need to keep learning about this discipline. I realise that I often review work of exceptional people from whom I have learnt. I have written two monographs devoted to jewels and jewellery and am now working on a third one.

Which stone is your favourite?

I really, really like organic stones. Of course amber because it is one of the most unique stones. In my collection no two ambers would look the same. And they never will as it would be impossible. Coral, particularly red, pink, flesh-coloured, is another favourite of mine. I like pearls a lot, too. I think it’s because of their mysterious, elegant nature. Also the baroque pearls. Their irregular shapes mean that everyone sees something different in them. They stimulate imagination. And they happily match nearly every situation, whereas I would not wear coral or amber on any given day. I have recently rediscovered opal, especially the multicoloured one.

And diamonds?

I don’t care about them as much. They are somewhere out there but despite the trends in the jewel’s world, if I had to choose between a diamond and an amber, I would always choose amber.

You have a lot of exhibits at your University office… What does your home look like?

Home should be space where I feel well. My home is the place where I come to rest after work. Most of all, it’s a place where I write, meet with friends, listen to music. It is a space in which I am creative. For instance, I embroider which can be considered a creative act… My space is not rustic and empty. I have different things, books are everywhere. There are a lot of flowers too. I cannot imagine a life without plants. I’ve had some of them for forty years, cacti for example. As in the Alicja Majewska’s song, it’s not a challenge to build a house but it’s a challenge to create a home with a soul, as they say. My space mirrors my personality. Judging by my guests’ reactions, it’s a friendly place.

Are you a homelover?

At this point in my life I like being at home. Yes, I am a homelover. I am truly fond of the space of my home. For me it’s a place of retreat, my kingdom, calm and safe.

And what about travels?

I enjoy travelling. A place which I keep re-discovering is my beloved Vilnius. It is a city which makes me feel as if I was at home. Italy is another destination for me, due to the masterpieces I can see there. And because of the stone because there are a lot of stones there. I really appreciate the fact that in Italy you get the sea and the mountains at once. I also enjoy travelling to visit my family home. My beloved Bambo the cat and Azor the dog live there.

And what is your opinion of our generation, of students?

Every generation is different. Each one complains about the one before, the one now and perhaps the one coming. But this is not what it’s all about because our generations vary and it would indeed be very boring if all generations living on this planet were the same. It would even be impossible. And that’s good, because we have all developed and have been shaped under different circumstances. Your generation is a very technical generation, admiring all the technical wonders - which was not the case for mine for example. In fact during the last Science Festival in Warsaw one could see that your generation is very creative but also very empathetic.

How can this be seen?

I admire the fact that these young people see the needs of others, including the less able. They realise that we shouldn’t have such big barriers between people. They make the life easier for people who have dysfunctions of movement, sight, hearing, and so on. And all these ideas are to help those in need. They make prosthetic legs, prosthetic hands. This is the youth’s creativity. I cannot say that your generation has some flaws, because every generation has its shortcomings. There is a stereotype that your generation does not read but I observe something very different.

Do the youth read?

Yes, I see this with my students. They bring books to class because they want to recommend them to their peers. They exchange information and opinions. The young generation has a lot of interests, they are interested in the world. I do not make complaints about the current or the past generations. The most important thing is to see the potential in another person. Everyone is good at something. It is important to believe in others.

Do you have any advice to the young people?

You should make choices based on what you like, what you believe you can handle and what will bring you satisfaction. This satisfaction cannot be related to money (that is so popular these days) because you should not do things at any cost. Maja Komorowska said it beautifully at this year’s “Orły” Film Awards: it is not worth selling your soul. What guides you is a very personal thing but surely one principle that should be shared by everyone is to respect other human beings, and the world surrounding us. That is regardless of whether other persons or the world share our opinions because we are different to each other. We have to differ because if we looked, thought and talked the same, this world would probably not exist. The development of science is based on diversity and confrontations. This is how new inventions and discoveries appear.

What is the most important thing in life?

Not to lose yourself and, at the end of your journey, to know that you have not done harm to others, that you did not do things ruthlessly, because this is not what life is about. Everyone falls and then gets up, this is a natural thing, everyone experiences highs and lows. It is impossible to be successful at every minute of your life, if that was the case, then we would not see the positive things in the world.


Oliwia Sempoch

Sylwia Mieszkowska

– Journalism and Social Communication students at University of Zielona Góra


Added on:
6 June 2019; 15:43 (Magdalena Jurewicz-Nowak)
Edited on:
23 December 2019; 20:21 (Mariola Wilczak)

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