July 6, 1998
photo by Andrew Walgamott
Karol Osusky and one of his traditional Slovakian crosses.
by Deborah Stone
The tradition of carving wooden crosses has been in Karol Osusky's family for many years. It has been a tradition of his people for over three hundred years. Osusky is from Slovakia, a small, beautiful country in central Europe that has had a turbulent history. The crosses he makes are replicas of traditional Slovakian cemetery markers that date back to the 15th century.
They are all hand carved, made of oak and sealed with oil. Measuring five feet high and two and a half feet across, each cross is slightly different. "No two are the same," says Osusky. "Each is made by sight and memory."
The crosses have geometric, shallow relief carving with angles, hearts and circles to carry the Christian symbol of everlasting life.
It takes Osusky approximately forty hours to make one cross. He is the only craftsman currently carving these special crucifixes in the Western Hemisphere. "I do it to keep the tradition alive," explains Osusky.
Sixteen years ago, Osusky, his wife Helena and their three children, Sven, Juraj and Eva, escaped Slovakia. Karol had been labeled a dissident and the Communists were making his life miserable.
After making it to Yugoslavia, the family hiked over the mountains to reach Italy. After eight months in a refugee camp in Austria, they came to the U.S. where they sought political asylum.
In 1983, they arrived in Ballard and five years ago, they moved to Kenmore where they now reside. Osusky is a cabinet maker and has his own business, Karol's Refacing and Countertops.
He learned his craft in Slovakia where he attended cabinet making school for three years.
His father was a carpenter, so he grew up around wood, and it seemed natural that he would pursue a craftsmanship profession.
"Working with wood is an art," comments Osusky, "but it takes much patience." Osusky's crosses have earned him a considerable amount of fame over the years.
In the past, they have been displayed at the Belle Art Museum and the Olympia State Museum.
There is one on Bainbridge Island, in Los Angeles, in Seattle at the Ballard Lutheran Church and at the Vatican in Rome.
Several years ago, the Seattle Archdiocese commissioned Osusky to make a cross for the Pope.
Upon receiving the gift, Osusky received a letter of thanks from the Vatican. "It was a great honor to make one for the Pope," says Osusky, "and I have saved the letter because it's so special." Recently, the Slovak Ambassador visited Seattle and commissioned Karol to make a cross for the Slovak Republic Embassy.
In addition to his craft and business, Osusky is also the president and founder of the Slovak Information Center for Seattle.
The center, which he operates from his home, handles inquiries, plans cultural events and shares the ethnic traditions of the Slovak people.
There are about one hundred Slovaks in the Seattle area and they are a close knit community. "We have a stong sense of identity and a rich cultural heritage that we want to live on," says Osusky.
For more information about Slovakia and its traditions, the public can call the Slovak Information Center of Seattle at 425-481-0407.