In our museum, an exhibition titled “Winter in Betina” has been set up since January 26th. The exhibition is signed by the renowned artist from Betina, Slavimir Mićo Kapov. This exhibition represents a departure from his recognizable works, at least in terms of the expressive colors that can be considered his trademark. The prominent theme in all of his works is Betina, scenes, and moments from life, serving as a valuable source of inspiration and a unique way of, somehow, “freezing” time. Slavimir Mićo Kapov can be seen as an inspired documentary artist from Betina, presenting us with an image of Betina as it once was through his works.
In this exhibition, the artist has captured his memories of moments from the distant winter of 1956, remembered as one of the colder periods in this area. The exhibition consists of 12 paintings that depict 12 different scenes from that time – frozen olive trees, snow-covered fields, boats in the harbor covered in snow, children sledding on icy streets, and more. This exhibition can be seen as a nostalgic journey into the winter of 1956 when snowfall blanketed the town.
About the paintings and the winter of ’56
Ten paintings from the exhibition are my memories of the winter of 1956 in Betina, a winter that has never returned to our island. Everything was frozen during those fifteen days – roofs of houses, fields, the waterfront, and the sea. I doubt there are color photographs from that time because there were few cameras available for taking pictures. Our ancestors used to calculate the severity of winters by counting the number of olive trees that froze and withered. This time, even the pine trees on Prva Gora froze. Under the weight of the heavy snow, branches bent and cracked as if made of glass. The poor, who hadn’t prepared enough firewood for winter in November, went to collect broken olive and pine branches. Many sheds burned because people used pine, a resinous wood that burns well but can cause the sheds to catch fire. People went to the shoreline because there were many dead fish among the rocks at Križ. Despite the cold Bura wind and the stinging cold, my grandmother Luce would go to the shoreline to pick up that fish. Everything was covered in snow – fig tree branches, and even the winter sun cast warm rays that, like everything else, froze. As they say, I was practically naked and barefoot, but I still wanted to escape outside, to the sea. There was snow on the slope from Bailo’s house down to the community center, perfect for sledding. Sleds were cobbled together from planks, some were even lined with corrugated metal for better sliding; some ventured down on an old tin roof. Over at Bailovica, from the top to the entrance of the Balinov family estate, there was a longer and faster track where the older kids sledded. I would spend a little time outside, warmly dressed, but the cold would seep through. Also, my wool socks would quickly get wet, so I had to go home to dry them by the fire. Once they somewhat dried, I would venture outside again until my mother called me to come back home.
My mother always used to say that winter is the mother of the wealthy, those who had large and warm houses, who had plenty to eat and drink, and also warm clothing, rain boots, and snow boots, while summer is the mother of poor people, warmed by the sun. The winters of that year ’56, I always remember as anything but beautiful, as if it were some kind of fairy tale, where all these dear images have remained with me, even though I was freezing. From those frozen feet that I warmed in front of the fire, I would get chilblains that itched terribly. Little birds would pass by, which we found in the fields, and we would bring them home to warm up. My father used to tell me that people would die quickly with such abrupt changes in temperature. He was right; they would die quickly, and then I would cry for them; to this day, I remember them, and sadness overcomes me.
It was beautiful to watch it all, the white landscape and the contrast of white and dark everywhere. The boats were blanketed in snow, black, and on the decks and gangways, it was piled up with snow. I doubt that many people went to morning Mass on those cold days. My grandmother Luce always complained that in the church of St. Hrane on Vrh, when the Bura wind blew, it was freezing, may God forgive her, but she wouldn’t go anywhere else. It was difficult to walk because where a foot had stepped, where the snow was trodden, it would freeze, so it was dangerous for the elderly to avoid breaking a leg.
“Gujak” was frozen, a thick layer of ice that you could walk on freely. I didn’t dare to walk; I was afraid that the ice might crack under my feet and that I would end up under the ice, although Gujak was shallow. In that whiteness and silence, every sound could be heard. You could even hear what Roman on Prpuz said to his wife Danica or when they scolded Matijica. Although the winter sun was pale on the walls of the houses in the afternoon, it would color them in a golden ochre hue, warm to the eye. Let me tell you, few old people peeked out of the cellars or yards; they stood at home in those frozen little kitchens on the walls with poorly insulated windows, which were even colder than the outside, and huddled next to the fire.
Boats from the harbor, except for Striko’s small boat, didn’t go out; they had to break through the icy crust closer to the shore. Again, the old-style coats were taken out of trunks and chests, to gather under the Old Mill in the shelter. People who weren’t accustomed to sitting at home, doing nothing and listening to their wives nagging, stood there, smoking Spanish cigarettes in the weak sun, but they all hopped on the spot to warm their frozen feet in worn-out postole they wore in those years. Only thick wool socks and good truck tire rubber underneath could help if you had some.
The man in the picture is Uncle, Zemljakov’s older son. He was a bit odd, but he was smart. Only many years later, and still amazed, I realized that he went out with his small boat on the frozen bay, fishing with the others. Today, I understand that he walked on the frozen sea, bought fish with the others, bought fish without soaking his feet.
Slavimir Mićo Kapov
About the artist
Slavimir Kapov Mićo was born on March 24, 1946, in Šibenik. He spent his childhood in Betina and moved with his family to Šibenik in 1957. He completed his Maritime High School education in Mali Lošinj and Bakar, and pursued higher maritime studies in Rijeka. The majority of his working life was dedicated to being a chief engineer, navigating the seas around the world. He currently resides in Rijeka with his wife Luce.
In his retirement, he passionately engages in painting and sculpture. He received his first award in 2014 for the painting “Voloski mandrač,” and held his first solo exhibition at the “Mozart” hotel in Opatija in 2015. He has exhibited paintings multiple times during the “Days of Folklore” in Betina, an annual event held in June. His artistic works can be found in the “Margarita” gallery in Split, the “Levant” agency in Betina, the Museum of Betina Wooden Shipbuilding, the “Opatijske dame” souvenir shop in Opatija, and the “Sina” gallery in Rijeka.
In my writing, I use the Betina dialect, the way my grandfather Dragi and grandmother Luce spoke. Throughout my years of wandering and encountering with various cultures, memories of childhood in Betina persist. Days of play and exploration in Balan’s shipyard, Belin’s waterfront, Branin’s shipyard, and distant Bein’s shipyard remain in memory filled with sunlight, bright blue tones of the sky and sea, with never a glimpse of dark clouds or rain. The rich scents of burning olive branches, the aroma of fresh fish, the fragrance of weathered wood from hidden masts linger in my recollections. Images forever stored, the doors of the warehouses, weathered by sun and wind, adorned with various markings left by the painters during cleaning, almost artistic depictions of old paint cans. Gajetas and leuts, boats and guci, accompany me through the years since the first days when I observed them in the harbors, along the waterfronts, and in the sea.
Slavimir Mićo Kapov is a versatile artist who works across various mediums. He paints watercolors, oils on canvas, and also works with acrylics. Additionally, he crafts sculptures of ships using wood, metal, wire, and clay. His repertoire extends to sculpting animal and human figures using various techniques. Kapov is also a poet and storyteller. His motifs often draw inspiration from everyday life in bygone days, with landscapes and ships being frequent subjects. His artistic contributions hold significant value for Betina and the surrounding area, capturing both the past and present. His artistic and prose works reveal valuable ethnographic insights.
His oeuvre encompasses scenes of childhood games, prayers, fieldwork, domestic animals, fig drying, handwashing clothes, wool spinning, ship launches, caulking, hauling boats ashore, and maritime journeys. These scenes evoke a bygone era, with each carrying autobiographical elements. Kapov has personally witnessed, experienced, and internalized each depicted scene.
The theme of the works comprising the core of the exhibition “Winter in Betina” differs somewhat from his classical themes. It portrays a distant winter etched into the memories of generations that experienced it. The exhibition delves into a harsh winter when olive trees froze and withered, and a boat on the shipyard froze to the extent that the ice bent it towards the sea. The paintings transport viewers to moments preserved in the artist’s memory, vividly capturing the ambiance through color and brushstrokes. The exhibition invites the audience to immerse themselves in the moments the artist seeks to convey.
This exhibition serves as a contrast to the typical vibrant and intense paintings associated with Mićo Kapov. His usual works evoke nostalgia for warm days, sea enjoyment, and maritime journeys. He often skillfully highlights motifs of traditional floral patterns, such as “hacola,” adding authenticity and a distinct local touch to each painting.
On this occasion, I want to express gratitude to Mićo Kapov for his longstanding collaboration with our museum. His works serve as eternal inspiration in our endeavors. I extend our thanks on behalf of our institution, as well as various associations and institutions in the municipality of Tisno, for his generous sponsorship of cultural events and support in our work.
KATE ŠIKIĆ ČUBRIĆ, Exhibition Curator