CHILDHOOD IN WARSAW
Wacław Karol Szpakowski was born on 9 October 1883 in Warsaw as the son of Sylvester Szpakowski, an army topographer in the rank of general (in the Russian army), and grandson of architect Karol Szpakowski. His mother Antonina gave birth to fivechildren whom she educated at home until they entered secondary school. Wacław had one brother Mieczysław and three sisters: Wanda, Lucyna,and Helena.
EDUCATION IN RIGA
n 1897, the family moved to Riga. Wacław began attending the fifth form at the state gymnasium. In 1898-1899, he developed a keen extracurricular interest in meteorology and studied volatile atmospheric phenomena: hurricanes, cyclones and storms and wrote down facts and observations in his notebook.
In 1902, he began studying architecture at the Technical University in Riga. During the varsity decade, he was active in the exclusive students club Arkonia, played second violin in a students orchestra and pursued photography. He made photographic studies of linear forms in architecture and took two intriguing photographic self-portraits in the mirror (1902 and 1912). He made several long solitary train voyages to see his father who was stationed in Irkutsk from 1905 and a number of horse-drawn carriage trips in the north-eastern territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania to study vernacular wooden architecture.
Already as a boy of seventeen, he began to make manual drawings of ornamental linear patterns with which over the following years he would fill three small notebooks dated 1900, 1903-1907, and 1908, and featuring the total of 88 leaves, and a somewhat bigger sketchbook dated 1909 and comprising 50 loose sheets. He graduated with a professional degree in architecture in 1912.
Szpakowski family, Riga 1905; from left: sisters Helena and Lucyna, Wacław, mother Antonina, father Sylwester; at the back – sister Wanda and brother Mieczysław
WARSAW – ARKHANGELSK – WARSAW
In 1912, Wacław Szpakowski began working at the Warsaw office of the famous architect Stefan Szyller and then at the office of architect and contractor Izydor Pianko. Shortly before
the outbreak of World War I, he was appointed head of a design office in Garwolin. He collected the drawings made in 1913–1914 in a portfolio comprising 17 loose sheets. In 1914, he was evacuated with his office to Moscow and from there he went to Arkhangelsk where he designed and built wooden docks. He started a collection of kontush sashes
In Arkhangelsk he met Aleksandra Siemiczajewska (1899–1981), the granddaughter of a Polish irredentist deported to Siberia for his participation in the January Uprising of 1863, eighteen years his junior. They married on 22 November 1918: she was eighteen and he was thirty-six. Among the revolutionary turmoil and terror that engulfed Russia, the young couple stuck together and survived although Wacław lost his precious collection. They returned to Poland, the nation’s independent statehood freshly restored, on the last ship that left Arkhangelsk before the town was taken over by the Red Army. They settled in Warsaw. Wacław had no permanent job and took various architectural commissions. He also succeeded in obtaining a patent for his invention of a roofing material called metasfalt but it did not bring big money.
Wacław’s father Sylwester returned from Siberia in 1921 and settled at Milanówek near Warsaw. Wacław and Aleksandra had four children born during this period: the eldest daughter Antonina (1920), the only son Wojciech (1921), and then two younger daughters: Maria (1927) and Anna (1931).
From 1923, Wacław Szpakowski worked at the Ministry of Postal Offices and Telegraphs and in 1931 he was transferred to the office in Bydgoszcz, in the rank of ministerial councilor. He successively copied the sketches of his ornamental ideas as ink drawings made with a drawing pen on tracing paper, arranged in several series marked with consecutive letters from A to F. Over the period of a decade (to 1933), he drafted ca. 70
drawings of various size, from ca. 10 x 20 cm to ca. 70 x 120 cm.
In 1933, he was forced into premature retirement as the government reduced jobs among the world economic crisis which also reached Poland.
In 1934, the family returned to Warsaw and settled in Żoliborz. Wacław had occasional architectural commissions
OTWOCK: WAR AND PEACE
In 1935, Wacław Szpakowski won the competition for the job of town architect at the resort town of Otwock. The family moved to a small rented wooden house at 1 Słowackiego Street. Wacław developed a master plan for Otwock, designed a school and an obelisk in honour of Marshall Piłsudski (the obelisk would be taken down by the Germans during the war but the semicircle of thujas framing it wouldstill be there in 1964).
As the war broke out, Wacław joined the Vigilantes and helped with identification of the dead and burials. As the Germans designated part of the town where they lived as a ghetto in 1940, the Szpakowski family changed places with their Jewish friends and moved to an apartment at 1 Kościuszki Street. From 1941, Wacław worked as a building inspector at the County Department of Architecture.
During this period (1939–1943), he made manual drawings of spirals which he collected in three files comprising the total of 49 sheets. He also drafted 10 ink drawings of spirals with a drawing pen on tracing paper, each one measuring from ca. 20 x 40 cm to ca. 40 x 140 cm. He marked this series with the letter S.
Together with his son Wojciech, he joined the underground Home Army and his daughters became involved with the Gray Ranks (underground scouting organization). Wacław helped with faking documents, among others for Jews who faced extermination. For saving a Jewish girl, Aleksandra Szpakowska would be posthumously awarded the honorary title Righteous Among the Nations in 2004.
In 1943, occupation authorities made Wacław Szpakowski transfer to Lvov. Upon his return to Otwock in 1944, he was arrested by communist Security and kept several months in prison but did not reveal the whereabouts of his son who was persecuted for his involvement with the Home Army.
Wacław arrived in Wrocław already in May 1945, shortly after the fall of Festung Breslau, planning to help his son hide from Security in a new environment. He found a downtown apartment in Widok Street and a job at the rebuilding of the Pafawag railway car factory. Wojciech joined his father but someone recognized the fugitive and his cover was blown; to avoid arrest and imprisonment, he joined the group of Commander Zapora and with them tried to break to the West. He was shot and mortally wounded by Czech border guards during this attempt.
In November 1945, Wacław’s wife and daughters joined him in Wrocław. He left his job at Pafawag to head the city’s building inspectorate and then the Building Department of the District Headquarters of Post Offices and Telecommunications. From 1952, he worked at the Research and Design Centre of Road and Air Transport, first as a technical inspector and then a designer.
In 1949–1950, he introduced his linear patterns in the design of interiors: the ceiling of the Przodownik Cinema (in 1989, the name was changed to Lwów), the monumental plafond featuring rhythmical lines at the Pafawag Community Centre and the mural at the kindergarten in Narcyzowa Street.
In 1952, Security found the Home Army files that Szpakowski had hidden in Otwock. In connection with this discovery, Szpakowski was arrested and interrogated. In 1953–1954, Szpakowski made the Rhythmical Lines Album comprising all his earlier “linear ideas” in the form of pencil drawings measuring 31 x 25 cm. In 1954, Szpakowski focused on the “broken lines” and pursued a mathematical proof that every geometric figure might be represented as a rhythmical line.
During this period, his daughters got married and started their own families. Following his retirement in 1958, Szpakowski and his wife moved to a smaller apartment at 60 Kościuszki Street. He spent time organizing his sketches, drawings, and notes. He wrote a text on Rhythmical Lines published in monthly magazine Odra in 1969.
Wacław Szpakowski died on 7 February 1973 aged ninety and on 12 February he was buried at the Grabiszyński Cemetery in Wrocław.