Anežka Kovalová

* 1949  

  • “I went to the studio at the academy; most of the applicants were from secondary art schools in Prague. Or even from the one in Hradiště, which was renowned at the time. I hadn’t attended a secondary art school. I didn’t know anatomy at all, for instance. We were supposed to draw an old lady, a portrait. She had very strong features. A Jew, I guess. A beautiful face, quite a looker. So I whipped up several of those heads, but they were all headstrong. They were awful anatomically, but they had expression. And there was a semblance. But it was just different. All the girls there drew like Švabinský. They did shading. I couldn’t help gaping at them. I reckoned: I don’t have a snowball’s chance, but oh well, I’ll finish it up while I’m here. Then I travelled back home, and I knew it was no use, that I didn’t stand a chance against all those aces around me. And lo, on 8 March, IWD [International Women’s Day], I received a letter saying I’d been accepted. That was incredible! There’s no chance that Dad could have intervened. He had graduated there some twenty-five years before, and he wasn’t too keen on me getting accepted.”

  • “Dad wrote after the war how he and his mum had spontaneously joined the Party. They believed in the cause. He was an utterly trusting, idealistically pure soul. Dad was then elected [local] Party chairman in Sobotín. That was an unbelievable situation. He witnessed the agricultural co-op that grew up here out of nothing. People came here who didn’t understand [farming] at all, they didn’t know how to do it. They didn’t know the land, they didn’t know what or where. So they started a co-op, and things went from bad to worse. So there was nothing on the pay check, and Mum got a laughable allowance. Some three four hundred [crowns] a month. There were three of us children. Dad described a situation when he sat on some steps, aching with hunger. The co-opers next door gorged themselves on lard, and Dad would send his dog to them to feed on what they threw it. But he himself had nothing to bite into. They were really hungry.”

  • “I remember how we lived in those two rooms. Dad had his studio in one house that was awfully cold. There was nothing to heat with. He did his first big wooden piece there - that was his mum, whom he made as a statue. It depicted his mum in the situation when he returned from the Reich. His mum was terribly afraid for him. She was worried how he would survive there. When he fled back home, he opened the door, and his mum was half wisp. Gaunt, awfully emotional and so weakened by joy that she just stood there, arms loose, eyes enlarged. He embodied that memory into the statue. So I remember how Dad made that statue. He stood there on the doorstep in his fur hat. Those are morose memories. So we’re sitting in the cold kitchen with my brother, it’s late, our parents are gone, at some meeting somewhere. My brother and I waited for them, I had our little dog Amor in my lap. We waited for when they’d come. I was awfully anxious for them. If they’d come at all. I’d go out into the dark and call Mum. Those memories just really aren’t very merry.”

  • “The main, official conflict came back when it was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the CPC [Communist Party of Czechoslovakia] in 1971. They had some of his things in the museum where he had painted before. When they did an exhibition on the founding of the CPC, they wanted to display some of Dad’s statues. Dad got terribly angry because he didn’t want it. He wrote a letter to all kinds of institutions, in which he made it clear that he had parted ways with them long ago and that this was unacceptable. He wrote the museum, to the CPC leadership, to the department of culture, and goodness knows where else. So that put a stop to everything, and Dad didn’t have the slightest chance of employment or anything. But in Olomouc, which was where he was member of one of those organisations, they occasionally sent a commission around his way, regardless of the fact that he’d left the Party.”

  • “Mirek held endless conversations, in which he quarrelled with the regime. He hated Husák. We have a tiled stove at home, and he’d always open the hatch each night, because he smoked into the stove, and all those lamentations went out through the chimney. That was year upon year, when I thought we couldn’t go on living like that, that we’d choke to death. We saved ourselves by painting everything we saw around us. Our world was so rich and boundless that there are still things to find in it even today. Things that stimulate beyond the human world. Jarda Krbů, who headed the Špálovka, said that we were actually emigrants as well. He often exhibited them, he’d look through them and invite us to Opatov when he held exhibitions there. He regarded us as emigrants of a kind.”

  • “I remember that when we were school-going children, Mum didn’t have anything to spread on our bread. Just some yucky margarine. Dad discovered that one of the neighbour’s hens hid her eggs away in their garden, so he would go to collect them. He was a passionate smoker, and when he collected cigarette stubs left around by the co-opers, he saw that the Communist functionaries had better stubs and the co-opers had worse tobacco. It was really terrible, and he was Party chairman [of the local Communist cell - trans.]. People there split up the houses, the best ones first, of course, and because Dad was the Party chairman, he had absolutely no intention of gaining from his position in any way, so we chose the smallest house in the whole village, with just two rooms, and we lived there for a number of years. The toilet was in a wooden shack, outside. Those were times that I remember well. I used to go to school in a sweater with patched-up elbows at an age when girls are already starting to think of their looks.”

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    Šumperk, 09.02.2018

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We saved ourselves by painting everything we could see around us

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photo: archiv Pamětníka

Anežka Kovalová, née Jílková, was born on 1 July 1949 in Šumperk into the family the sculptor Jiří Jílek. She grew up and continues to live in Sobotín near Šumperk, where her parents settled after the war. Her father chaired the local Communist Party cell and founded a visual arts department at the People’s Art School (children’s art school) in Šumperk. In the years 1967-1973 the witness studied painting under Professor Karel Souček at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. She met her future husband at the university, the graphic artist Miroslav Koval. After graduating she returned to Sobotín, where she collaborated with her father on his art projects until 1981. She avoided politics, she and her husband lived through art. In the years 1980-2013 she taught visual arts at the People’s Art School in Šumperk. When the regime changed in 1989, she and her husband founded the Jiří Jílek Gallery with a permanent exhibition of the work of her father, where they organise authorial exhibitions. The couple raised one son, Štěpán.