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Ivan Keywan

Іван Кейван

1907 - 1992

A radio program by Radio Canada International.
Monday, July 6th, 1992

Translated from the original Ukrainian by A. S. Harchun

As Ukraine prepares to introduce its own banknotes, it is worth recalling the story of one Ukrainian monetary project — a purely academic attempt to design a template for Ukrainian currency in the early 1930s — that ended tragically for its young artist. That artist — Ivan Keywan — no longer young — now lives in the western Canadian city of Edmonton.

...Long ago, while a student at the Warsaw Academy of Art, Ivan Keywan attempted to design a series of banknotes and postage stamps, to be ready for when a future independent Ukrainian state's time should come. In 1932 and 1933 he worked on three banknotes and two postage stamps. Of these, he managed to complete both sides of a 50-rouble note, scaled 3:1 from actual size, and a 10-rouble note — front side only. The reverse side of the 10-rouble note, the 100-rouble note, and the postage stamps in values of 5 and 10 "shahs,"1 made it as far as the revision stage, while the other notes remained rough, sketched out in only a few lines.

Keywan made no particular secret of his work on designing Ukrainian currency, so it came as no surprise when a secret agent of the Polish police in the Sniatyn district village of Karliv ratted him out — and on September 17, 1933, while the student was still on vacation at home, he was arrested.

The police confiscated all of the artist's drawings and accused him of belonging to the financial cohort of the underground Ukrainian Nationalist Organization. After spending three months in detention, Ivan Keywan was brought before the court. As for the banknote drawings, the police handed them over to the Bank Polski for investigation, and they were never seen again.

It remains possible, however, that this curious project is still locked away in some archive. The town jury of Kolomyya acquitted the accused, but the loss of his skillfully executed designs for the currency of a future Ukraine was a terrible punishment — for the artist personally and for the art world. The designs were done in a rich Ukrainian neo-baroque style, in a conscious imitation of the "Narbut" technique.2

...Now that genuinely friendly relations have finally been established between Poland and Ukraine, art history researchers may be able to uncover these Ukrainian currency designs in an unexpected place — either in the 1933-34 archives of the Bank Polski or those of the Polish political police dating from the same period. For an elderly Ukrainian artist from the Canadian city of Edmonton — Ivan Keywan — such a discovery would perhaps be the best gift he could wish to receive in his old age.

1 Шаг (shah): Historically, a small coin worth half a kopeck; a penny.

2 Ukrainian graphic artist Yuriy Narbut, 1886-1920. A portrait of this artist by I. Keywan was done in 1956.

PDFUkrainian original scan as a PDF (82kb)

Yaroslav Harchun, "About Ivan Keywan," Radio Canada International broadcast, July 6, 1992.