Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861) plate
Wooden plate with inlaid geometric decoration around lip; painted portrait at center of Taras Shevchenko, body turned to right; inlay materials include wood and beads.
For nearly a century, Surma Books & Music Co. was a cultural hub for New York City’s Ukrainian immigrant centered community in the East Village, also known as Little Ukraine. Until its closure in 2016, the store had been located at 11 East Seventh Street since 1943.
Myron Surmach Sr., its founder, arrived at Ellis Island from the Ukraine in 1910. He settled in New York City after working various odd jobs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Joining a Czech gymnastics group prompted him to open his shop in 1918 to sell gym clothing and Ukrainian books. It evolved into a general store, selling phonographs and washing machines, but Surmach also offered services such as letter reading.
During the 1950s, the store’s offerings shifted toward the marketing of “folk” through craft items and publications. Surmach’s son, Myron Jr. (1932–2003), assumed the business and began carrying products such as ceramics, religious icons, embroidered shirts, and wooden objects made by the Hutsul highlanders. They also sold items commemorating Ukrainian national heros, such as the Hutsul plate bearing an intarsia portrait of Taras Shevchenko, a literary figure and activist. (Surma’s street front directly faced Taras Shevchenko Place.)