All photos © Olga Valeska
Authenticity is such an important quality in a truly cozy, hygge life. And in this digital age of constant communication and social media influencers making us feel inadequate, it’s increasingly difficult to prove who is and who isn’t authentic in the world they portray through their work. But occasionally someone comes along whose work is so comforting, so folkloric and heartfelt, you cannot help but know that the person is telling us their true story. Olga Valeska, a beautiful young blonde from the middle of the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps, is one such creator. Through her art, photography, crafts, and sewing projects, she creates her own world that seems straight out of a winter fairy tale. And we learned that she comes by this seamless cozy world authentically.
As a child, Valeska learned the true value of hygge, finding comfort and the warmth of hope even through the most difficult of times. “I grew up in the mountains, without any modern things: no television, no internet, no phone, and no car,” she says. “I spent my summer climbing in the trees or cutting wood to prepare for winter. My mother sewed all my clothes, so I looked like a Little House on the Prairie character and thus was not very popular in our village. But this taught me to be strong and proud of my differences.” Her family was also full of artists, and they were always creating together: painting, creating clothes, and making theater plays. Life was not always easy for the family, but that just meant Valeska “learned to make magic with almost nothing,” she says. “I learned too how to try to feel coziness, even when it was really cold in the house, or I was feeling a bit hungry.”
This desire to find beauty and comfort no matter her circumstances is a lesson she continues to apply to her art today, and she feels it adds a truth to what she creates. “To truly embody an aesthetic, you really have to live it entirely,” she says. “It shouldn’t be a whim or a passing fancy. The best thing you can do is to reconnect with yourself, with your inner child, with what you really dreamed of when you were young.”
Valeska must have had many dreams and interests as a child, because her work as an adult spans multiple mediums. She sews and embroiders clothing and hats with classic European folkloric designs. She also makes ornaments from embroidered fabric, clay, and painted images of doll-like girls and boys, and creates staged atelier events for lucky locals. Her beautiful Instagram page is filled with images straight from a storybook.
Her photography is an art form of which she is especially proud. If her photos seem almost like illustrations, part of that is the care she puts into the preparation of sets and props
(made, of course, by her), but it is also because she actually hand-retouches her photographs using acrylic paints instead of digital editing. “This allows me to gather my two greatest passions, painting and photography, and to spend the least amount of time in front of a screen. And mostly it allows me to best depict my inner world, to create the most personal pictures I can create.” What does Valeska dream of voicing within this inner world? “I see the world with lots of colors, with nature, simplicity, and magic all at once, with European folk tales and traditional values. If I really had to summarize, I think that through my art I work for re-enchantment and re-rooting.”
Not all of us can say that we grew up in the French mountains with an artist family, making our own clothes and developing our creativity. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot learn to craft and sew and express our own enchantments this way. Valeska advises anyone who wants to learn to authentically and cozily craft to spend an afternoon with an elderly person from your family or elsewhere. “It may sound strange, but you know, elderly people have so many skills and so much knowledge!” she says. “They knew a time when they had to handle things by themselves. They knew how to sew, how to cook, how to garden, how to heal themselves. Almost no one knows how to do this now, because modern society teaches us to be consumers and not creators. These people have so many more things to teach, but they are often forgotten by our society. In my eyes, it’s better to learn cross-stitching or knitting with a grandma than by watching tutorials.”
We asked Valeska about the cozy feeling that all her work seems to embody. Even in the middle of summer, her work evokes the feeling of knitting a pair of socks or embroidering a pinafore in front of a warm fire. And this is entirely intentional on her part. “I realized that what really makes me passionate is the notion of hearth,” she says. “I love the three meanings of this word: a home, a family, and a fireplace. I think these notions are deeply related and sacred to me. Home is a refuge: When you enter a home, you leave all your troubles at the doorstep and the modern world behind. Home is the world of family, your roots, with its own rules and universe. And finally, there is the space the family gathers around, the fireplace. A fire is fascinating, with a divine energy, the memory of ancient times. Fire always unites people. I especially love its colors, the colors of joy, of warmth, of the blood that unites a family. This is why I like and use the color red in my art so often.”
So what is it about winter that makes us want so badly to congregate together and be hygge? Valeska says, “Winter is for me the absolute season of cozy. In difficult times, the need for coziness is the strongest. And this is what interests me: how can we create coziness when everything looks so desolate? Winter can be so hard, especially for the ones who are poor or homeless. So for me, winter is the perfect season to light the candle of hope and love.”
Valeska learned this as a child. “Every time we had a hard time, my mother would encourage us to make a snug atmosphere. By this she meant, for example, light a candle, make a wood fire, sing carols together, always make the house welcoming, always set a beautiful table, even if you had almost nothing to eat,” she says. Such preparation will sometimes pay off in surprising ways. “One day, a guest came to our house, but there was nothing in the food safe. The guest announced himself in the afternoon for dinner the same day, so we only had a few hours to prepare. My mother searched for a solution, since there always is one. ‘Nothing is impossible’ is our motto. She went to our vegetable patch, told us to pick shovels and to dig. And we found the last potatoes! She told us to set the most lovely table ever. The dinner was very frugal but filled with laughs and love. And you know what? Our guest said it was the most magical dinner he had ever had. We laughed so hard during this experience and felt so happy. I learned two things from this that I will never forget: always laugh, even in hard times but mostly, always try to enchant others. I think it is the best way to feel this coziness yourself. Cozy is all about giving love and magic to others.”
Olga Valeska’s fairy and folk art can be found on Instagram @olga_valeska.