ABOUT

LYUBA HELEN DURDAKOVA JANOUSKOVA PRUSAK
1922 - 2010

Czechoslovakia 1924, 2 years old
Czechoslovakia 1933, family photo
California 1969
Paris, France 1965

Lyuba's background was in classical art, but as she writes in her US master's degree thesis, “My first departure from directly visualized realistic form came during a long trip to Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Austria in 1964. While visiting different parts of the USSR, in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, I saw a striking young woman of Nordic type of beauty. Later I sketched her image from memory, and upon arriving home I translated the form first into a clay model, and then to reddish marble, which I carved freely…. This was the first step toward a greater freedom of sculptural expression.”

 

Lyuba continued to work as a sculptor and a freelance artist, gaining private commissions. She maintained an active membership in the Czechoslovak Federation of Creative Artists. Lyuba traveled extensively within the Soviet bloc countries, and wrote and published articles in journals about art and travel. She gained a following as her work was acquired by collectors for museums, galleries, businesses and private art collections, in Czechoslovakia and the USSR. Starting in the mid 1960s, the Soviet-imposed regime shifted, and many restrictions were lifted. 

After her husband, Joe Janousek, passed away, Lyuba married a fellow countryman, Mirek Prusak. Lyuba continued to sculpt and exhibit her work in many galleries across the US. Among others, she exhibited five times in the International Exhibition of the LDS Church Museum of History and Art in Salt Lake City, where she received a purchase award for her bust of Joseph Smith. She had a two-person exhibit at the Harris Fine Arts Gallery at BYU, in Provo, Utah. Her bust of J.Paul Getty is in the permanent collection of the Museum of J.Paul Getty in Malibu, California. Lyuba’s commissioned bronze bust of General Patton is permanently installed in the Patton Memorial Museum near Indio, California. The original ceramic bust is in the collection of the Patton Memorial Museum in Pilsen, Czech Republic. Lyuba’s bust of Hugh Nibley commemorating his 70th birthday is in the collection of the Harold B.Lee Library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Her works are found in many public and private collections across the US and Europe.

Mirek & Lyuba, 1970s
Mirek and Lyuba 5.jpg
Mirek & Lyuba. 1980s
Provo, Utah 1984,
creating a bust of Hugh Nibley

Lyuba Prusak, an important Czech-American artist, created a large body of work on both sides of the Atlantic. Her sculptures are in many corporate, private and museum collections in the US, the Czech Republic and abroad. What remains of her art legacy can be found in a tiny gallery tucked away in the backyard of the home of Bronia, Lyuba’s daughter. A few of Lyuba’s large bronze sculptures share the space in Bronia’s backyard with a vegetable garden, playground, fruit trees and flower beds. More pieces in ceramic, polyester resin and bronze are displayed in Bronia’s home.

 

Born in 1922 between two world wars, to parents who were both journalists, Lyuba and her younger sister, Dana, spent a happy childhood growing up in Kosice, Czechoslovakia. When Lyuba was seven years old the family moved to Ostrava, where her father, Frantisek Durdak, worked for “The Czech Word” newspaper. He was a FreeMason, founder and Master of a Masonic Lodge in Ostrava. In 1937, he was transferred to Brno, the capital of Moravia, to be the editor of “The Moravian Word” newspaper. His wife, Filomena, contributed to the Women and Children section. 

 

Lyuba described herself as a very intense and spirited child, an “enfant terrible.” At four years of age, she held up a wiggling frog and chased away a disliked governess, who was never to be heard from again. When not in school, Lyuba’s and Dana’s lives were filled with long summer vacations in the country, going to movies and the theater, skiing, swimming and playing with friends. Lyuba started to draw at an early age. Drawing whatever she saw around her became a lifelong practice. She loved to collect stones, plants, shells and seeds. 

 

Her happy childhood came to an abrupt end when, in March 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Lyuba was 17 years old and her sister Dana 13. Lyuba’s father, a quiet, mild mannered man, influential in the community, an editor-in-chief of a large newspaper, and a member of the resistance movement, caught the eye of the Gestapo. They wanted to harness his services, but he kept refusing to cooperate. Finally, in October 1941, he was imprisoned. In January 1942 he was transported by cattle car to Mauthausen, Austria. Mauthausen was one of the Nazis harshest concentration camps, containing a large group of “unwanted” educated people and political prisoners. In April 1942, a group of 50 prisoners, including Lyuba’s father, was shot in celebration of Hitler’s birthday. Frantisek Durdak was 49 years old. 

DSCF1577.jpg
"Sick Child" portrait of Bronia
California 1969
Paris. France 1965
Czechoslovakia 1959

Starting a new life as refugees in America was tough. In spite of her educational credentials and her substantial body of work, Lyuba decided to continue her education, earning a second Master of Arts degree from California State University at Northridge. In her thesis, Lyuba writes, “When I began my studies I became interested in the quality of polyester casting resin, a fragile, transparent, stone-like material, which reveals its full beauty after extensive finishing and polishing.” She created several resin pieces. They provide an interesting contrast to her rough textured ceramic, stone and bronze sculptures. 

Lyuba 5.jpg
Patton Memorial Museum, California 1989

Lyuba and Mirek traveled through much of the world before his death in 2006. They took their grandchildren on many special trips. Lyuba taught them some of her sketching techniques, including the “sketch, spit and smear” technique. She was generous to a fault with family, friends and strangers alike. In 2007, Lyuba moved to Utah to be near her daughter and son-in-law, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and of course, her art. She continued to sculpt, exhibit and make wonderful Czech food until shortly before her death in 2010. In her last piece, titled “Encircled in the Arms of His Love,” inspired by the sense of her own mortality, and a Book of Mormon scripture, Lyuba expressed her belief that she would truly be “encircled about eternally in the arms of His love.”

California, 2000s
California, 2000s

In 1965, Lyuba was invited to exhibit with the Paris-based “Federation Internationale Culturelle Feminine” (Women's International Cultural Federation), and that year she received a silver medal for a bust of a young man. Lyuba organized Czech and Slovak women artists to exhibit with the federation, and became the first president of the Czechoslovakia chapter. She exhibited with the Czechoslovak chapter on several occasions not only in Paris but also in Athens.  She also wrote articles for the FICF journal. Lyuba was not only fluent in French, but also in German, Russian, Slovak and Czech. Shortly before the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, she restored about 100 plaster casts of sculptures from antiquity for the  Ancient Art Museum in Hostinne, Czechoslovakia.

 

Moscow disapproved of the emerging freedoms in Czechoslovakia, and on August 21, 1968, the USSR and six other Warsaw Pact countries invaded. Daughter Bronia returned from France on the eve of the invasion. She and Lyuba woke up to the rumble of Soviet tanks down the street of their Prague neighborhood. Unable to communicate with Joe, her first husband, who worked out of town, Lyuba unilaterally decided it was one totalitarian regime too many, and sought information on how to escape. The following days were a chaotic mix of civil unrest, protests, sabotages and open confrontations with the occupying forces. Martial law was imposed. Lyuba and Bronia, going on foot and taking the back alleys, sometimes being shot at, were able to reach the people who could advise them, and who knew which border crossings to the west were still open. 

 

Ten days after the invasion, the two of them found themselves on a train headed for Vienna, Austria, carrying one suitcase each. Lyuba noted in her journal: “As the train stopped at the Czech-Austrian border crossing, a Czech customs official accompanied by a Russian soldier with a machine gun entered our train compartment. The Russian soldier demanded Bronia’s passport, and for the longest time leafed through it upside down. In spite of the tension of the situation, the Czech official and the two of us snickered. Then the Czech official with a smile wished us a pleasant journey, and reminded us not to forget to come back. Breathing a sigh of relief, we said goodbye to our homeland, not knowing when or if we would return.” 

 

Lyuba and Bronia were received very warmly by the president of the Vienna branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joe followed a week later. The Austrian government granted them political asylum. Sponsored by a cousin in California, they moved to Glendale and started their new lives there.

After the liberation of Europe by the allies, the Czech government returned from exile. In the aftermath of World War II, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia became popular. The Soviets viewed Czechoslovakia, bordering on West Germany and having large uranium deposits, as a strategic prize, and wanted to cement their influence there. A Soviet-backed communist coup in 1948 accomplished just that. The Iron Curtain descended and the Cold War began. With it came many changes in Czechoslovakia. 

 

Lyuba felt these changes on a very personal level. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went underground, its members meeting secretly in their homes, and sometimes in Lyuba’s studio. Her first interrogation took place in 1950 while expecting her daughter Bronia. She was interrogated by the secret police regarding her activities as a member of the church—a church originating in the West, and of all places in America! She was threatened that she would have to deliver her baby in the notorious Pankrac prison if she didn’t inform on her fellow church members. Over the years more interrogations followed. Daughter Bronia recalls her coming home, ashen and completely exhausted, but never being told the reason for her mother’s state. Bronia was kept in ignorance for her own protection. Lyuba refused to join the communist party, and as a result the lucrative commissions other card carrying artists received never came her way. She supplemented her living teaching posture corrective exercises and illustrating books on the subject. In 1968, before her escape to Austria, Lyuba became one of the first yoga instructors in the newly established Institute of Culture in Prague. In the 1950s and early 1960s her mail was censored, and her travel was limited to the Soviet bloc countries

Lyuba’s mother, Filomena, did her best to take care of her small family. As the allies started to bomb Europe, Lyuba and her family spent lot of time in air raid shelters. In 1942, in one of her late father’s books, Lyuba found a pamphlet about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A week later there happened to be a notice in the local paper about the church meeting near her apartment. Lyuba met with the members, and after six years of investigation, joined the church in 1948. Lyuba’s sister, mother, a cousin and other family members followed. In 1944, as the allies intensified their efforts to defeat Nazi Germany, Lyuba recalls an especially heavy bombing by the British: “The ground shook beneath us like in an earthquake. When I left the air raid shelter all of my teeth hurt.”

In 1945, she received her Bachelor of Arts diploma from the School of Applied Arts in Brno, and passed an exam for an admission to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Concurrent with her studies in sculpture and medal making, she apprenticed as a stone cutter. In 1950, three months before her daughter Bronia was born, Lyuba received her Master of Arts degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. After receiving her degree, she continued to work as a stone cutter for several years. One of her daughter’s earliest memories is watching her mother make a portrait in stone. This is where Lyuba made an alabaster portrait of an 18-month old Bronia recovering from surgery. Titled “Sick Child,” the original is in the collection of the Czech National Gallery. Lyuba also received training in mosaics and pottery, and learned how to restore ceramic and stone sculptures. 

Czechoslovakia 1952, Lyuba and Bronia
Paris, France 1965
Glendale 1970
Glendale 1969,
stone bust of Paul Callister
Provo, Utah 1984,
creating a bust of Hugh Nibley
California, 2000s
Graduation_1975_01_edited.png

Education

1975

Master of Arts Degree  |  California State University at Northridge  |  Northridge, CA

1965

Pedagogic Studies Certificate  |  Academy of Fine Arts  |  Prague, Czech Republic

1950

Master of Arts Degree  |  Academy of Fine Arts  |  Prague, Czech Republic

1944

Bachelor of Arts Degree  |  School of Applied Arts  |  Brno, Czech Republic

selected exhibitions, 
EUROPE

1995

Pilsen, Czech Republic

1974

Madrid, Spain

1968

Women’s International Cultural Federation  |  Paris, France

1967

Women’s International Cultural Federation  |  Athens, Greece

1966

Bojkovice, Czech Republic

1966

Women’s International Cultural Federation  |  Paris, France

1965

Women’s International Cultural Federation  |  Paris, France

1970

Slapy, Czech Republic

1956

Orlik, Czech Republic

1949

Solo exhibition at Academy Of Fine Arts  |  Prague, Czech Republic

1948

Art Club  |  Prague, Czech Republic

collections

The National Gallery  |  Prague, Czech Republic

The A. P. Chekhov Museum  |  Yalta, Ukraine

The J.P. Getty Museum  |  Malibu, CA

The General Patton Museum  |  Chiriaco Summit, Indio, CA

Brigham Young University Museum of Art  |  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  |  Provo, UT

The Patton Memorial Museum  |  Pilsen, Czech Republic

L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library  |  Harold B. Lee Library  |  Brigham Young University  |  Provo, UT

selected exhibitions, 
USA

2016

In Memoriam Woodbury Art Museum  |  Utah Valley University  |  Orem, UT

2009

Central Utah Art Center  |  Ephraim, UT

2003

Czech Front Gallery  |  Los Angeles, CA

2002

Pasadena City College Art Gallery  |  Pasadena, CA

2000

Museum of Church History and Art  |  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  |  Salt Lake City, UT

1996

The Boone’s Garden  |  San Marino, CA

1994

BKH Fine Art Gallery  |  Los Angeles, CA

Museum of Church History and Art  |  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  |  Salt Lake City, UT

1991

Museum of Church History and Art  |  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  |  Salt Lake City, UT

Czechoslovak Institute of Los Angeles International Student Center  |  Los Angeles, CA

1990

BKH Fine Art Gallery  |  Los Angeles, CA

1989

Harris Fine Art Center Gallery  |  Brigham Young University  |  Provo, UT

1987

Museum of Church History and Art  |  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  |  Salt Lake City, UT

1984

Progressive Savings & Loan Association  |  Pasadena, CA

1979

Four Oaks Gallery  |  San Marino, Ca

1975

Tidepool Gallery  |  Malibu, CA

Czechoslovak Society of Arts & Sciences in America  |  Los Angeles Chapter  |  Los Angeles, CA

1974

California State University Northridge  |  Northridge, CA

1969

Valley Folklorico, Padre Sierra  |  San Fernandino, CA