When she was six years old, Marie Sokol moved with her family from her birthplace of Dobrochyn, in the Sokal region of Ukraine, to Yugoslavia. Eight years later at the age of fourteen Marie decided to follow her two brothers to America. She traveled alone by ship through Ellis Island to join her brother Paul in Pennsylvania. Marie stayed with Paul on his farm for a year before she ventured out once more by herself to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, where her other brother Kirylo had settled.
"With a few dollars and a small suitcase containing all my possessions I set off for Canada. The train stopped in Minneapolis for the night at the Milwaukee Depot. I decided to go out for awhile. It was a cold night. I remember asking a policeman if he knew of any Ukrainians living in the city. He directed me to Seven Corners. As I walked up the street I could see the frozen Mississippi River glistening in the moonlight. It was very pretty. I came to five houses, all of them dark and quiet. The third house seemed like the right one, so I knocked. A young couple answered the door. 'Do you speak Ukrainian?' They answered 'Tak, Tak' and invited me in. They told me of a young woman who was living with them. To our surprise and amazement we discovered the woman staying with them was my second cousin! Was it not God's will that led me to this house? I had no idea that in all of the United States she was living in Minneapolis. It was a miracle. We cried and laughed at our reunion. I did not go on to Canada. It was right for me to stay in Minneapolis."
In 1915 Marie married Tony Procai, also a Ukrainian immigrant. Together they raised three daughters and a son, who died serving his country in WW II on the USS Indianapolis. As a couple, Marie and Tony played a vital role in developing an active Ukrainian community in Minneapolis.
Pysanky: Marie's First Easter in America
"I remember my first Easter in America and how homesick I felt for the traditions of the holidays which I once knew. I recalled my mother and grandmother decorating the colorful eggs and taking them to church to be blessed and decided that I could not let the Easter season pass without at least trying to make a pysanka (Ukrainian Easter Egg). So I made a writing tool (kistka) from the metal tip of a shoelace. I bought crepe paper at the drug store and made dyes by soaking the paper in boiling water. My first attempts were crude, but I did it, and made my first Pysanky in America!"
A Modest Beginning in 1947
After the children were grown and married, Marie was not content to sit back and watch life pass. She and her daughter Luba Perchyshyn decided to start a Ukrainian Gift Shop. In preparation Marie and Luba embroidered handkerchiefs and blouses, purchased Ukrainian books, tapestries and ceramics from the few existing shops in the U.S. In November of 1947 they opened their shop in the Procai living room. On grand opening day Marie and Luba sold two handkerchiefs for a grand total of $1.50. After the hesitant start the shop was moved to a store near the University of Minnesota. Here, Luba put together her first Easter egg decorating kit -- a simple collection of tools, dyes and wax in a paper bag for $1.00.
As the business grew Marie and Luba continued to develop their store, which began to include gifts from many lands. In 1958 another of Marie's daughters, Johanna Luciow, joined in to help with the ever-growing gift shop and she added her talents in the beautiful Pysanky art. Luba's Easter Egg Decorating Kits were further refined and today are sold internationally. Seven detailed books about decorating Pysanky, an embroidery book, two coloring books, puzzles, posters and Easter egg postcards have been published by the Ukrainian Gift Shop Inc.
The April 1972 issue of National Geographic did an eight page pictorial entitled "Easter Greetings from the Ukrainians." This article featured the Ukrainian Gift Shop along with the Ukrainian community of Minneapolis and the beautiful art of Pysanky. In 1975 a film about Ukrainian Easter Eggs "Pysanky" by Slavko Nowytski featured Luba's artistry in egg decorating. This film won the International Gold Eagle Award for excellence in 1978 and is now available on video from our online store.
Marie continued to work six days a week in the gift shop and decorated Pysanky until 1987, when she retired at the age of 90. Marie passed away peacefully in 1993. In March of 1998, Johanna Luciow passed away. Her artistry and presence are still greatly missed.
The Ukrainian Gift Shop and the 21st Century
Elko now manages the gift shop with his mother Luba. Several employees also help run the fruitful operation, including Yaroslav, Deanna, and Nadia. It has become a multi-generational business as Luba's grandchildren, Allyson and Gunther, help during busy times.
The Ukrainian Gift Shop has settled into its North Loop location in Minneapolis. If you haven't had the opportunity, come and find our shop, conveniently located just a few blocks north of the Target Center and Target Field Stadiums. Street parking is available in front of the store.Click here for Directions to UGS
2017 marks the 70th anniversary of our store. Though our retail area is smaller, we welcome our walk in guests. As always, we strive to embrace the future, while we cherish and share the ancient art of Pysanky.