Štefan Leonard Kostelničak

Štefan Leonard Kostelničak was a Slovak artist from the first half of the twentieth century. He traveled all around the Czechoslovak Republic (Modern day Czechia, Slovakia, and part of Ukraine) studying folk ornamentation. He created much of his own ornamentation work, both on paper and ceramics, and published several booklets about ornamentation as well.

Some of Kostelničak’s Ornamentation Work

Kostelničak was born in 1900 in a small town called Spišská Stará Ves. He displayed artistic talent from a young age but wasn’t able to study art growing up as he came from a poor family. He fought in WWI, and when he returned, studied theology at a Franciscan monastery. Eventually, he left to study art in Košice and opened a studio where he worked on ornamentation and ceramics. He traveled all over the Czechoslovak Republic documenting and collecting folk ornamentation. In 1926 and 27, he published the first and second editions of Slovenská Ornamentika, in which he describes this ornamentation with many of his own painted examples. He held exhibitions in Europe, America, and even India. The Arts and Crafts movement not only had people interested in handmade wares, but revived interest in folk art as well. Kostelničak had finally achieved recognition for his talents, but that same year, things started to take a downward turn. In 1927, he was arrested for homosexual relations.


Volume 1 of Slovenská Ornamentika

When he was released from prison, he moved to Prague and later Brno, where he continued working, and even published a magazine called “Kamarád,” or “Friend” in which he advocated for the decriminalization of homsexuality. Unfortunately, he was arrested for homosexual relations again in 1933. Upon release, he continued publishing, creating art, and running exhibitions, and for a while he saw success again. His reproductions of historic Czechoslovak documents were displayed in schools and state offices. But WWII would effectively end his career. Europe was left in ruins and the demand for hand painted ornamentation evaporated as modern, simpler aesthetics took hold. In 1949, at the age of 49, Kostelničak died while visiting his brother in Košice.

Cover page of Kamarád (Read Here!)

Though he’s not well remembered today, I see Kostelničak as a man far ahead of his time. He understood his culture as being an integral part of his art. He was a patriot without seeing his nation as superior to others. Perhaps most impressive was that he embraced both faith and queerness in a time when those things seemed antithetical to most. As a queer Christian myself, I feel drawn to him as a role model not only for design, but for how I want to live my life. Throughout his own short life, he was dedicated to kindness, tolerance, and sharing his beautiful art with the world.



Anna Kostelničáková. Slovenska Ornamentika. Nitrava, 2020.

a.s, Petit Press. “Štefan Leonard Kostelničák povýšil ornamenty na umenie.” korzar.sme.sk. Accessed February 16, 2023. https://korzar.sme.sk/c/5280360/stefan-leonard-kostelnicak-povysil-ornamenty-na-umenie.html.

“Historické teplé okienko: Známy – neznámy príbeh Štefana Leonarda Kostelníčka.”Accessed February 16, 2023. https://duhovyrok.sk/qys/historicke-teple-okienko-znamy-neznamy-pribeh-stefana-leonarda-kostelnicka/.

Jankovič, Vojtech. “Little school of deltiology (21): Postcards by Stefan Leonard Kostelnicek (1900 – 1949) – www.postoveznamky.sk.” Information philatelic portal www.postoveznamky.sk. Accessed February 16, 2023. https://www.postoveznamky.sk/little-school-of-deltiology-21-postcards-by-stefan-leonard-kostelnicek-1900-1949.

“Majster ornamentu: Komunisti ho takmer vymazali z dejín!,” October 23, 2013. https://zivot.pluska.sk/zaujimavosti/majstra-ornamentu-komunisti-takmer-vymazali.

Matušková, Veronika. “Výstava Štefan Leonard Kostelničák – Ornamenty.” Matica slovenská (blog), February 14, 2018. https://matica.sk/vystava-stefan-leonard-kostelnicak-ornamenty/.

s, Společnost pro queer paměť, z. “Časopis Kamarád, Ročník 1932, č. 1.” Accessed February 16, 2023. https://www.queerpamet.cz/inpage/casopis-kamarad-1932-01/.

Štefan Leonard Kostelničák. “Aby bolo jasno!” Komarád, 1932.


Image Sources:

Anna Kostelničáková. Slovenska Ornamentika. Nitrava, 2020.

Štefan Leonard Kostelničák. “Aby bolo jasno!” Komarád, 1932.

Štefan Leonard Kostelničák. Slovenská Ornamentika. Vol. 1. 2 vols., 1926.

“49d98ec0d3128ce67b34f8e139daaa9e.Jpg (1651×1731).” Accessed February 16, 2023. https://assets.isu.pub/document-structure/200609184237-cdfb6c86bece00e33222d460d97e4bc2/v1/49d98ec0d3128ce67b34f8e139daaa9e.jpg.

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