ethnographer, social and political activist; b. 20 December 1895 in Nowogród (upon the Narew river), d. 29 May 1967 in Warsaw. He was born in a little town in the area of Łomża to a family of craftsmen and farmers. Already as a small child he assisted his father in his professional duties, and was actively involved in community projects. His father was a reputed violinist; he would also make folk instruments, such as violins, basetlas, pipes, clarinets, and ligawkas. Having finished primary school in his hometown, Chętnik attended middle school in Łomża. Using his own savings and funds raised by local youth, he set up the first Polish library in Nowogród in 1903. At the age of 23, he completed teaching courses in Warsaw and passed a teaching examination in Saint Petersburg. He then continued his studies in Warsaw. In 1912 he started publishing a magazine for rural youth called Drużyna (The Team) which was issued for 12 years with breaks, and Biblioteka Drużyny (The Team's Library) that was a series of separate booklets containing geographical, ethnographic, and historical information. The series also featured text books for amateur theatre groups and associations of rural youth. He also published a periodical for the people of Kurpie (Gość Puszczański), and of Kurpie and Mazury (Goniec Pograniczny).
During WWI he was involved in social and political activity in the region of Kurpie and the borderlands of Kurpie and Mazury. Immediately after Poland regained independence, he was a MP for Łomża, yet withdrew from politics in 1925/26 in order to focus on academic work, set up museums, and prepare ethnographic exhibitions. Already before WWI he had donated some of his collections to the emerging regional museums in Ostrołęka i Łomża. Unfortunately, the collections had been destroyed or defragmented during the war. In 1927, following a few years of preparations, Chętnik opened (together with his wife) the Kurpie Museum in his hometown of Nowogród, which was the second institutions of this kind in Poland, after a similar museum established in the region of Pomerania.
In order to expand his ethnographic knowledge and expertise, Chętnik began studies in museology, ethnography, and ethnology at the University of Warsaw (1928-30), and later attended secret classes during WWII. This brought him a PhD and a habilitation in 1946. He frequently travelled abroad, and had extensive music interests: apart from playing a range of instruments (violin, basetla, Polish accordion, devil's fiddles), he was a founder and leader of a folk band, luthier, documentalist and promoter of music folklore of the Kurpie region, and author of a monograph on the musical instruments of Kurpie and Mazury.
In the course of WWII Chętnik's museum and archives in Nowogród were destroyed. After the war he took up the challenge of rebuilding the museum. He also revived the Academic and Research Station of Middle Narew, moving its headquarters from Nowogród to Łomża, where he also opened a regional museum in 1948. He worked as an expert on Kurpie and Łomża for the museums in Nowogród and Łomża. Apart from writings on museology and local culture, he published literary pieces and poems inspired by the life of the region. His investigated and promoted the culture of Kurpie. In 1923 he received the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta and a Golden Cross of Merit, followed by the Officer's Cross of Polonia Restituta in 1966 for his contribution to regional museology.
updated: November 2014 (ab)