Melita Vovk was born on 14 June 1928 in Bled. In 1951 she graduated in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana. In the years 1951–1953 she pursued a specialisation course in graphic arts under Božidar Jakac (3 terms) and earned her specialisation degree in 1972 from Riko Debenjak. First, she got a job as a teacher at the lower grammar school in Bled (1953–1956) but soon began to work as a freelance artist (1957–1973). Later, she was appointed senior scenography lecturer at the Academy of Performing Arts in Ljubljana (1974–1977) but she returned to freelancing again and was self-employed until she retired in 1984. In 1957 she married the writer Bojan Štih (their daughter, Marija Ejti Štih, is also a painter). From 1979 to 1980 she was married to Dutch painter Roelof Frankot (1911–1984). She travelled widely and extensively, mostly across Europe. Her interests included painting, graphic arts, drawing, illustration, scenography, costume design and caricature. After 1956 Vovk’s artistic focus shifted towards scenography and costume design, and she produced drafts for over 50 theatre performances. In 1974 she was awarded the Borštnik Diploma for her contributions to costume design and in 1977 she received the Borštnik Diploma for scenography. However, the central point of her work was illustration. Melita Vovk illustrated over 80 monographs, and published illustrations for literary sequels in periodic publications. She earned the Levstik Award twice (1957, 1964), the ‘Mlado pokoljenje’ Award (Belgrade, 1965), and was awarded the Hinko Smrekar Lifetime Achievement Award at the 9th Slovenian Biennial of Illustration (2010). She painted the portraits of many famous writers as they came to Bled for International writers’ Meetings (PEN). Melita Vovk authored several entertaining travel accounts which she also illustrated with drawings. She also wrote professional articles about selected professional issues, as well as memoir notes. On Bled Municipal Holiday in 2008, she was named the honorary citizen of the Municipality of Bled. Melita Vovk died on 22 June 2020 in Radovljica.

Melita Vovk – Up Close and Personal

IMPRESSIONSMatjaž Završnik

‘Over the last decade, the Bled Culture Institute’s efforts were primarily focused on investments in renovation of the buildings and assets we manage. Thus we have managed to completely renovate Bled Castle and the Bled Congress Centre (Festival Hall). In line with our mission and with an aim to provide these buildings with high-quality content, we have set off on a new path: we started a long-term project ‘November Opus’ with an aim to prepare an in-depth presentation every year of a person who was and is important for Bled, its public image and development. Because of the pandemic, the project was launched six months later than originally planned. The first artist in focus was Melita Vovk, a painter and honorary citizen of the Bled Municipality, who passed away in 2021. Vovk’s immense creative genius may have been kept behind the doors of her home for too long. We are truly grateful and pleased that with the consent and support of Melita’s daughter Ejti Štih, an acclaimed painter herself, and other collaborators we have finally arrived at a point where we are able to present Melita Vovk and her life-long work to the public in a more extensive and detailed manner than ever before. We are proud she called Bled her home and we hope that with this presentation, we have at least partially repaid her efforts and thanked her for everything she has done for Bled. I sincerely hope that we will be able to continue this project in the future years, shedding light on more people who have co-created and promoted the image and essence of Bled through their work.


There were people who comprehended the diversity and authenticity of Melita Vovk’s legacy when the artist was still with us. I, on the other hand, only learned of her rich oeuvre last summer, when Melita’s daughter Ejti Štih collected and arranged her mother’s legacy a year after the artist’s demise. The idea to commemorate the artist with a one-month exhibition at the STOLP (Tower) Gallery at Bled Castle evolved into a great Bled exhibition ‘Melita Vovk – Up Close and Personal’, which spans eight venues and over 500 original works, a considerable part of which are put on display for the first time. The exhibition was accompanied by a book set of the same name, which lays out the life and work of the artist on 500 pages. Ejti catalogued the artistic treasure she uncovered in the attic of Melita’s villa into sets, each of which we allocated to one of the eight venues depending on the character of the exhibits and the space available. Prior to the exhibition, Ejti has already donated the works from the categories ‘Theatre, Puppets and TV’ and ‘PEN portraits’ to competent institutions. The graphic art selection was made by Ana Marija Kunstelj. Apart from all her known works and large-format paintings, Melita Vovk’s many seemingly insignificant, aged, crumpled pieces of paper proved to be an equally important part of her legacy. As parts of Melita’s personal diary executed in (exquisite) drawing, they support the main idea of the project – to present the artist to the public beyond the artistic merit of her work – as a visionary, a (witty) explorer, a complex, multi-layered human being. “At my mom’s funeral there were no sad songs sung by children’s choirs; the air was filled with the sound of Luis Armstrong’s trumpet and piano. The exhibition and the book set convey the same idea: varied, merry and unbridled,” said Ejti Štih. The most challenging task I encountered in the course of prepping the exhibition was digitalization of Vovk’s work, as I had to digitize and process over 2,000 items. Our goal was to simultaneously create a digital archive which will – in addition to the exhibition and book set – be the third pillar for any further research studies, as well as a record for posterity. Creating the visual image of the project was another challenge. When working with such a massive oeuvre, the leitmotif is difficult to pinpoint. The underlying sign is Melita’s line self-portrait from 1973 and a visually neutral signature which does not seem to move in any particular direction. The secondary element are extracts from the painter’s fantastic colourful landscapes that speak about her dynamic usage of colour and activity across various fields of artistic expression. This core motif is supplemented by the element of handwriting, which symbolizes Melita’s inherent need to document and record, and by black dots in a raster arrangement as symbols of her for various publications. Melita Vovk illustrated over 80 books and published in papers countless illustrations, caricatures, soapy and humorous designs and portraits. Due to the complexity of Melita Vovk’s oeuvre, the creation of the book set was a challenging task; Ejti’s help from overseas was particularly valuable in the initial and final phases as she was generous with ideas, opinions and perceptions of an astute artistic eye. The deadlines for finalizing the book were tight, for authors and for me. The authors began writing their contributions in mid-February, when I started digitizing the works. In the end, we only had four weeks for proofreading, editing and graphic design, which was crazy given the scope of the material, but we somehow made it possible. In terms of the concept, the book set is divided into two parts – life and work. The first book, The Biography of an Artist 1928 – 2020, describes Melita Vovk’s life on 180 pages, supporting the text with rich photographic material, while the second book, Creations, brings a collection of research papers on Melita’s diverse creative achievements. In terms of design, the second book was particularly complex as it centred on multiple galleries of the painter’s prominent and informative from nine fields of work. Additionally, we needed to create a separate visual identity and structure for the book set. If I exercised discretion on the inside of the book, letting the works of art to fully shine, I took a bit more creative freedom when designing the covers. The covers of both volumes form a pair of complementing self-portraits, whereby the Biography’s self-portrait rendered in oil symbolizes Life, Passion, Character, the other one, executed in line, creates a space for her artistic expression in its monochrome, clear caricature. The wrapping that binds both books into a set is another hint at playfulness and mystery.


The biography of Melita Vovk intertwines the artist’s personal life and creative work. In the background of this twirl I presented the circumstances that shaped Melita’s growing up in the cosmopolitan Bled in the period of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, her schooling during the Second World War and in the post-war period, and her creative endeavours in the ex-Yugoslavia and in Slovenia as an independent state. The main source of all the stories and anecdotes summarized in the biography are the artist’s diaries and her talks with daughter Ejti and sister Dudi. I thought Melita was a really interesting person in all aspects even before I delved deep into her personality by reading her diaries. In 2015, when she had her last solo exhibition at the Bežigrad Gallery in Ljubljana, we talked about her artistic career for newspaper Delo’s Sobotna priloga. When I contacted her to ask for an interview, she modestly tried to wriggle out of the invitation, saying that nobody knew her anymore and she didn’t know who would be interested in anything she had to say. When she finally agreed to meet me, I was stunned by her exciting life story. Despite her age – she was 87 at the time – her excellent memory and lucid analysis of current events were amazing. When the interview was published, she admitted that she was pleased with the reaction it got, especially from her fellow townspeople. This year, when I was invited to write her biography and granted access to her writings, my suspicion about Melita Vovk mas a charismatic and truly unique artistic persona was instantly confirmed. Melita began writing her journals in 1936 and kept the habit throughout her life, until 2018, when she wrote her last entries. There were years when journal entries filled several notebooks, and there were times when she barely wrote anything at all, except perhaps a short note on a piece of paper she pushed between the old diaries. When I was browsing her records for some information about when she divorced her first husband, theatre manager Bojan Štih, I could not find any mention of it anywhere, not even in the official photographs. Finally, I came across a note for the year 1975, which stated briefly: divorce 10 July 1975 in Ljubljana. She did not share everything with her diary, though, as she openly admitted in the introduction to the first journal. She only wrote what she felt comfortable sharing with anyone who might have come across her notebook, but hinted that she would write her most intimate thoughts elsewhere. So I wonder whether there might some other, hidden, diaries have remained secret until this day. What touched me most in her diary entries? First, the fact that she knew that art was her path and mission in life when she was only eight years old. In her first diary she wrote that “Nature bestows upon an artist a gift of art – a golden goblet filled with mystery that is there for the artist to share. Mystery is the fluid that flows through the heart, cleansing itself in the lake of the soul. Whoever drinks from the chalice of art shall remember that the liquid it holds strengthens not the body but the soul.” Another revelation of the journals is Melita’s talent for writing. Her language was rich, sumptuous and witty. She could paint people, events and contemplations vividly and clearly, funnily even, using words instead of brushes. Her journal entries sound like literary works. She could have easily become a writer. Equally surprising is Melita’s writing style, and the things she puts in focus. For example, when she writes about Armstrong’s concert she attended in Munich in 1952, her account of the concert atmosphere is suddenly interrupted by a note on the prices of foodstuffs in Germany and the earnings people of different professions make, before moving back to reporting on the concert. This case illustrates the chain-of-thought technique in writing journals. Wherever her thoughts took her, her pen followed, creating, amazingly, painting with words. Growing up in Bled, which was in the pre-war period a mundane tourist resort that drew to this area royals and dignitaries from all over Europe, Melita Vovk perceived the world as an open space from her early days. She always seized the opportunities offered by her cosmopolitan home town. In 1952 she met British writer Lawrence Durrell, whose works, e.g. the Alexandrian Quartet, are popular to the present day. Durrell helped Vovk overcome the obstacles she faced before her first travel abroad from the then-closed socialist Yugoslavia. It is said that Melita and Durrell stayed in touch afterwards, but it unclear whether any of their correspondence has been preserved, and if yes, where it is kept. On her travels and study tours in Holland, France and England, Vovk easily connected with famous artists such as Henry Moore and Joseph Beuys. 


An adventure is not an adventure if it is not exciting, inspiring, amazing, filled with an occasional challenge, danger, trick or riddle – only then will it become imprinted on one’s memory forever. Exploring Melita Vovk’s body of art was an adventure in all these aspects. I thought I knew Melita. At least to a point. Oh, was I mistaken, and so are most of other people who like to think they knew Melita. They are mostly likely outnumbered by people who don’t know Melita Vovk at all. And this is the aim of this book – both books, actually: to introduce Melita Vovk and her art to the public. Up close and in person. With the help of her daughter Ejti, who took it upon herself to collect the legacy of the ‘beekeeper of images’, as Boris A. Novak called Melita Vovk in his poem ‘Zamirajoči sonet za Melito Vovk’ (‘The Fading Sonet for Melita Vovk’), we were able to lift the curtain and open the chest of treasures. The feeling upon encountering her artistic matter is closest to the sensation of a child who discovers that his playroom has another door which opens into another room with toys, and this room opens up into another, with another door. In the text she wrote for the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition on the 20th anniversary of Group 53 (City Gallery, Ljubljana, 1973), Melita Vovk predicted that researchers of her work are likely to find themselves in a pickle. “My artistic works […] have been scattered around and are nowhere to be found. No system, no documentation, no collector’s passion to preserve.” So true. The basis for the book is what Melita Vovk left behind for our curious eyes, in her folders and boxes (no system, no documentation). The presentation is far from perfect – there is plenty of space left for a detailed analysis of her oeuvre, including the timelines and dates. During the time we had, the authors did their best to present Melita Vovk in all the facets of her artistic creativity, with all the diversity, open-mindedness, spirit, courage and incredible talent she possessed. Up close. A thorough and extremely well-written biography by Lidija Pavlovčič helps us understand Melita better: the book reads like a novel. Valuable work was also done by Tatjana Pregl Kobe, Tea Rogelj, Edi Majaron, Marko Kočevar and Janez Fajfar. Certain fields are better documented, others a bit less, some take up considerable space in the oeuvre, and the chapters of the books aptly adjust. The books accompany the exhibition MELITA VOVK – Up close and personal, which was on display in Bled and Ljubljana in June and July 2021 but not as exhibition catalogues since they partly touch upon the works not included in the exhibition. The idea of a small exhibition in Bled evolved into a grand exhibition staged on eight venues and in extensive publications. An adventure, of course. I like to imagine Melita would be pleased. This accomplishment would not be possible without the courage of the Bled Culture Institute, the trust of Ejti Štih, countless hours of tiresome work, persistence and patience of the project coordinator and designer, Andreja Završnik, and the willingness to work under extremely tight deadlines of all authors of texts submitted to the project. I think that meeting Melita up close and in person has left us all richer and better.

Press conference on the occasion of the publication of the book set MELITA VOVK – Up close and personal. (photo: Mirko Kunšič)

Press conference on the occasion of the publication of the book set MELITA VOVK – Up close and personal. Melita’s sister Dudi Vovk.(photo: Mirko Kunšič)

MELITA VOVK – Up close and personal, book. (The Biography of an Artist 1928 – 2020, and Creating)


Collages and fantastic drawings – STOLP Gallery, Bled Castle

Stations of the Cross – Chapel, Bled Castle

Graphic Art – Museum Hall, Bled Castle

Paintings, Fantasy art, Landscape paintings, Theatre – Bled Congress Centre

Self Portraits, Story Time, Family – Melita Vovk Gallery

Croquis – Apropo Cafe

Selected Illustrations – Blaž Kumerdej Library Bled

Exhibition of Illustrations – Josef Stefan Institute Gallery