Welcoming Spring and Traditional Artisans

Slovak Singing children

A few weekends ago (I’m a rather behind), there was a little fair in our village, Vitanie Jari (Welcoming Spring). Children from the local preschools sang and danced in traditional costume, a few farm animals were available to pet, and local crafts people displayed their wares.

I am not naturally inclined to approach strangers and talk to them, but for the interest of my readers and in the interest of promoting Slovak culture I interviewed a few of the artisans. There were a few more tables, but wailing toddlers cut my journalist foray short.

One common element that struck me amoung all the crafts was that of patience. Crafting these works of beauty takes time, focus, and care, rather rare commodities in today’s instantaneous age. My favourite, though, is the last one!

Slovak Wire Maker

Jozef Zollar, Drotar (Wire Goods Maker)

I don’t really know how to translate ‘drotar’, one who makes things by manipulating wire. I particularily enjoy crafts that are both beautiful and functional, and these wire baskets, napkin rings, and candle holders fit the bill. The little cage in the above photo is a live mouse trap with a removeable funnel. Mr. Zollar has been working with wire for 16 years as a hobby.

Slovak Wire Goods

Slovak Pottery

Michal Hornik, Potter

Mr. Hornik has pottery in his blood, learning the family trade from his parents. He brought only smaller objects to Smolenice, but also makes plates, vases, and figurines. The pottery is painted in a style traditional to the area. The more I looked, the more I appreciated his products.

Each object must be baked 3-4 times, and each bake takes 3 days. His pottery is baked bare, then glazed and baked again, then painted and baked once more, and baked yet again if gold paint is used. He also counts on extra baking to fix a mistake. He was proud to tell me a list of people who had his pottery, including a former president of Slovakia and Bill Clinton.

Slovak Pottery

Slovak Basket Weaver

Mr. Sukkos, Basket Weaver

Writing this post has made me realize that I don’t know what to call many crafters. Does a basket weaver make more than baskets? Anyway, this is Mr. Sukkos’ second year weaving with branches. He was interested in wire weaving but decided that this was easier and more natural, so he took a course. I always admire people who take up new projects and learn new skills even as they age.

He makes baskets, Easter whips (more on that in an upcoming post), birdhouses, and other random things. While at the fair, he kindly made green branch whistles for the children.

Slovak Easter Whips

Slovak Fujara

P.G, Fujara Maker and Woodworker

Mr. G was more than happy to expound on the finer points of making a fujara, but as it isn’t a topic I normally discuss, I missed quite a bit of it. A fujara (pronounced fuyara) is a traditional Slovak bass folk flute (according to this fujara site), particularly used by shepherds. This video describes what a fujara is in English and examples of what it sounds like. For those who are interested, there is also a documentary in Slovak that shows how a fujara is made (which the geek in me finds fascinating).

The best wood for fujara is from the black elderberry bush, but other hard slow growing wood can be used. Ideally, the wood is dried for 3-5 years before making an instrument. The head is the most important and tricky part to make as the quality of the sound depends on it. Mr. G carves his instruments (and walking sticks) with decorations traditional to this area of the Carpathian Mountains, as well as featuring the local castle. Mr G also carves unique walkng sticks and various folk flutes.

Slovak Fujara

Slovak Eggs with Straw

Ludmila Sitarova, Decorator of Eggs with Straw

When Ms. Sitarova explained how she made the decorated eggs, my sister and I were blown away. I know that term is terribly overused, but honestly, we couldn’t get over how much work she puts into each egg.

To start, she goes to fields of barley (the best type, she said, I missed why), after the grain is dry but before harvest, and hand cuts stalks of grain. It has to be cut in a certain way so that the stalk doesn’t warp. Then she boils the barley stalks in salty water and, while they are still wet, slices each stalk up the middle with nail scissors. She scrapes out the inside with a knife so that it is clean and then IRONS them open flat, with a normal clothes iron.

She has various kinds of eggs (chicken, goose, emu); each one is blown out and painted. Then she begins the painstaking process of cutting each little piece with nail scissors, as well as using a circle punch. She demonstrated for us: cut piece of straw, dab glue, place straw with wooden skewer, over and over. (The top photo below is straw pre and post processing.)

Slovak Eggs with Straw

I was amazed at her designs as well. The churches are real churches in Slovakia and layering the staw on the flowers increases their dimension.

Slovak Eggs with Straw

What traditional craft did you enjoy the most?

Slovak Singing Children

Slovak Singing Children

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