Folk Art

January 1st, 2007 was marked in history as the day Romania joined the European Union with a full membership, making sustained efforts to reaffirm and maintain its national dignity and identity in a European context.
The identity and dignity of Romanians, both in country and abroad, are suffering because Romania’s image in the world has deteriorated and is still deteriorating. Therefore, effective terms are needed for Romania to assert itself as an equal alongside other European nations. In our stride to be competitive at this level, we must promote our national brands, all the while taking care not to allow the globalization phenomenon to negatively impact them.
The young, as the future carriers of these folk traditions and customs, should be more implicated in the culture of their birth place. While Romanian authentic items are embraced by foreigners with genuine joy, “planting” them in a place of honor in their homes, Romanians ignore them knowingly in the favor of kitsch objects.


Kitsch/kiCH/noun: kitsch – Art, decorative objects, or design considered by many people to be ugly, without style, or false but enjoyed by other people, often because they are funny. (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2013)
Traditional folk art has its roots in the distant and tumultuous past of a space that constantly found itself at the crossroads of great historic civilizations: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Oriental and Western. Elements of these civilizations were assimilated by the inhabitants of these places, culminating with the rise of an original vision which is found, in its clearest essence, at the heart of folk art and crafts.
Everything related to folk traditions truly represents the peculiar spirit of a place, the spiritual identity of a nation. In a global context of cultural bias, the identity of a place, a gesture, an act, seems, as days go by, a reality that is, if not necessary, at least one to be closely regarded.
These crafts did not emerge from nothingness, they’re not an occurrence of art for art’s sake, but a solution to our everyday needs. Etymologically the term artisan involves first and foremost the idea of a craftsman, a creator in the service of art and beauty. Whatever their nature, crafts are a synthesis of the spirit of practicality and art, in which man sought, since ancient times, all kinds of methods and techniques to obtain assets of material and spiritual nature, satisfying its living needs and its aspiration toward beauty.
Today, the village no longer needs these crafts. In contrast, city dwellers want them, at least as decorative items. New folk craftsmen have emerged and developed as a result of supply and demand in the market. Now that village fairs have all but disappeared, the only chance to preserve tradition comes from the city. Folk art was ousted from the kitchens and inducted in our living rooms as decorative art.
Archaeological sources, monuments and written documents prove the millenary persistence of some of the most valuable artistic elements in the technique, ornamentation and chromatics of Romanian folk art till today.
The historical course, with technical innovations, with new raw materials, with increased specialization and development of the crafts, with new and varied life requisites, with varied bonds with cultural forms of other ethnicities, contributed over the centuries to the development and enrichment of the artistic craftsmanship of folk artisans.
Being forced to craft, at least up to a point, by themselves almost all the objects necessary to live in a closed household economy, the Romanian people expressed their love for beauty by decorating the endless variety of tools and common items that they were using. Thus, the Romanian folk art contains all artistic manifestations materialized in form, ornament, color, that envelop ethnographic objects related to work, social life, people’s habits. In all its genres of manifestation, Romanian folk art keeps, in all regions, a unified mutual fund, the seal of ethnic specificity reflected in the artistic style of the Romanian people. However, due to the existence of numerous ethnographic areas and regions, established over the centuries as a result of certain different states of historical development, the Romanian folk art manifests itself with great variety, at the same time retaining its stylistic unity.
Contemporary Romanian folk art is a complex field, in which the artistic folk heritage harmoniously blends, in many parts of the country, with a still thriving activity of a few old traditional crafting centers. As a part of the material and spiritual culture, folk art reflects the national specificities and has a profound social characteristic, with a clearly defined role in achieving balance between usefulness and beauty, between utilitarian-material and aesthetic requirements.

Ceramics and pottery

Ceramics and pottery are crafts that date from prehistory, some authors placing its origin in the first half of the Mesolithic, 8 to 10 millennia ago. The prehistoric man observed that in certain areas the clay retained the rainwater, preserving its plasticity. It is thanks to this simple discovery that today we can admire in museums across the country the superb pottery of that era, which ushered the birth of a remarkable civilization on the Romanian territory.
These ceramic items are distinguished through the elegance of the forms and through ornamentation. Both traditional and modern pottery is modeled on the potter’s wheel. Curing is usually done in horizontal furnaces using two techniques, oxygenation and oxygen deprivation, producing two types of ceramics, red and black, respectively. Folk ceramics comprise from a series of traditional elements influenced by living conditions, but also by the evolution of the aesthetic taste.
In Moldova, we can find a sizable variety of forms in which we can recognize types belonging to ancient Greek and Roman ceramics. Very popular are the stone polished black ceramic vessels made at the Marginea in the Suceava centers and Deleni, in Iasi. In Maramures, Lapusul Romanesc is an area well known for its pottery, which can be considered a synthesis of the evolution of Romanian ceramic forms. Here we can admire black pottery and brush painted ceramics.


The weaving of plant fibers, present in most areas of the country, often reached a high artistic level. In areas where the raw materials are abundant – cattail, hazel or willow twigs, wheat, rye and oat straws, corn leaves and husks – the weaving of plant fibers becomes a specialized craft.
From the Neolithic and up until the middle of the 20th century many objects were made using this craft. Objects made of twigs and in combination with other materials, especially mace, were closely related to the current occupations of the inhabitants, such as agriculture, fishing, hunting, gathering: harrows, larger baskets to carry fish and to transport grapes, smaller, for raspberries or blueberries, tall, worn on the back for weights, more oblong or round, to haul food to the fields, leashes and fences to catch fish or for sheepfolds, animal snares, other baskets for carts. Also, wickerwork can be found inside Romanian homes as furniture: shovelers, leashes made as platforms for beds, swings for children, to hang beams or to wear on your back.
Along with the dense and regular fibers of the oak or the fir-tree wood and the twisted ones of the wild pear-tree wood, folk craftsmen used plant resources like tows, twigs, straw, corn husks, canes and cattail, creating a range of lightweight objects, which were delicate, but also resilient and remarkably refined. The art of wickerworking – one of the oldest forms of art on the historic scale of human pursuits, preceding both the art of weaving and the art of pottery – is representative in all Romanian historical provinces. It was also the first technique used to build houses and is present today in many ethnographic areas in the form of walls made from intertwined thick straw.
The products made from weaving plant fibers retain the authenticity of folk art pieces, and the value of the manual execution of these useful and decorative objects extends throughout modernism. Traditional wicker remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration for contemporary folk creators, ensuring a good basis for the future directions of modern decorative art.
The craft of loom weaving is known since the Neolithic age, indistinguishable from the other activities within the same household: spinning, pottery or building structures. This craft originated in the ancient technique of weaving mats from plant materials, but the transition from one craft to another was achieved over a lengthy period of time. Archaeologists uncovered a number of spindles and clay weights used to stretch wires, and many other testimonial items that were useful in reconstructing a loom used over 4,000 years ago.
Archaeologists demonstrated, using the relics discovered on the site at Gavan, in Vaslui County, that, since the first half of the 11th century, the craft of weaving reached a certain degree of perfection, as it is then when the horizontal loom was first attested, which is similar to the one used at Muscel, in Arges County. In the following centuries, the craft evolves so much that the documents indicate a specialization in this field in northern Wallachia and the organization of craftsmen in separate guilds in Transylvania: wool weavers (lanifices fraternitas) and cloth weaving (textores fraternitas). The craft became so prevalent in villages that the secretary to lord Constantin Brancoveanu, Antonnio Maria del Chiaro, observed that “there is an actual weaving factory in every home”. Up until the eve of World War I and a short time after, loom weaving was the main occupation and duty of rural women in winter time.


The wood

For centuries, wood was the main raw material for villagers, being used to build farm structures, objects and household utensils, tools and furniture elements. Folk craftsman invested both skill and artistry in woodworking, so much that this archaic craft was raised to the rank of art. In rural communities, everyone had the necessary skills and knowledge needed to process wood, at least at a rudimentary level, allowing them to build and maintain a number of household objects. Folk craftsmen, using simple tools like an ax, a saw, an adze, a clamp, a knife, a chisel, a compass, a drill or a pyrography, conceived a wide range of items, from small, for personal use, household utensils and work tools, objects of worship, to large interior pieces, used in construction. Their manufacturing required a certain skill level, but also a thorough specialization, which was transmitted from generation to generation.
Rural constructions boast a striking decorum, characterized by stylized and stark wood reliefs, with ornaments obtained through carving and chiselling of window consoles, door frames, great gates and entrances to stables. Eaves are decorated all the way around with wooden ribbons. The desire to execute unusual gates, doors and windows, wooden balconies and carved pillars, which support roofs, persist in folk architecture to this day.
Present day artisans continue the old traditions of woodworking, although the scope is visibly diminished by the restrictions on tree cuttings and the market availability of new prefabs. The best craftsmen are specialized in decorating the interiors of houses, public buildings, objects of worship and churches.

(…) For the entire article, please see the Black Gryphon Magazine.

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