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Romanian folk art (Part 2)


Wickerwork of Vegetal Fibres

The wickerwork of vegetal fibres, which is to be found in most Romanian regions, has often reached a high artistic level. In the areas where there is plenty of raw materials - rush, hazel or osier twigs, wheat, rye and oats straws, maize husks - wickerwork of vegetal fibres becomes a specialized handicraft.

Since the Neolithic Age till the middle of the 20th century they have made numerous and various items by resorting to this handicraft. The items made of twigs or in combination with other materials (especially rush) were most often in close connection with the current trades of people (agriculture, fishing, hunting, harvesting a o): harrows, all kind of baskets (bigger ones for carrying fish and picking and carrying grapes, smaller ones for raspberry or blueberries, higher ones, which were carried on people's backs for heavy things, longish or even round ones for carrying food to the workers in the field), gratings or enclosures for catching fish or for sheepfolds, snares, baskets for carts. Wickerwork made of twigs are also to be found inside the Romanian houses as furniture: children's cradles, cradles to be hung from the beam or to be carried on one's back, spoon rests, a o.

Therefore, besides the dense and regular fibre of the oak tree or fir tree and the contorted one of the rare wood of the wild pear tree, the handicraftsmen from the Romanian villages also used vegetal resources such as hemp, twigs, straws, maize husks, rush and reed and made a range of light and delicate items that are resistant and unexpected in point of their texture. The art of wickerwork, one of the oldest ones when regarding things from the historical point of view of human occupations, preceding both weaving and ceramics, as some deductions of archaeologists seem to prove, is brilliantly represented in all Romanian historical provinces. As a matter of fact it was also the first technique for building houses, being even today in many ethnographic areas under the form of wickerwork walls made by thick branches.

Wickerwork made of vegetal fibres preserves either the genuineness of the pieces of folk art, or the value of the manual creation of these items that are useful and decorative at the same time, so much appreciated by the modern world. We find that in the past few decades this handicraft has been developing and extending, permanently widening the range of products from the most varied useful things to decorative products, pieces of furniture and for interior decoration. As such we think that the traditional wickerwork, even if we take into account the intrusions mentioned before, is an unending source of inspiration for contemporary peasant creators and ensure a fruit-bearing basis for the future directions in modern decorative art as in other fields of folk art too.

Art Weaving

Referring to the Romanian space, most historians and ethnographers opine that loom weaving is known as far back as the Neolithic Age. It was not separated in the same homestead from the other activities: spinning, pottery or house building. Archaeological excavations revealed numerous whorls, weights made of clay for stretching the threads and numerous other objects that help us today to imagine how a weaving loom would have looked like more than 4,000 years ago. It seems that this handicraft originates in the century-old technique of making mats out of vegetal materials, but they think that the passage from a handicraft to another one was made in a long period of time. Archaeological excavations at Garvan demonstrate that, as far back as the first half of the 11th century, weaving had got a certain degree of perfection as this is the first time that they attested the horizontal weaving loom, like the one used in Muscel. In the centuries to come the handicraft develops so much that the documents mention a specialization in this field in northern Muntenia and an organization of weavers in separate guilds in Transylvania: the wool weavers (lanifices fraternitas) and cloth weavers (textures fraternitas). In northern Muntenia, therefore in Muscel too, in the 17th century, this handicraft was so common in villages that the secretary of Prince Constantin Brancoveanu, Antonio Maria del Chiaro, remarked the fact that 'here in every house there is real weaving factory.' Till shortly before the First World War and a little afterwards weaving was the main occupation and duty of women in the country in wintertime. It seems that women were duty-bound to weave 'three bales of cotton every winter, besides the blouse and the skirt for Easter and besides the wall carpets and towels,' as far back as they were 15 or 16 years old. Weaving had the main decorative role inside the peasant house, till the first half of the 20th century new models were permanently created or the old ones were enriched through cultural borrowings. In northern Muscel, due to the colder climate characteristic of the hilly and mountainous region, with bitter winters and cold springs and autumns, but also due the main occupation, sheep breeding, weaving developed considerably, which was remarkable both through the syntheses between the various motifs of the neighbouring ethnographic areas (Oltenia, Bran, Sibiu) and through the imposition of some specific decorative motifs (the ram's horns, the carnation, the crenellated rhombus, of some unusual decorative associations or of some unique textile items (the wall carpets, the long-haired wall carpets of Stanesti and the curtain of Bughea).

Artistic processing of wood

Wood was for centuries on end the main raw material of the Romanians, being used for the homestead buildings or for making tools, household things and utensils, pieces of furniture. In the activity of processing wood, the handicraftsman use both his skill and his sense of art, so that experts speak both of 'the Romanian civilization of wood' and of the 'Romanian art of wood.'

In rural communities every villager had the necessary knowledge and skills to process wood at least roughly, by building and maintaining by himself some things in his homestead. Using simple tools like the axe, the saw, the tesla, the cramp iron, the knife, the chisel, the awl, the hollow chisel, the pyrographed pattern, they created a comprehensive range of things, from the small ones, for personal use, household utensils and working tools, religious items, till big inner pieces and the ones used in constructions. Of course, their being created implied a sound specialization handed from generation to generation.

The aspect, which is highly interesting from an artistic point of view, of the peasant buildings is characterized through its stylized and vigorously obvious character due to the technique that was used: the wood carving and chiselling of some things such as the window bracket, the door and window frames, the big gates, the entrances to the stables. All the ornaments have motifs that are put in bold relief.

At present the handicraftsmen continue the old traditions of wood processing, although the field of using it was substantially diminished concurrently with the diminution of the area of the forest land. The best handicraftsmen are specialized in decorating the inside of houses, public buildings and churches.

In traditional architecture there is still the tendency to make special gates, doors and windows, wood craved pillars and wooden balconies, on which roofs are based. The eaves are decorated with a wooden ribbon all round it.