Małopolska souvenirs, produced for hundreds of years!

Colorful carter gloves.
Winter is coming, so it's worth getting carter’s mittens, which even the American senator and former presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, is wearing! Małopolska handicrafts and traditional folk crafts are not only an element of culture, but also one of the tourist attractions of the region. 200 artists, representing 24 crafts, in nearly 130 towns are waiting for you to discover them!

Unique mittens saved by women

American Senator Bernie Sanders showed up in thick woollen mittens at the swearing-in of the new president of the United States. Now he has another pair because at the beginning of the year the "black highlanders" from Łomnica-Zdrój and Piwniczna-Zdrój shipped it to him as a gift. The “highlanders”, whose nickname comes from their mostly black clothes, highlight that Bernie Sanders comes from Słopnice, a village in Małopolska. He even visited this village in the Limanowa poviat, at the foot of Mogielica, the highest mountain of Beskid Wyspowy, in search of his roots in 2013.
Those who live in the mountains are perfectly familiar with the advantages of carter’s mittens. A hint to non-highlanders (called cepry): they were perfect for loading wood onto horse-driven carts in the winter forest. First, the carter carried his gloves tied behind his head so that they wouldn't bother him. And then he would jump on the cart, put them on his hands and: giddy-up, off he went! The wool gets felted with time, making the gloves waterproof. 
How are they made? First, a linen warp is stretched onto a specially prepared wooden frame, and then a woollen thread is braided. This process takes two or three days, or even up to a week! And before that, there is still a lot of "scut work": after buying wool from a sheep breeder, you have to wash it many times, dry it, card (untangle the fibres) and then spin the thread! Fewer and fewer craft businesses offer to do it, so the weavers must often handle it on their own.
Only 100% natural wool is used to make these gloves, mostly obtained from local sheep. The gloves are usually black, and the white ones are considered more exclusive. Regardless of the colour, real carter's mittens will serve you for decades! The oldest pair, already 100 years old, is on display in the regional museum in Piwniczna-Zdrój.
When you are there, take also a look at the wooden looms – frames for weaving gloves, which were once operated mainly by... men. Did you know that the secret of their production was almost gone? For some time, the manufacturing technique was considered extinct, and this sad fact was even noted by the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. Fortunately, it turned out that Michał Nakielski from Piwniczna-Zdrój was weaving in his free time. Thanks to the determination of the women who asked him to train them, the methods of making carter’s mittens survived, and the creation of those mitts has become a female activity as well. Today, when the spatial weaving of black highlanders enjoys its revival, you can also buy a unique woollen hat or wristband. Procedures are underway to include carter’s mittens on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Beads that inspire envy and admiration

Clad in carter’s mittens you will not get cold and you can go in search of real Lemko jewellery – for yourself or as a gift a loved one. In the interwar period, the inhabitants of the so-called Lemko Land (Beskid Niski and part of Beskid Sądecki) created the so-called krywulki. It is a sort of a necklace or ruff made of tiny glass beads. The beads with a diameter of up to 2 millimetres are strung on a thread and form an openwork, intricate whole. The jewellery consists of three parts. The first one, closest to the neck, is “krajka” (about 2 centimetres wide). The finish is called “gondoczok". The most important and decorative widest part (10 to 40 centimetres) is called "polotence".

Krywulka used to be a status indicator: the richer and wider it was, the more respected and wealthy the lady who wore it. The largest necklace can hold up to 25,000 beads, threaded on several meters of thread! It takes about 130 hours of patient work to create it! Perhaps that is why they were once reserved for personal use? Geometric patterns in the shape of circles, squares, rhombuses, hexagons and stripes have their symbolic meaning. Rhombuses mean spring, a flower with eight petals signifies water and sun, and a diagonal grid of three lines – high yield. Currently, krywulka is available to buy. It is worth it, because the ethnic ornament is timeless and delights with its intricate workmanship.

Bobbin lace, the mystery of symbols

Lacemaking in the Polish countryside developed in the mid-19th century. It was mainly due to the patronage of, among others: Tytus Chałubiński, Helena Modrzejewska, and Stanisław Witkiewicz, who encouraged women to make lace. They could take part in courses, schools, trainings and shows.
In Polish folk lacemaking, the distinguished techniques are crochet, bobbin, needle and mesh. Techniques and patterns vary regionally. Crochet laces are the most popular, but bobbin lace was the most acclaimed.
Bobbin lace developed best in the charming town of Bobowa (the Gorlice poviat) and in the surrounding villages – currently the largest and most thriving lacemaking centre in Poland. Actually, the method of weaving the Bobowa lace comes from Italy and Belgium, but it began to be produced in Bobowa in the 16th century and became a real work of art there. In 1899, the National Lace School was established in Bobowa. Its students won a bronze medal at an exhibition in Saint Louis in 1902, and a gold medal in San Francisco in 1905. From 1949, the "Koronka-Bobowa" Labor Cooperative took care of the quality of lace production and the sale of products. In 1995, Stowarzyszenie Twórczości Regionalnej (the Association of Regional Crafts) was established in Bobowa. One of its goals was to protect local lacemaking art from sinking into oblivion. Interestingly, these were mainly custom-made products for the rich – nobility, landowners and bourgeoisie. Churches were also the recipients. Laces were made mainly by women (men and boys were in a definite minority). These people are connected by a special network of family affinities of a clan nature. The multi-generational and large lacemaking families pass down technical skills. If a generation link weakens, the ability to make lace in a given clan may be endangered. The production of lace is strongly related to religious life (for example, weaving on Sundays is forbidden) and the cult of St. Sophia, patron saint of the Bobowa church.

The oldest surviving pieces of Bobowa lace have a tape and circular format and a strong baroque form. The circular format (rosette) is, in this case, the most symbolically bearing. The laces are symmetrical. The patterns are symbolic (for example, three stitches stand for the Holy Trinity and five stitches signify Christ's five wounds). Bobowa's ornaments duplicate symbols and signs that have been known for centuries. Among such ornaments, we can distinguish animals (for example: peacock, rooster, duck, deer), human elements (for example, silhouettes, faces, hands), divine or holy attributes and many others. Historical and artistic collections related to Bobowa lace are collected by the Galeria Koronki Klockowej [the Bobbin Lace Gallery] in Bobowa, and the tradition is promoted by the city as part of the International Festival of Bobbin Lace.
Apart from Bobowa, lacemaking centres in Małopolska also include: Stary Sącz, Krościenko nad Dunajcem (the Nowy Targ poviat) and Wiśniowa (the Myślenice poviat)

Wood-tar burner, glass paintings and wooden eagles

Roman Penkala, the last wood-tar burner from Bielanka in the Gorlice poviat, walks through the forest in search of wood, which is more valuable and harder to find than mushrooms. Selected pieces soaked in resin are piled and burnt for several hours to obtain the wood-tar. In the past, this thick, tarry, and antibacterial substance was used as a medicine, and today it is used in the production of medicines and cosmetics. When visiting Mr. Penkala, make sure that you don’t catch his passion! You can learn all about the traditions of wood-tar production in the Zagroda Maziarska (Maziar Farm) in Łosie.
Stanisław Wyrtel, who was hired years ago as a guide at the museum – the Orawa Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna, found out that passion actually is infectious. Showing tourists pictures on glass, he got excited to copy them, and today... he runs a gallery with his own fairy-like works, a bit in Marc Chagall's style. The technique of glass painting is difficult, because you paint under the surface (on the back), so everything is reversed and you have to create the image "to the mirror".
Józef Lizoń's wife tries to persuade him to paint – not the paintings, though, but sculptures. A respected self-taught man from Podegrodzie (the Nowy Sącz poviat – with an interesting Muzeum Lachów Sądeckich (the Lachs of Sącz Museum) – he claims, however, that he prefers his works to be plain – his wooden eagles were handed over to American senators who spoke about the situation in Poland. He has had many individual exhibitions, including at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, as well as in France, Switzerland, Slovakia and Hungary. He has been sculpting since he was 9 years old and considers the monumental figure of Christ on the cross, made of a single piece of oak wood, to be his life's work. Admire that and other works in his garden – although he does not own a gallery, he creates real Art.

200 artists and 24 crafts in 130 towns

In Małopolska, the preservation, cultivation, and sometimes the revival of traditional craftsmanship are of great importance. There are not only shows, but also workshops for people who want to take up the craft of their ancestors. There are also a series of fairs and events promoting the products of folk art and traditional crafts. These include, for example, the Etnomania festival, the Otwarte Pracownie na Szlaku Tradycyjnego Rzemiosła (Open Studios on the Traditional Crafts Trail), Międzynarodowe Targi Sztuki Ludowej (the International Folk Art Fair) in Krakow, Święto chleba (the Bread Festival), and Miodobranie (the Honey Harvesting Festival). Products of this type are almost always showcased at many Christmas or local fairs.
The list of these types of crafts and handicrafts is long. 200 artists, representing 24 crafts, in nearly 130 towns are waiting to be discovered by you!
•    Cooperage: one of the disappearing professions – is a technique of manual production of wooden utensils and other utility items.
•    Tissue-making: that is, the art of making ornaments from tissue paper, was mainly performed by women, who were eager to decorate their homes and places of worship.
•    Lemko jewellery: krywulka is a type of traditional Lemko necklace. It is made of small, glass beads with a diameter of up to 2 mm, hand-strung on a thread, creating an openwork, intricate whole.
•    Wood-tar production: this craft on a mass scale developed especially in the Lemko villages – Bielanka and Łosie. The Lemkos were engaged in the production of wood-tar as early as in the 17th century, and thanks to its healing properties, wood-tar was widely used in folk medicine.
•    Pottery: the workshop of a potter, i.e. a craftsman who makes pots and other items from clay, consists of a potter's wheel, a special potter's furnace and a place for drying formed and fired dishes.
•    Embroidery: “painting” with a needle and thread has a special place in Polish folk culture. The embroidery was the only decorative element which made peasant's linen look somewhat like court fabrics or decorations from noble and gentry houses.
•    Icon writing: the icon comes from the Byzantine culture. It took the form of mosaics, frescoes, bas-reliefs and paintings on a wooden board, with which it is most often associated. Icons depict saints.
•    Stonemasonry: it is a demanding profession, which requires muscle. The Beskid Niski – and especially the towns of Bartne (description of the village of Bartne) and Jasionki – was the centre of stonework in Poland.
•    Wheelwrighting: a wheelwright dealt with the production and repair of carts and parts for carts, mainly wheels – hence the name. This craft – known from the early Middle Ages – changed with the progress of civilization.
•    Lace making: i.e. openwork decoration of fabrics and clothing, takes the form of openwork lace, appliqués, collars and shawls. Lace is made of cotton, linen or silk threads.
•    Blacksmithing: after the enfranchisement of peasants in Małopolska in 1848, the financial situation of the villagers improved significantly. This resulted in an increased demand for various iron products. Today, it is mainly the production of decorative elements, e.g. gates. 
•    Lutherie: requires thorough education. A future luthier must have good musical hearing and manual skills. Many luthiers graduate from secondary schools of fine arts.
•    Spoon carving: the manufacture of household items from wood (most often spoons – hence the name). In the past it required a lot of work and manual skills.
•    Glass painting: folk artists are able to close their own image of the world even in a small piece of glass. When it comes to technology, glass painting is governed by different rules than traditional painting.
•    Milling: has been present in man’s life for centuries. The first milling tools were flat, split stones, later there were burrs consisting of two stones, one of which was movable.
•    Traditional bread-making: baking bread was one of the basic household chores. Professionally, it was only done the servants who baked bread for the needs of the court (hence the place name – for example, Piekary). The bread was usually baked with rye flour.
•    Folk arts: today, Christmas decorations are usually bought in shops, hardly anyone has the time and wants to make them on their own. In the past, houses and churches were decorated with handmade ornaments.
•    Basket weaving: basketry, willow weaving and braiding are very old jobs. Already in the distant past, hunter-gatherers were doing that. Braiding was a practical skill.
•    Ropework: i.e. making ropes.
•    Beekeeping: the oldest form of beekeeping in Poland was honey harvesting, i.e. the use of swarms of bees settled in tree hollows. Today, beekeepers restock hives set up in apiaries with swarms of bees.
•    Folk sculpture: religious themes dominated in traditional folk sculpture. For many years, no attention was paid to its authors, who usually remained anonymous. It was only in the interwar period that people started to be interested in folk sculpture as a form of art.
•    Leatherwork: folk leather-crafting has been preserved mainly in Podhale, thanks to sheep breeding widespread in this area.
•    Wood carving: is one of the oldest arts, and an extremely difficult one. It requires great precision, commitment, steady hand and eye from the craftsman.
•    Carpentry: one of the most popular wood crafts is carpentry. In the past, almost every village had a carpentry workshop, which produced shingles for roofing, elements of house construction and its equipment.
•    Folk costumes: folk costume is a term for peasant clothing of a festive character. Folk costumes were usually worn to church, as well as for special family celebrations.
•    Weaving: one of the oldest crafts, in recent years it has become especially trendy. Maybe because it is an activity for persistent people, but also for those who seek rest.
•    Papercutting: paper cut-outs as a form of artistic craftsmanship originated in the noble, bourgeois and Jewish culture. The art of paper cutting developed rapidly, already in the second half of the 19th century, in various forms.
•    Woodwork: among traditional wooden products, there are numerous everyday items – from cutlery, dishes, butter and cheese moulds, through all kinds of furniture, to more complex structures.
•    Folk toy making: it was very popular among rural artists, but it was not a separate branch of the craft. It was most often a by-product of pottery workshops and industry.
You could go on and on about people and their amazing handicraft passions. Creating corsets, instruments, cut-outs, toys, laces... You can find regional treasures and their amazing creators on the website dedicated to the Małopolska Traditional Craft Route (description of the Traditional Craft Route).

You could go on and on about people and their amazing handicraft passions. Creating corsets, instruments, cut-outs, toys, laces... You can find regional treasures and their amazing creators on the website dedicated to the Małopolska Traditional Craft Route.


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