Exhibition and guide „Serbia: Living Treasures”
The project „Serbia: Living Treasures”, comprising an exhibition and a catalog, presents 16 select examples of Serbian intangible cultural heritage of greatest significance through a presentation of the individuals regarded as the most prominent bearers and guardians of these cultural traditions. The concept of „Living Human Treasures” has been recognized by UNESCO as a reference to the individuals recognized as keepers and guardians of the traditional knowledge and skills that constitute the national intangible cultural heritage.
The project was implemented with the support of The Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia.
Download project publication – еxhibition catalog:
SERBIA: LIVING TREASURES
Crafts and Trades in Serbia
Craft implies knowledge and skills to make or fix an object we use because of its utilitarian or decorative functions. Knowledge and skills are developed by generations before us but we also keep adding innovations. Traditional crafts are recognized in UNESCO 2003 Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage as ways to materialize knowledge and skills important for local communities. Four crafts – kilim weavers, opanak-makers, coppersmiths and potters using hand-wheel in Zlakusa village are crafts enlisted as Intangible cultural heritage elements in National Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Serbia. Beside those four, 2012 Regulation on traditional crafts and trade classifies 65 traditional crafts, as well as 29 artistic crafts and 8 home crafts. This Regulation enables certification of trades-shops.
Archaeological findings from pre-historic ages prove that men at the time living on the territory of the Republic of Serbia knew how to make various tools and ceramics. Yet, crafts as we know them today begun to develop in Serbia from Medieval age. For example, there are records from the era proving that blacksmiths were forging weapons and gears. Coppersmith trade in Balkans is documented from the 15th century.
In 19th century Serbia liberated from Ottoman rule and became independent state. From that time on crafts and trades in Serbia flourished.
Crafts can be practiced without particular training. Just being around men or women who knew how to make things was enough for knowledge transfer. That is how, for example, women in Gostuša village near south-eastern Serbian town Pirot learned to make specific type of pottery known as crepulja (clay pots). Simplicity of making these pots does not reduce the quality of both pots and prepared food. On the contrary – freshly baked bread from crepulja tastes heavenly. Yet, making sophisticated pottery on hand-wheel or on a foot-wheel is much more complex and requires years of training.
Men who choose craft as a profession spend years in learning and mastering skills to become tradesmen i.e. professional craftsmen. Serbian achieves hold rather extensive documentation kept by guilds about training and criteria for becoming certified master of trade. In the process, there were three stages: intern (known as šegrt) was a beginner with none or just a little bit of knowledge about the craft; then, after couple of years of learning and training, he’d become apprentice (known as kalfa). When a master assesses the knowledge and skills of intern, he’d make a test. For example, in coppersmiths’ trade when intern becomes able to make 20 quality pans per one day, he’d become apprentice and get tasks to make more complex items. When he becomes skilled to make for example jugs, bowls and alike, master would call the guild to send a commission to evaluate if apprentice is skilled enough to become a master. If so, guild would issue a certificate – Masters’ Letter (Majstorsko pismo) that enables new master to open his own shop or stay as a partner of the master who trained him. This was the case in all trades.
Some crafts like kilim-making is traditionally practiced by women. However, as socialism in former Yugoslavia introduced basic equality of genders many trades that were once predominately males’ trade became open for women as well. Hence, in recent years in couple of Serbian cities women opened glass-cutting shops. Mrs Mirjana Mijatović weaves baskets in the village Šavac near the city of Paraćin, whereas Mrs Ružica Živković is well known brusher in the centre of Belgrade.
Trades are different in many ways. Some tradesmen produce objects that are entirely utilitarian and not much attention is given to aesthetic value of the products as the focus is onto quality and longevity of items that these tradesmen and nowadays tradeswomen produce – for example brushers, quilt-makers and horseshoe blacksmiths. Some of them are making objects that have utilitarian character but are also true pieces of arts and may serve as decorative items or as both utilitarian and decorative items – for example kilim-weavers, coppersmiths and blacksmiths. Some of them specialized in making substantial products – food to eat or drinks that refresh us – for example bakers and soda-makers.
When it comes to crafts and trades, there is so much more than meets the eye. Many utilitarian objects, like umbrella or a brush we actually take for granted without thinking how they are made. What is behind seemingly simple coherent structure of wires, canvass and a stick with mechanism that to open and close an umbrella? Similar is with brushes makers – we use various types of brushes knowing that small brushes with soft hairs are the best for gentle babies’ heads whereas rougher brushes are the best for sweeping the dust. But how they are made to last long, longer than industrially produced brushes? Also, umbrella making and repairing ladies stated that people were brining for repairing 50-60 years old umbrellas that they inherited from their grand-parents. In this age of mass production and cheap umbrellas – having a 50 to 60 years old umbrella that still may be used is truly amazing. Having someone who knows how to repair it is a comfortable thought. Similar applies to clock and watches makers and repairmen, nowadays mainly repairing but in a way that makes a clock or a watch ticking for a long time.
Many craftsmen emphasize that using natural materials ensure longevity of their products. For example, quilt-makers who still know how to tailor and sew cotton canvass they stuff with wool or feathers, emphasize that quilts made out of natural materials may last like 50 years still remaining healthier in comparing with artificial materials because of more natural flow of the air that enables usage in both winter and summer. Not only that natural leather processed by saddlers and leather bags makers last way longer than products made out of artificial and eco-leather, but they hold unique beauty of decorative elements.
Kilim-weavers from Pirot say that if kilim is used as to be walked over, it lasts 100 years – 50 years on one side and 50 years on the other. If it just a decorative item than even longer. But Pirot kilims are real pieces of art – “novels” woven by women who are using ornament to “tell” their stories of desires, love, motherhood, destiny and fate.
Not just kilim weavers but also blacksmiths, coppersmiths, potters, saddlers, to name just a few, are true artists. They put lots of thoughts in meeting utilitarian and the aesthetic dimension of their products.
History of barber trade prove that trades were much more than met the eyes – for almost a century they were certified physician assistants. Nowadays, this trade emphasizes aesthetic dimension, though temporary because hair on men’s heads grows all the time, what they do, hairdo and shaving, is temporary. Yet, how they do it, their thoroughness and attention towards (head) skin care make the difference between what men may do at home (shave) and being treated by professionals.
Bakers bake bread. And pastries. We love it and we need it but not every bakery serves delicious bread and pastries, one can feel if it is “just” baked or there is something more and we’re not talking just about basic ingredients but the knowledge, skills and soul put into making bakery products.
Soda drinks produced by soda-makers show qualitative diversity of so loved fizzy drinks. Soda maker in Atlanta, Georgia developed receipt for world-wide known Coca-Cola. Serbian soda-makers developed recipes for drinks like klaker or kabeza. They are unforgettable not only for their taste but also social dimension when consumed in traditional soda-makers’ shops.
Enjoy and reflect upon the stories of crafts and trades in Serbia!
dr Maša Vukanović,
PhD Ethnologist and Anthropologist
Ana Vuković “Kraj poslednjeg kišobrandžije” Newspaper Politika, 10/02/2019 http://www.politika.co.rs/sr/clanak/422422/Kraj-poslednjeg-kisobrandzije
Ivana Mišić, “Čuvar tradicije. On je poslednji jorgandžija u Beogradu”, interview with quilt-maker Predrad Janković published on 24/01/2018 https://www.alo.rs/vesti/beograd/on-je-poslednji-jorgandzija-u-beogradu/142331/vest
Old Crafts in Republic of Serbia http://starizanati.gov.rs/zanati/
Milica Petković i Radmila Vlatković (1996) “Pirotski ćilim / Pirot Kilim”, Srpska akademija nauke i umetnosti (SANU) Beograd
National Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Serbia http://www.nkns.rs/en
“Prirodno i kulturno nasleđe Pirota i Montane” koju je 2014. g. izradilo Društvo za pomociju tradicionalne kulture „Izvor“ IPA projekat 2007CB16IPO006-2011-TD1/1
Ranko Barišić, „Zanati u Pirotu i okolini“ Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja 74/1 (2010), 173–234
Ranko Barišić, katalog izložbe “Stari zanati u Srbiji”, http://starizanati.gov.rs/zanati/bacvarstvo/
Vera Šarac-Momčilović, “Opančarstvo” katalog izložbe “Stari zanati u Srbiji“ http://starizanati.gov.rs/zanati/opancarstvo/
UMBRELLA MAKING AND REPAIRING SHOPS
Nowadys, in this age of mass production umbrellas are easy to buy for a cheap price and quite often taken for granted.
Since late 19th and up to mid-20th century umbrellas (colloquially: amrel or ambrel) were kind of a symbol for both ladies and gentlemen. Kir Mosha Avram a.k.a Maca, Jewish businessman who firstly imported umbrellas and then opened up first umbrella making manufacture in Belgrade, advertised: “Umbrella protect men from catching a cold and being wet. Beside keeping outfit dry, umbrellas keep the good image of a man – no one looks good if soaks wet from the rain. Each decent Serbian should have and carry an umbrella and so doesn’t look like a slob!” Beside rain umbrellas and sun umbrellas, both designed for ladies and gentlemen, on the production lines were wedding umbrellas (very fashionable in 1930s).
Throughout the decades, umbrella making and repairing grew to be significant trade. Men and women mastered skills of making and repairing umbrellas in specialized trade courses, part of crafts educational system after the 2nd World War. Though at the first glance umbrella construction seems easy, it takes skills to combine the wires, sew the canvas and make a solid stick with opening and closing switch.
Good quality umbrellas do not have to be repaired for at least 5 years of frequent usage. Remaining umbrella making and repairing tradeswoman Mrs. Ljubica Bošković and her daughter Mrs. Tatjana Živković prior to closing their shop in 2019 said that there were people who were bringing 60 years old (inherited from grandparents) male or female and wedding umbrellas for repairing. Nowadays, masters to do repairing are not longer amongst us like they were to be.
Umbrella making and repairing is not even enlisted as special trade which shows stepping down to mass production. Nevertheless, this unique trade depictures values of old urban culture – yearning for the quality that lasts.
BRUSHES – MAKERS TRADE
Brushers are craftsmen who master the knowledge and skills needed to make items that we use much more often than we notice – brushes. Soft brushes made of fine hair are most suitable for delicate baby heads, while brushes made of slightly firmer hair are also used daily by adults to comb and style the hairstyle. Housewives regularly use brushes of different sizes and structures to thoroughly clean household work surfaces, floors and carpets. Brushes are an indispensable tool for painters, sculptors, creamers and other artists and craftsmen.
Pig hair and horsetail hair are used for real brushes that last for years. Pig hair processing is a long-term process that is no longer practiced in Serbia, but processed pig hair is imported from other countries. Horsetail hair processing is somewhat simpler, so this brush hair is still being prepared in Serbia. The hair is first washed, then rinsed, combed and cut. It is then imported into bundles that are cooked twice, so that each thread stands straight. When the cooking is finished, the bundle is untied, it goes into the brush and the machine for pulling in the hair. In the past, holes in the wooden base were drilled by hand and hairs were pulled in with the fingers. Today, that part of production is mechanized.
Brushes made from horsetail hair are used to clean dust in warehouses, for work surfaces in bakeries, in the railway and bus industry. White horse hair is softer than black and is used for coating cakes, for making bath brushes, for removing bees from honeycombs, but also for cleaning white lines on tennis courts. Horsehair brushes are used by artists, including watercolorists, while pigtail brushes are suitable for tempera. Pig hair brushes have a specific use. They are used for cleaning cannulas needed by people suffering from throat cancer, for laboratory instruments, for washing bottles, brushes for washing hands, for shaving. Also, some of the master brush makers make brushes from fibris, a Mexican cactus. They are resistant to high temperatures and are used by bakers to clean pizza ovens and bread ovens. We import fibris from Italy, while we import polypropylene hair as thin as a hair from “Perlon” from Germany. It is used for making brushes for low-emission glass, PVC and ALU frames for windows and doors.
Although the brush craft is endangered by mass production from China, recognizing the quality and longevity of quality hair brushes ensures the survival of this craft. This is evidenced by the Google search for brush shops resulting with dozens of shops throughout Serbia.
GLASS-CUTTERS AND INSTALLERS
Tradesmen who are cutting, shaping and installing nowadays omnipresent glass objects are glass-cutters and installers.
In the old days, many tradesmen working with glass were also making it. Sand, basic material for glass production is heated in specialized furnaces on a very high temperature until it becomes liquid. Then it was blown into variety of shapes including bottles, vases, etc. Glass-blowers are nowadays rare as glass is produced in factories. Then, glass tables are cut in specialized glass-cutters’ shops. Even in big cities one can find such shop almost in all city areas. Precisely cut glass is used for windows, doors, cases, shelves, cupboards, mirrors, framing pictures, photos, documents and other objects.
Glass is fragile and cutting it and installing is delicate job. Most often, industrially produced square of glass has 15 kilos. Table of 2 meter width and 2,5 meter length may have 90 to 150 kilos. Hence, moving it from the truck to the working surface requires great care and attention. It takes at least two men for this part of the job. Their movements have to be very well synchronized so the glass doesn’t break. Some people say that glass-cutters are tradesmen with longest arms. Once a table of glass is sat on a working surface, the process of cutting may begin. Glass-cutters use specialized knives and scalpels, both of different sizes depending on thickness of glass and the product to be made. They also use special glue to put pieces together, for example while making glass boxes. Glass-cutters also have to be familiar with some carpenters’ skills for combining glass with other materials such as wood used for framing.
Nowadays glass-cutters often prepare PVC and aluminium windows and doors. Yet, most often they make mirrors and do framing pictures, photos, documents, dried flowers, even memorabilia such are (baby) cloths, baseballs, tennis balls, etc.
QUILT MAKERS’ TRADE
In Serbian word jorgan (pronounced yorghan, Eng. quilt) signifies thick, heavy, cotton covers stuffed with wool or feathers. They are designed to keep people both warm in cold autumn and winter nights but some of them also keep cool in spring and the summer. Secret is in the quality of natural materials that enable circulation of air.
Quilt makers have developed skills to carefully select the materials, both canvass and stuffing, and then process them. Beside quilts, these tradesmen are making mattresses, pillows and other kinds of blankets. Cotton is used as canvas / wrapper and also as stuffing for lighter quilts. Wool, most often used as stuffing, must be carefully combed, whereas feathers must be carefully dried and sorted so they not stick together in bunches. Most quality feather quilts are stuffed with goose or domestic duck feathers.
In earlier days, quilts were completely hand-made. In the process, quilt makers were using scissors, needles and threads. Later on, sewing machines were used as well. Nowadays, quilt makers are also using machines for more efficient combing wool and cotton. Yet, stuffing, making patterns and fine sewing is still done manually.
Mass production as well synthetic materials jeopardize quilt-making trade. Remaining quilt makers note that handmade quilts, mattresses, pillows and blankets out of natural material are healthy and may last for many decades. But people who are growing up on synthetics do not for the better, they are not aware that though cheaper synthetic materials aren’t healthy and products last just for a couple of years.
Products made by quilt-makers are still possible to find in specialized shops as well as on some green markets and fairs.
CLOCK MAKERS AND REPAIRMEN
Tradesman who makes and repairs clocks and watches is known as “časovničar” (word čas in Serbian means hour) or sajdžija (derived from Turkish words “saat” meaning hour, clock or watch, hence saatçi – man who makes or repairs clocks and watches). In earlier times tradesmen were making and repairing only mechanical clocks and watches, whereas nowadays clock makers are fixing electronic mechanisms, change batteries, etc. Different types of clocks and watches – ones on the walls, on the tables, pocket watches, wrist watches, to name a few – say require different techniques in making and repairing them. Most importantly, the process requires great precision. Hence, clockmakers and repairers use specialized tools. Sometimes people that clockmaker is „a man of thousand tools“, which is pretty much close to the truth because each part of the clock or a watch requires specific tool. For example, screwdrivers of microscopic tips, some of them having 0,05 up to 0,5 millimetres in diameter.
At least five, sometimes even more, delicate tweezers and holders are needed for making and repairing as each have special purpose in opening and taking parts out and then in assembling parts together again. As parts of mechanisms may be very small, magnifying glass is also important tool. There are special tools for cleaning mechanism and oiling; then tools for Antique wall clocks checking hermetic of the frame box; variety of sharpeners used separately or on several kinds of lathes. Since present day clockmakers are fixing electronic clocks, they are using voltage meters (used for measuring electric potential difference between two points in an electric circuit), ammeter (used for measuring strength of electrical power) ohmmeter (used for measuring electric resistance) as well as soldering iron to make sure that parts are properly assembled.
In each town in Serbia it is not difficult to find at least couple of clock-making and repairing shops. Even though clocks and watches are nowadays mass-produced, good quality clocks and watches are still highly valued. High quality wristwatches are still status symbols. Antique wall clocks are still preserved and used in many Serbian homes.
OPANAK MAKING TRADE
Opanak is a traditional Serbian footwear similar to sandals. Their shape is convenient, opanak is easy to put on and take off and comfortable to wear. At the beginning of 20th century earlier “raw opanak”, made out of raw pigs’ or cows’ skin was replaced by opanak made of tanned leather with a firmer sole. This innovation contributed to the development of opanak-making craft.
The so-called “red opanak” or “opanak from Šabac” (the city in north-western Serbia) with an extra solid sole was, at the beginning of the 20th century, the most popular footwear throughout Serbia. It was worn in villages, but also in cities, because shoes and boots were a rare and expensive commodity. Most opanak-makers were in the Šabac, Valjevo, Užice, Čačak and Kragujevac areas. The process of making tanned leather with extra solid sole opanak is more complex and requires great perseverance, skill and dexterity. For the upper part of the opanak – the face for the finest opanak – dog skin was used, but most often sheep and goat skin. Sole was made of cowhide.
The quality of opanak was evaluated according to how the leather for the sole was processed, how narrow are stripes on the upper side and according to the number of stripes. The finest boys’ and bachelors’ opanak had up to a hundred woven strips, hence called woven opanak. Firmly made opanak sandals were used by the Serbian army in the Balkan wars and in the Great War.
With the development of the rubber industry, rubber opanak appears. The material is different – rubber instead of leather, but the shape remained the same. Comfort and ease of putting on and taking off shoes make this type of opanak still very popular in rural areas.
Traditionally made leather opanak is mostly used today by folklore ensembles of cultural and artistic societies. Also, traditional leather opanak are souvenirs of Serbia, and the buyer can choose whether he or she wants to wear them.
The opanak-making craft is registered in the National Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Serbia.
Near rivers and streams all over Serbia grow hazel trees and bushes. From their sticks skilled men and women weave baskets. After sticks were cut-off the tree, they were dried and then cut in four along the length. Then they are peeled and then well dried hazel tree sticks were woven around a mold. On the mold all parts are tightened up so the baskets all have the same shape. Firstly, the basis most often in circular shape is made and then from it grows the basket. Baskets were made up to 40 centimetres wide and 40 centimetres long, largest having the volume of 50 kilograms. It takes up to three days to make one basket.
Baskets were used for transporting corn, paprika, tomato, beans, apples, grapes, plumbs and every other fruit and vegetable from the gardens and fields, as well as from green markets to people’s homes. Nowadays bags are more commonly used. Yet, small baskets, like ones produced by Mrs. Mirjana Mijatović (see the photo) do make pretty nice accessories in house decoration.
Basket weavers were making and some of them still do make chairs and garden furniture of hazel trees’ sticks.