Preserving tradition

The Folk Craft School was established in 1992 in Nádudvar with the aim to re-teach traditional knowledge (craftsmanship, natural way of life, intellectual heritage) for the generations gone away from it. With the help of the programme we can arouse interest towards ancient knowledge and methods which help human life, work well nowadays but are nearly forgotten.

The less gifted students are also part of the vocational teaching. We believe their interest can be raised first and this followed by developing their abilities, as well. About 140 students a year took part in our programme in the past 20 years. They all joined in the daily educational work, and they usually show their acquired knowledge in the workshop on open days, during exhibitions of craftsmanship or on public programmes which are visited by plenty of people in many countries of Europe. It is our purpose and resort to teach „heritage professions”, since during the procedure of learning the students get to know a new way of thinking which encourages creative thinking and changes their relation and attitude towards the objects and materials surrounding them, and towards the natural environment and the society. Adult students also joined in the programme, so adult education became regular, in which teachers and educators take part who can pass their acquired knowledge on to others later.

By the second half of the 20th century the natural process of passing of the traditions and folk knowledge has also broken off in Hungary among other European countries. It was obvious that the old but operating, usable intellectual heritage was to be forgotten if we do not intervene in the process, if we do not make it part of the school education and general education. The traditional products made by masters have lost their values, the intellectual and objective folk art devaluated because of the mass production and ploriferation of the throwaway products – became only exhibits of museums. At the same time the nice, useful consumer goods, tools made from natural materials were also devaluated, and the poor quality, useless, mass produced copies have overwhelmed the souvenir shops.

The folkdance – originally belonging to the ceremony of everyday events and holidays – helped find husband/wife and helped physical and mental development moving the appropriate muscles. By the second half of the 20th century, folkdance became a stage performance.

Observing these processes a group of intellectuals, craftsmen, dancers and musicians estbalished the ’Nomadic Generation’ in the 1970s. They tried to recreate and rephrase the objective and mental products of traditional rustic culture and make them part of the modern people’s lives. They renewed Hungarian folk art, they started the ’dance house movement’. They were disliked by the previous regime but politicians did nothing against them. Throughout two decades it became clear that in the future the traditional values can be saved, passed on and replaced to everyday life if folk knowledge becomes part of school education.

Nádudvar is a small settlement in Eastern Hungary where the traditional rustic way of life was also found at the end of the 20th century. It functioned as a potter center from the late Middle Ages, the animal keeping flourished thanks to Hortobágy – keeping the shepherds’ way of life, habits, professions. Using ancient knowledge, shepherds made traditional and useful things from leather, wood, horn, bone and thready materials. The old remembered the family and communal ceremonial habits and customs, the knowledge survived in dance, music, songs, verses and the childhood games. It is an important, highly-responsible issue and a great possibility to keep and pass on the ancient knowledge – our heritage. Our Folk Craft School was established in such circumstances in 1992 following ideas of some enthusiastic folk craftsmen and people feeling responsibility for local culture, with the support of the local government, becoming part of the Endre Ady Community Center.

The system of teaching is a 3-year period. In the first year students take part in general teaching where they get acquainted with different areas of Hungarian folk culture – in theory and practice. They meet local, usable, natural basic materials, learn to produce, collect, prepare them, plus they are introduced the basics of traditional crafts like: pottery, leather-working, weaving, woodcarving, basket-making, felt-making, candle-making, honey-cake making, needlework and embroidery. Students take part in the life of community and the settlement, they organize traditional festive ceremonies, often bringing the old and different institutions in it.

Ethnography and knowing our traditions are very important in the education which are learnt and taught in theory and practice because students get to know all the habits, games and steps of work by trying them. All sensory organs are used, since during the processes they do not only see and hear the syllabuses but they also try, touch or smell the products.

Our folk tales play important roles in self-knowledge. After reading a tale, we talk in groups about what advice and direction the old knowledge and the inherited, mythical storylines can give us. Our world is explained in the tales and students take one of the the last sentences seriously: ’If you don’t believe it, you should find out the truth yourself!’

After finishing primary schools, not all students can read and write well. The system of the ancient Hungarian runic writing can perfectly help it. We have observed that students with dyslexia and dysgraphia can learn runic writing quite soon because they make creative processes, not mechanical ones – using different parts of the brain. They become confident and happy because they will do better in Roman script, too. Picture-writing – being important part of the Hungarian folk art –, creating and decoding symbols also help the development of students’ creativity.

The common celebrations of the traditional ceremonies are important parts of the educational system of our school. The joined, common work done together is what gives meaning to the everyday activities.

After the first year, each student chooses a profession / craft and tries to learn it perfectly in the last 2 years.

We use this kind of educational system which is similar to the educational system of old Hungarian schools on farms where the youngsters paid attention to the older students who helped them and passed their knowledge to them. This acquired knowledge became effective and useful because when the youngsters became masters, they could explain their knowledge better to anybody.

In the past 20 years a lot of students got acquainted with the pleasure of creative construction, discovering their own nation’s traditions and ancient – nearly forgotten – culture. We have a lot of students for whom it seemed impossible to be admitted to secondary grammar schools then universities. Many of them became masters, created own workshops or joined one. Some of them became teachers, it is them who pass the importance, honour, love of traditional values onto their students. 15 of the former students have won the title of ’Young Master of Folk Art’, which is an acknowledged state title.

We have experienced and believe that the attitude – learnt here – helps people – who do not directly earn their living from working as a craftsman – fit in the society. One nice student said once when talking about working after finishing our training: ’I have received so much knowledge, feelings and love during the years spent here, that I will be best in my job, let it be a street sweeper or a prime minister.’

The project is going on with the methods proved to be good. We are endeavouring to present and spread this mental value in the workshops on open days and on public programmes all over Europe. Some of our students chose to become a teacher to pass their acquaired knowledge on to others. In the past few years some educational institutions, associations are being created which create their own training programme and methods with our help and using our experience. We have created such a programme which focuses on the importance of tradition and the help of which the ancient Hungarian craft professions are declared „Protected professions” by one of our ministries. The teaching of traditional craftsmanship and folkdance will have important roles in the education, from 2012 according to the plans, as well as the lesson where students learn about our home country and the folk traditions.

Folk crafstmanship became part of the university education in 2011 – following the example of our workshops.

We keep an eye on the lives of our graduated students together with their constructive activities and we also help their professional work. We have created a group called ’Preserving tradition’ in which the former students can take part who somehow continue their craft activities. We organize ’creative camps’ for them and help their appearance on professional meetings.

Our great plan is to establish a Creative House and a Workshop Center. Its aim would be supporting the graduated young craftswomen and craftsmen to start their careers. This would happen by organising workshops, ensuring the necessary conditions, sources of materials and creating the opportunity of selling.

The usage of the knowledge of the folk, rustic society and its passing on to the next generation have come to an end in many countries in Europe or it is about to stop. Experiences show it is easier to reverse the process in the last minute than to revive the already dead culture. As it became generally known that the consumer society, which is built on throwaway products, is not maintainable long, therefore we need an alternative and wellworking view of life and cultural base which results in sustainable development in European societies. The ’Preserving Tradition’ passes on and builds material and mental heritage into everyday life, helping the society to work better. The example of Nádudvar showed that the local values can be saved by joining forces. When these values are built in education and educational processes, they help the members of the community to keep their identities, help the young generations to start lives and the result is that the different generations are united.

On St. Márton’s Day the traditional test of strength is popular as well as the games and songs about geese. Traditional strudels are made with the help of housewives, geese are fried in the own-built oven in the courtyard. After consuming these the day is finished by dancing.

On the day of Saint Nicholas, Chain Nicholas, the Hungarian tradition’s Santa makes fun together with his assistants – preparing for the Christmas ceremonies.

In the period of Advent many students take part in setting up and learning the habitual Christmas games. They make their own clothes and accessories or props for a dramatic play: the Nativity play. They visit schools and different institutions (Old people’s Home, the local government) where the ’shepherds’ and ’angels’ are waited for. Students sing Christmas carols and wish something good for the next year. The hosts thank for it and invite the players to eat something.

At the end of Carnival a pig-killing day is organized. Beside students, the old can join it. Besides the games and ceremonies, students learn and try in practice the traditional processing of pork and the preparation of traditional dishes which are consumed together at the end of the day.

For the Easter ceremonies the boys make whips and lashes. While learning verses and rhymes, they also create special tools for decorating the eggs. The girls meet old motives and patterns, then decorate the Easter eggs which are believed to bring wealth.

Besides celebrating the ceremonies together, the common work is very important because during it, students experience the pleasure of working together and the interdependence. Everybody works consciously and purposefully and enjoys the results of the work which can be the traditional Nomadic home: the felt tent.

The round felt tent had been used by equestrian people of Central Asia – among them were the Hungarians, too – for a very long time. The construction of the tent has not changed during the thousands of year: it is made of wood, the folding latticed side-wall fixed with skin-nails, the roof-ropes, the roof-ring, and the woven bands and ropes are the ones that keep them together. On top of it comes the felt-cover which is made of wool. The jurt tent is easily removable, transportable and it only requires a few people to set it up, which takes just an hour or two.

The entrance usually faces east, the opposite of the door has the altar of homegods and the place of respected guest. The left side with the wooden bed and ornamental boxes is for women and the family. The right side is the men’s side. The ground is covered by felt-carpets, they sit and sleep on them.

This felt tent was made by masters and students together in Folk Craft School of Nádudvar, in 2004. We tried to get to know and use the fine method of nomadic people.

Our revived traditions helped us to find the way back to our own roots. And our felt tent – by our collective everyday work – became a real home. After completing the traditional Hungarian home: the felt tent, which has a witty structure, it has been exhibited during different cultural programmes and festivals in many countries of Europe. Camps are regularly organized when parts of the felt tent are repaired or preserved by former and today’s students.

We pay attention to create such things in the workshops – by using traditional methods and ancient shapes – which can be used in our everyday life. Many of our students’ created products (furniture, ceramics, clothes, etc.) are parts of everyday life at school and the holidays.

One of the school’s wings, which is a special coach house and used mainly for exhibitions, has been built by a joined work of masters and students. The coach house is a traditional building of the Carpathian-basin, where the tools and objects of the agricultural life were stored as well as the animals, plus the dance house was often organized here, too. We aimed at using local materials and traditional technologies. Before the river control there used to be more flood around Nádudvar, so the buildings were made with timbering and special walls.

First the beams were entwined by flexible twigs then the gaps were filled with the mixture of mud and straw, finally the made walls were whitewashed. In case of flood the valuables were taken to the attic and people let the water flow through the building. After the flood passed the holes were filled with the remaining mud.

Some parts of the basic material needed for the construction were collected by the students from the environment. They cut out with and locust to get valuable building material and meanwhile they also cleared the area overrun with weeds. During the work everybody found the activity that suit them. The woodcarvers worked on the timbering and the inner carving, the basketmakers entwined the beams and the rest of the students took part in the mud treading, gap filling and whitewashing.

After finishing the construction, it was furnished with pieces of furniture, textiles and

the students’ creations. A large earthenware oven shaped like a rick with traditional shape was built with the guidance of a local old master into one end of the place. In this Coach house our common celebrations are organized as well as exhibitions or dance house.

The common work joins the groups and the students feel their work is appreciated, they work together with their masters, teachers, so they also take the theoretical lessons seriously. They feel like taking parts in maintaining or renewing the building because they also respect their own work.

About 30 per cent of the students, who learn in the Folk Craft School of Nádudvar, live here, about 40% come to school from the neighboring settlements and about 30% come from different parts of the Carpathian basin and stay in the students’ hostel during the term. So the attractive role of the school is significant among students as well as keeping the local values.

In the past 20 years the school’s masters and students made the inquiring public acquainted with the bases of traditional craftsmanship during lots of public programmes in many countries of Europe where they tried to arouse the inquirers’ interest towards the crafts and professions which could have been tried out by the audience.