Crafts of Romania

Crafts of Romania

While there are great Romanian fine artists, among whom 20th century sculptor Constantin Brancusi is probably the most famous, the typical zest for life and almost naïve optimism that the world is really a beautiful place seem best expressed in the traditional art and craft of Romanian peasants, extending even to their colorful, unique grave markers.

In the “Merry Cemetery” of Sapanta, in Northern Romania, carved wooden crosses are painted traditional blue and embellished with fanciful borders, renderings of the deceased and often anecdotes of their lives. As in most parts of the world, full-time artists and artisans are drawn together, tending to form communities throughout the country, where locales are aesthetically inspiring and economically viable.

Bucharest and a few of the larger towns boast a few galleries showcasing work from such artist communities, but most don’t have galleries. A few examples of local artists’ and artisans’ work are shown and sold in town museums, but most is sold in street markets adjoining major attractions. Sellers usually are also the makers and some of them speak English. A conversation with them can reveal fascinating facets of Romanian culture. Works of Brancusi are in various locales, but one of the finest collections is in the city of Targu Jiu, in Oltenia province on the southern border of the Carpathian Mountains. broken links test Nearby Horezu is a major centre for ceramics, wood-carving and iron forging and the Horezu Museum of Art showcases some of the best work of past and contemporary artists.

Painted Eggs

Romanian traditional painted eggs

The most readily recognizable examples of Romanian art are the famed painted eggs, especially prominent around Easter time.  Painting of real hollowed-out eggs was an integral part of preparations for this festival of renewal.  Women and children gathered in someone’s home and spent a day painting and gossiping.  Intricate patterns were actually secret languages known only to residents of the regions where they were painted.  The oldest known were painted with aqua fortis (nitric acid) on a traditional red background.   They’re available in nearly all shops and street markets.

Ceramics

Romanian pottery is still made mainly on traditional kick-wheels with simple finishing tools.  Shapes, sizes and patterns reflect the different clays and cultures of diverse areas where are produced.  Color glazes and decorations vary from strong geometrics, to delicate florals, animals and humans.  There are approximately 30 pottery centers throughout the country, each with its own distinctive style, but the main areas are in Horezu in Oltenia;  Miercurea-Ciuc and Corund in western Transylvania; Baia Mare near the northern border, and Radauti and Marginea in Moldavia.

Wood

Carved gate in Maramures, Northern Romania

Maramures is the area to see the art of woodwork.  Homes are trimmed in elaborately carved wood, wooden gates and even fences are intricately carved.  Historically, in this area, a family’s community status was displayed through the gate – the more elaborate, the more important the family.  The “Merry Cemetery” of Sapanta is in this region, open all year long, at all times — it’s worth a visit.  Hand-carved decorations in complex patterns hold meanings beyond the purely decorative.  Trees of life, twisted rope, moons, stars, flowers and wolf teeth to ward off evil spirits are associated with myths and superstitions.  They show up in furniture, spoons, ladles, walking sticks, keepsake chests and other decorative objects, sometimes embellished with paint.   Wooden flutes and recorders are also elaborately carved.  Most prized are the multi-piped pan flutes, which are now very rare, as few artisans know how to make them and even fewer know how to play them.

Masks

Romanian Arts and Crafts - Folk Art - Folk maskMasks are linked to folk festivals held predominantly in Maramures and Moldavia.  Typically made from the hides of sheep, goats or cows, the masks are adorned with fabric, hats, pompoms, metallic bits, feathers, beans, straw and animal horns to represent bears and goats, they’re traditionally worn to welcome in the New Year during a couple weeks in December and early January.

Glass

The oldest preserved Romanian glass dates back to the Roman Empire.
Currently, there is a renewed passion for creating art in blown glass and several contemporary Romanian glass artists enjoy world renown.
Most of the professional glass artists are clustered in the northeast, near Botosani.  Glass artisans are also employed in factories located in Avrig, Turda and Buzau, turning out molded, hand-carved and hand-blown pieces, many of which are museum quality.