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Open Museums - old industrial plants and craftsmen's workshops

For some time, due to the flood of cheap, machine-made products,  we have stopped appreciating handicrafts and crafts. Fortunately, they are back in favour again. And what has been produced with our own hands, with heart and love is sought after and desired – from craft ice cream, through craft beverages, to hand-knitted scarves, which were once associated with elderly ladies, are now hits among the young and fashionable.

Once, artisans were among the most important people in rural communities. And craft and industrial establishments played a key role. Difficult climatic conditions, long distances and difficult access to towns and practically isolation from the outside world in winter, meant that the inhabitants of villages on the Polish-Slovak border area had to provide themselves with everything necessary for life and normal functioning. And it was not only about food products, but also items of everyday use and various tools. Thus, rural communities had their own smithies, oil mills, sawmills, dyeing factories, linen presses and fulling plants but hardly anyone remembers what they looked like and what their work consisted of. The project "By the country road – in the rhythm of work of old industrial plants and craftsmen's workshops", in which five local museums from Poland and Slovakia joined forces, aims at preserving these craft traditions.

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For example, in the Museum of the Orava Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna, a brick  a dyeing plant building was reconstructed where, during special educational classes, you can even try your hand at dyeing and printing canvas with blocks. A shingle workshop and a carpenter's workshop have also been reconstructed. The Orava Village Museum in Zuberec, Slovakia, has reconstructed a mill and put back into operation old tools for grinding and processing grain. A fulling plant was also rebuilt and equipment for linen fulling (processing) was put into operation. The fulling plant, a mill and two sawmills were also built in the Ethnographic Park in Nowy Sącz.

"The young generation has often never even seen a cow," says Zdzisław Tohl, director of the Karwacjan and Gładysz Manor Houses Museum in Gorlice.  Children driven to and from school by car live in a world with fewer sensory stimuli, with fewer opportunities to get to know this world literally by touching it," he adds. In order to provide such experiences and at the same time to show how life once looked like in the Polish-Slovak borderland, what tools were used, an educational park has been created in the area of the Open Air Village Museum in Szymbark. There is a windmill for grinding grain into flour, a water wheel, a treadle wheel for driving agricultural machinery, a blacksmith's bellows with a hearth, a butter press and a treadle. The most important thing is that everything can be touched, you can start the quern and grind grain and, from the flour in a special bread oven, you can bake your own soda breads ("proziaki"). You can see how much strength and muscle work was needed to play the bagpipes.

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"The fun is not only for children; we have seen many adults having a great time doing it. The biggest surprise, however, was probably the sensation aroused by an ordinary ladder truck. Well, you hardly ever see such vehicles any more, and people ask questions like "How did you ride this thing when there are only holes," Director Tohl smiles. The educational park is one of the results of the "Open Museums" project, which involved as many as eight museums from Poland and Slovakia. Its main idea, hence the name, was to make collections and objects accessible to all, including those with disabilities. Thus the historic building of the Nikifor Museum in Krynica has gained, among other things, a special ramp, while the Galician Town in Nowy Sącz was enriched with new educational and sensory gardens.

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A sensory garden with recreational, walking, therapeutic and educational functions is also being created in the Museum – Nadwiślański Etnographic Park in Wygiełzów. It refers to the tradition and history of the place, and at the same time stimulates the senses of smell, hearing, sight and touch. The Museum – Orava Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna, in turn, has created, among other things, a new nature trail, a mobile educational corner for children with folk toys, and a new exhibition in Dziubek's Cottage with an educational film in two language versions, Polish and Slovak, as well as in sign language. A real challenge, in terms of accessibility, had to be faced by the Slovak Museum – Orava Castle. It is impossible to change anything here, to add elevators, to interfere with mediaeval walls. Therefore a special reception was created at the foot of the castle, with a full plastic map and media visualisations, so that those who are not able to get to the top could at least get to know the castle a little.

The Dr Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane as created miniature models of the most important objects in the Witkiewicz style, dedicated to blind and partially sighted persons, described in Braille. Furthermore, the most important portraits by Witkacy were prepared in the technique of convex drawing for the blind.

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"It is good that we are doing such a joint cross-border project. We are promoting each other, sharing experiences, exchanging ideas, and we can support each other, which is very important," says Zdzisław Tohl, Director of the Karwacjan and Gładysz Manor Houses Museum in Gorlice. He emphasises that it is much better to work with people you know personally, and also less formal contacts. He admits that in times of the pandemic, when museums are closed, it is more difficult. However, he is not in favour of moving the museum to the Internet. "An online exhibition is just like a concert from a CD, and in the case of artwork, just a pale shadow of it. Technology is not yet good enough to fully convey the range of impressions that accompany a visit to an exhibition, not to mention meetings with artists," he stresses.

 

Arkadiusz Urbaniec from the Limanowa Regional Museum is also very reserved about putting museums online. Because of that, the museum posted only "impressions" from the tour on the Internet, in which music is an equal factor. They serve as teasers to encourage visitors to see exhibitions once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. Especially exhibitions such as the one devoted to World War I and specifically to the battle of Limanowa, prepared as part of the project "Polish-Slovakian Brotherhood of Arms - The Battle of Limanowa 1914". The atmosphere of this exhibition cannot be rendered online. Although its subject matter is nothing new and has been presented many times, the form of this exhibition is unusual. This is a completely different approach to war," says Arkadiusz Urbaniec.

While in most exhibitions warfare is presented from the perspective of a soldier as something sublime and patriotic, the Limanowa exhibition shows it from the position of a soldier who sees it as death and destruction.  A soldier who is a young man conscripted into the army, who does not want to die and who has his own dreams. 

This exhibit is not just showcases of antique items, documents and correspondence. The very entrance to the exhibition triggers the sound of soldiers talking in the trenches. The conversations are in many languages because soldiers from different countries took part in the battle of Limanowa. You can hear Polish, Slovak, Hungarian and German. These are conversations about normal life and life in the trenches. At one point, the attack on the trenches begins. In addition to sound, light plays an important role, intensifying the atmosphere of anxiety and danger accompanying the soldiers fighting during the Limanowa-Łapanów operation.

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One of the elements of the exhibition that has attracted great interest is the multimedia table, the staff table, on which visitors will find an interactive map of the battle. This is an archival staff map from 1908, on which individual army units are marked. You can click on them and see what the sequential stages of the battle looked like. Of course, there are also archive photos, weapons, elements of uniforms and equipment and shocking memories of a war correspondent from Hungary. "Visitors are surprised by the form of the exhibition, they admit that they felt some anxiety. There were even some people who were afraid to enter the room," says Arkadiusz Urbaniec of the Limanowa Regional Museum. He adds that young people are most attracted by the multimedia elements.

 

Museum workers unanimously admit that the pandemic and related restrictions, closure of cultural institutions, including museums, is a difficult time for them. But they emphasise that it is not a lost time. Museums do not work only on the surface. Working relations with partners are continued, new ideas are born and, in the meantime, various backlogs are made up – renovations, repairs, inventories and reports.


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Blog prepared in the project entitled: "Cooperation that enhances and develops as a key to a positive image of Poland on the international arena", co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as part of the competition "Public Diplomacy 2020 - a new dimension".

Project co-financed by the European Union from the European Regional Development
Fund under the Republic of Poland - Slovak Republic Cross-border Co-operation Operational
Programme 2007-2013 and from the funds of the Malopolskie Voivodship