18.11.2015

KRAKÓW: The (un)forgotten Art of the Craft

The center of Kraków with its neighboring districts, Kazimierz and Podgórze, are no longer the only spaces bursting at the seams with bars and people. The time has come for Zabłocie! – the postindustrial part of the city accessible only to the bravest. More specifically, to young activists who, by introducing their innovative ideas, herald the beginning of something new. Zabłocie is by no means a district of ascetic show rooms and hipster places. Here, you won’t be drinking a green detox cocktail while walking in your Louboutins. You’d better equip yourself with rubber boots and a calorie-dense meal for you are entering the district of hard-working people.

If Maciek Chart-Olasiński had been a worker some 30 years ago, most likely, he would have been fulfilling twice his quota. Today, even though he is under thirty, Maciek is an entrepreneur, social activist, and at times a carpenter. For years, he has been engaged in the activities of non-governmental organizations, acting in aid of human rights education at a local branch of Amnesty International, helping with the organization of the Cycling Festival devoted to the culture of cycling and actively supporting a newly-founded organization Trzecia Przestrzeń [the Third Space] working on the availability of public space. And as if it wasn’t enough, on everyday basis Maciek runs Wytwórnia.

 

Text: Kasia Pilitowska
Photo: Wytwórnia

 

 

 

Wytwórnia is just a small-scale worker cooperative that was founded two years ago in Zabłocie, adapting empty rooms in a concrete edifice from the 1970s that had once belonged to the Faculty of Architecture and Fine Arts of Kraków Academy. A group of friends fond of simple craftsmanship and practical-technical classes no longer taught at schools created a place where furniture, clothes, Christmas decorations and machine prototypes are made in various specialized workrooms. Wytwórnia transforms its spaces into centers of technology and science and what’s more, it has a professional darkroom available to every photography aficionado.

"Wytwórnia provides a workspace for designing, creating prototypes and developing small-scale productions,” says Maciek Chart-Olasiński. It is also a society of creative individuals, based on the principle of cooperation. The members of this society make furniture, sew, design green installations, do architecture, work in electronics, graphic design and create e-services. ‘Wytwórnia’ is also a host of numerous events – from carpentry and 3D printing workshops to Media Labs which use the Design Thinking methodology. In a way, it is an innovative incubator for entrepreneurs, a child of passion and dreams.

 

 

You can choose whichever workshop you want and learn carpentry, furniture renovation, upholstery, sewing, pottery making or even create a 3D printer or build a wooden canoe. Every year before Christmas we organize a workshop where we create Christmas ornaments using old-time techniques. Participants gain the secret knowledge of how veneer Christmas balls are made or how patterns are created and cut with a laser afterwards.  

"A lot of those who got the bug for the DIY take their friends and keep coming back to other workshops. I’ve got the impression that our role is not only educational but also therapeutic"

- laughs Maciek.

 

 

At the beginning ‘Wytwórnia’ was supposed to be a cozy space for a few enthusiasts who would devote their free time to pursue their interests and create shared projects. But life happened – reality did away with initial modest plans. An originally small group now consists of 70 individuals. The more working space they took the more people and projects they had. The Warsztat Innowacji Społecznych foundation, acting as part of Wytwórnia, has received a subsidy under the Government Program Stimulating Social Activity of Seniors 2014-2020 for the project called “Masters – intergenerational craftsmanship workshops”. It concentrates on the series of meetings with masters of the craft (craftsmen and craftswomen) who represent the “bound-to-extinct” professions. The whole idea has been a great success not only among 30-somethings but also among ladies and gentlemen over 60.

“I bike a long distance to work and I’ve had a very hard time seeing how, one after another, services have been vanishing from the map of the city to give space for high-street shops and fast food restaurants. Here’s an example: the city’s only ladder mending service gave up two years ago. With tights prices being so low, no one bothered to have them repaired any longer. Hence the idea of the ‘Masters – intergenerational craftsmanship workshops’ - that is -  how not to let “past” professions fall into oblivion.”

 

Wytwórnia has invited masters of the craft from Kraków to participate in its project: Władysław Popiel, an upholsterer; Małgorzata Jagiełło – an umbrella maker; Barbara Komenda – a milliner; Mr. and Mrs. Chodacki - bookbinders and the Pawlikowski family – violin makers. Violin making, for real? Even though after working under a master’s supervision for a couple of hours participants still won’t be able to make their own violins, they will certainly possess knowledge of how a violin comes to life. In our times, it’s an invaluable perspective.

 

 

PURO: We live in times of rather short-lasting products. Not without reason the term “of pre-war quality” has been coined – back then, products were supposed to serve for years, some of them were even passed from one generation to another. Nowadays, we are inundated with ugly things of poor quality. Will the time come when the only thing we can do will be to look at beautiful and useful objects in museums and art galleries?

Maciek Chart-Olasiński: I wouldn’t be making any catastrophic prophecies because there is hope! Recently, I’ve been observing a growing interest in objects made to order by craftspeople. Cracovians have a very vivid memory of the famous Turbasa’s tailoring atelier. To wear a suite made by Turbasa was a dream come true, it represented the pre-war elegance. Please notice, how popular DIY tutorials have become on the Internet. If we can’t do something, we go to a search engine, type e.g. “how to repair a broken table leg” and get an online lesson. Custom-made objects, the ones made only for us, give us much more satisfaction than the ones everyone can have. Let alone an indescribable joy we take in watching how such objects are made. And if we can participate in the production process, that’s exciting!

 

You invited young people and seniors alike to participate in workshops.

The Master-Pupil relationship is the key that makes it possible for a profession to survive through generations. This type of a relation has been almost entirely wiped out of our life by the presence of mass-produced, short-lasting objects. Theory and practice used to be passed within families and craft businesses – back then, the practical acquisition of let’s say tailoring skills under a master’s supervision was called “terminowanie” [be somebody’s apprentice]. What we intended was to let masters share their knowledge not only with young people but also with their peers or people older from them. Perhaps they have some unfulfilled dreams and, thanks to these workshops, they will have the courage to pursue them. Besides, it turned out that a lot of young people wanted to participate in workshops while older people were much more reluctant. I succeeded in talking my grandpa into a milliner’s workshop. She came home in an enthusiastic mood and with a new hat.

 

 

 

So, how was it? Did they get along well?

There are some videos from workshops available on YouTube. Each of the six meetings was run by one of Kraków’s masters and his/her assistant. Groups of pupils consisted of 8 young people and 8 seniors. Each workshop had its theoretical and practical parts. After masters described the nature of their work and the secrets of the craft, participants had to make a practical use of the acquired knowledge. That’s when each meeting came to its main point – to the point where people, regardless of age, were sharing a creative work, where boundaries between generations ceased to exist. Stereotypical views that older people are not supposed to do certain things and that the young are lazy and disrespectful crumbled into ruin. They not only cooperated shoulder to shoulder, but were attentive to and full of respect towards masters who, by the way, are the best example that you can be active at any age.

 

 

Was it easy to find Masters?

We thought it would be easier. However, as it turned out, senior craftspeople said ‘no’ not because they didn’t want to be part of the project, but because they were overloaded with work! To the extent they couldn’t have a day off. Luckily, with the help of various institutions we ended up with a wonderful group of seasoned though not necessarily older craftsmasters who eagerly shared their knowledge and experience.

 

You are one of the founders of the project. Where has the whole idea come from?

Maybe from the fact that we have been continuously “using” services provided by craftspeople. In my family, we’ve been keeping objects that belonged to my great grandparents and grandparents and we think of them as relics. Another reason why I would come up with such an idea is that society often look down on craftspeople. A violin maker told us that people tend to be surprised that they have to wait some time for their order or that prices are too high. Eventually they give up and go to a store where they buy a violin at a cheaper price. It’s a hard bread and that’s why children do not take up their parents’ or grandparents’ professions. Fortunately, Mr. Pawlikowski’s daughter is about to follow in her father’s steps and become a violin maker. Mr. Popiel, a furniture renovator, despite having graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, has devoted his life to his passion – craftsmanship. When he started 15 years ago, he received much support from fellow renovators. Years pass, but he still remembers this invaluable help and that’s why he agreed to participate in our project without a hint of hesitation.

 

Will the workshops with Masters come back?

We want to organize them once again because we know it’s a good way of building bridges between generations. Moreover, some masters have changed their entire lives to devote themselves to their passions. As it turns out it’s never too late to do that. Workshops participants unanimously stated that the time they’d spent together blurred the age boundary between them. They admitted to having a similar sense of humor and similar reactions when something doesn’t go as planned. One girl summarized the workshops by saying: “I could do anything with senior women, I could make hats and gloves even though I know nothing about it, but still I would do it for the sake of having an invaluable time with them.” A senior lady followed: “Old people should believe that one is always young – young people should know that old people are still people.” A good point, isn’t it?

 
 
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