Gallery of Traditional Crafts

Published in CorD magazine

A unique gallery and workshop of traditional crafts within Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Fortress has attracted many interested visitors since its opening in mid-December.

According to Vuk Maksimovi?, PR representative of Belgrade Fortress, old crafts have always been a constituent part of Kalemegdan. Since the second century AD. when Belgrade was first established as a city, there have been workshops of old crafts around the Belgrade fortress and numerous craftsmen who cultivated stone, wood, iron, metal, glass, clay…  Nowdays these crafts are gradually dying out. However, as Maksimovi? explains, at one point the
Belgrade Fortress Enterprise decided to make efforts aimed at preserving traditional crafts in Belgrade. Accordingly, an intiative was launched to utilise space within Kalemegdan’s Upper Town in order to restore and promote traditional crafts. Mr. Maksimovi? has a personal interest in the promotion of old crafts, as he is an anthropologist and traditional crafts are his hobby of passion. Indeed, some of the items displayed in the gallery are his own works.

The interior of Stambol gate did not have its own bespoke purpose (historically the gate housed guards, while in recent years it has been used for one day projects of the Belgrade Summer Festival and The Night of Museums event) and one of the first steps of the initiative was to seek approval for new designation from the Belgrade Institution for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

Following a three-year procedure,
Belgrade Fortress Enterprise’s project was approved and a gallery of traditional crafts and a workshop appeared within the three rooms of the gate alongside a gallery displaying works of domestic artists (during 2009, the works of 13 artists will be presented. These pieces will be works of various techniques on paper) and a souvenir shop offering unique handmade souvenirs related to the Belgrade Fortress.

At the gallery of traditional crafts visitors now have a chance to see a typical wooden post that holds porches on houses in the Morava part of Serbia. The post is the work of Sušan Prizrenac, who carved and hewed the post during the gallery’s opening night. There are also wooden chairs with no metal parts, created by Vuk Maksimovi? himself, rosaries, chairs and pieces of furniture made of cherry-tree wood, icons, tools necessary for some crafts, etc.

Maksimovi? explained that the current display will soon be replaced – once the first workshops have been held and representative products have been made for display – and only some items will remain.

“Our plan for this year is to present between 10 and 12 traditional craft techniques. Visitors will be able to familiarise themselves with old crafts and craftsmen in order to see how particular items come into existence and what old craft techniques employed a few centuries ago looked like. In February we had a presentation of carving crafts and Mr. Sušan Prizrenac was doing  icon carving. An icon of 45x75 cm was carved on a lesser board with an ornament and visitors were being given the opportunity to practice carving a wooden board. After icon carving, weaving craft will be presented and a rug will be made on a three-weaver frame. There will also be a workshop for visitors and afterwards there will be an exhibition of the rug and other woven items. Our goal is to produce ten items in these ten workshops that could later be sold or put up for auction,” explains Maksimovi?. 

The story of traditional crafts and their popularity today shows that these arts will not be lost; though there are very few people who make a living from these crafts, many trate traditional craftwork as a serious hobby.

“The oldest crafts are those that deal with basic materials like wood, stone and iron. Nowdays there are carvers, hewers, blacksmiths, metal workers and moulders, stone masons, etc.” says Maksimovi?, adding that it is very difficult to find an available blacksmith to host a workshop, as the few blacksmiths operating in the city are extremely busy.

Public interest in the gallery and the workshop of traditional crafts has been great since the opening. Due to their popularity, the Belgrade Fortress website offers courses in particular crafts and guest spots for craftsmen who would like to lead workshops. The staging of courses is dependent on the number of applicants, while the price has yet to be determined and will include a fee for the expert craftsmen, material expenses and the costs of hosting the workshop. 

As Maskimovi? points out, the gallery and craft workshop are yet to fully come into existence. The several goals of the project are to serve as reminders of the past and the precious traditional craft techniques and products; restore lost art and craft forms and offer a window into a segment of the history of the region. However, an auxiliary goal is also enliving the Belgrade Fortress by offering new, interesting events of interest to both Belgraders and visitors to the city.