Rediscovering archaic lifestyles

In the 19th century, the era of " national awakening," a n i mportant pursuit f or the leading societal sectors, for scholars and artists, was to "discover" and "sketch out" the ancient, glorious past of the nation. Following the 1848-1849 War of Independence, lost and squelched, the figure of the Hungarian puszta-dwellling herdsmen burnished as a peculiar symbol of the freedom-loving Hungarian people, thanks to the artists of national romanticism.

The first Conquest-era grave - dating back to the taking of the homeland by the ancestors of the Hungarians - was found in the 1830s, at the time of the Reform Era. There were further significant findings around the 1896 Millennial celebrations of the Hungarian Conquest, and the archaeological material of the conquerors was brought even more to the forefront of attention. At the same time, interest has turned not only to the archaeological past but also to the living folk traditions of the hitherto undervalued peasantry, and the documentation of tales, songs, customs, and the collection of nicely decorated objects began. Contemporary research and public interest sought the most archaic roots in this folk culture, which would allow them to draw conclusions about the "infancy" of the nation. Thus began the ethnographic research of archaic crafts, fishing, and pastoralism, which, affirmed by parallels found among related peoples, led to the discovery of the oldest, oriental cultural strata of Hungarian culture.

Occupational groups beyond the peasant village (though closely linked with it) existed in a closed, hierarchical order, in a particular, inclusive world. Indeed, their tangible and intangible culture retained many archaic elements until recently.

At the turn of the 20th century, not only researchers but artists also took an interest in the motifs of folk ornamentation, as well as in our oriental heritage. This search for roots permeated Hungarian Art Nouveau's finest works. Thanks to the artist collective of Gödöllő, the Dezső Malonyai-edited, five-volume Art of the Hungarian People series (Budapest, 1907-1922) was born, of which not only its initial, Transylvania-themed volume had the impact of a revelation, but also the ones presenting ancient folk art heritage sites in Transdanubia and Northern Hungary, including the pastoral art of Lake Balaton, Bakony, Somogy and Palócföld.

From the 1930s, with a more differentiated social history approach, it became clear that peasant culture was shaped by complex historical processes, and that not all that is old and vernacular is archaic, so it is not necessary to try to see thousands or even hundreds of years of heritage in every element of folk culture. Ethnography and the research of Hungarian prehistory became increasingly compartmentalized. The intensive subject-specific research of the grand generation of ethnographers and museologists of the 1960s and 1970s further elaborated what we know of the history of folk art.

As a result of the explorations of the Nomadic Generation, creative focus in the 1970s has shifted to the archaic layer of pastoral art, Conquest-era and Central Asian craftsmanship and ornamentation, finding inspiration in the revival of felt-making technology, woodcarving and leatherwork.