Knowledge of the crafts – workshops, dynasties

Traditional peasant farms were self-sufficient in almost every respect. Simple tools were made by the head of the family, while women excelled in textile work. In regions where agriculture could not in itself provide people a livelihood and there were sufficient raw materials in the vicinity, domestic industries thrived, such as basket-weaving and rush mat-making, pottery, brickmaking, the production of wood tools and construction elements. With a view to help underdeveloped regions, the domestic industries received state support from the 1870s onwards. More complex tools were made by specialist artisans or trained craftsmen. They would often make cheaper-range, standard-design works for markets and fairs, and more expensive, individual works to order.

The history of handicraft can be traced back to the settling of the Magyars in the Carpathian Basin. Hungarian metalwork was considered to be of a high standard, as was saddlery and the manufacture of tackle and gear. In the first centuries of the Hungarian Kingdom the craft industry melded traditions it had brought from the East, the practices of the peoples living in the region and the knowledge of artisans moved in from the West. From the second half of the thirteenth century, the craft industry and the development of a network of market towns constituted a solid base of reconstruction following the invasion of the Tatars. Several craft names in the written sources refer to what were called “serving villages” and subsequently to craftsmen uniting in guilds as urban development took off in the fourteenth century. Apprentice guildsmen would return from their trips bringing home new techniques and technical terms (such as honey-cake making and blue dyeing). At the same time, European craftsmen would learn many a technique of coach-making, saddlery, tanning, embroidery and goldsmithing from Hungarians.

In the seventeenth century “German” and “Hungarian” crafts went separate ways. The first one served urban centers in i n keeping with European fashions, the latter the lower nobility, the market towns and the village folk, who were more keen on Hungarian tastes. Certain crafts were also pursued by non-guild craftsmen. From the eighteenth century onwards industrialisation brought on intensive development in certain crafts, while others were driven from the market. The abolition of the guild system was part of legal modernisation in 1872. From that time onwards, professional representation and training passed to the hand of industrial and trade associations. At the start of the twentieth century industrial schools used to teach traditional crafts; however, many handicraft techniques increasingly became mechanised.

In the Communist era, eradication of the peasant way of life led to the demise of hand­icrafts. Like the peasantry, the “petty bourgeoisie” became a branded class of society. In the 1950s many people left their professions and workshops formerly serving size­able demands were closed. Some of them survived for a while in the repairs business, while others were forced into large industrial companies. Craft associations were formed in some places, which for a while preserved old craft tools and techniques. Very few dynasties of craftsmen survived unscathed and uninterrupted. Which makes their trade all the more valuable. We do not only have them to thank for handing down knowledge: the craft movement starting in the 1970s sought out the last masters, often saving century-old, rare crafts from oblivion.