Handicrafts in Latvia

Crafts what were everyday work before are now became rather unusual occupation and are called an applied art or folk art now. Throughout the country, 103 studies of applied folk art exist and almost 3000 artisans and master craftsmen work within there.  We pride ourselves today with the fact that our ancestors’ love of handicrafts and spiritual customs still lives in the people.

There are short introduction in main Latvian crafts: ceramics – pottery, textile works, adomment making, basketry, woodwork, leather work and metalwork.

Ceramics

 

The skill to create clay vessels already existed in Latvia thousands of years before the Christian era. However it was only in the 10th -11th cen­turies, when the potter's wheel was introduced and pottery began to be fired in kilns, that the specialist trade of the potter can be said to have been created.

Since Latvian potters have acquired technics of glazing, potter's ware are colourful and decorated by different ornaments.

Clay plates from 19th century

Over time, regional Latvian ceramic traditions have been cre­ated and preserved. These tradi­tions exist through differences in the form and decoration of pot­tery. The most spectacular con­temporary tradition of regional pottery has been preserved in Latgale.

  

Today, black ceramics have become particularly popular. These are created through the ancient process of smoking pot­tery, a technique used through­out Europe in the 10th century.

  

 

Woodwork

 In densely forested Latvia, our ancestors were practiced wood­carving long ago. This craft was very essential in household. Starting with hose building and ending with carving spoons – nearly every man could do it himself.

Even furniture was made at home. Furthermore almost every household object was decorated by ornaments and carving in wood.

 

 Crest from 19th century               Doors of granary (18th – 19th century)

          

Tables

 

Chairs

   

Wardrobe

Hope chests

   

     

Today there is a large demand for woodcarvings in the Latvian market. Craftsmen become involved in the creation and restoration of furniture and interiors.

Basketry

Basketry is one of the original handcrafts, which began in the Neolithic Age and has provided the basis for a number of differ­ent handicraft skills. Bast shoes, reed hats, boxes made from birch bark, roots and wicker, fish traps and baskets have served humans in their everyday life for centuries. In Latvia, white and red willow trees proliferate along roads, in fields and on riverbanks. In the forests, there is an abundance of fir and pine trees. Not surpringly, weaving from wicker and roots became an ancient craft in all regions.

Today folk art basketry, thanks to its shapes, structure and diver­sity, also displays artistic value outside its practical application. Currently amongst folk art stu­dios basketry workshops are the most active.

Adomment making

 Neolithic tribes living on the sho­res of the Baltic Sea were already creating amber ornaments in vari­ous forms - pendants, beads and amber discs. Figurines of birds, fish, snakes, bears and curious people shaped from bone and horn were found in the settlements of the Lubana fields from 4 - 3 000 B.C. Subsequently, bronze and iron neck rings, decorative pins, arm­bands and rings were being made in Latvia. Today craftsmen work in two different streams: they study and produce reproductions of adorn­ments from all periods, in this way preserving ancient traditions of adornment making, and they make new, modern collections of adornments, which are inspired by Latvian ethnography and tradi­tions and various styles of European art.

 

 

Metalwork

Europeans learned to melt and forge iron in the late 2nd and early 1st centuries B.C. The ancient Baltic, Finno-Ugric and Slavic tribes also began to obtain iron around this time. While metalwork in Latvia is based on an old tradition, the continuation of serfdom until the early 19th century delayed atten­tion to the craft. The situation changed swiftly in the 1860s and 70s, when the priveledges of the German guilds were abolished. A smith was set up in every region, and Latvian folk traditions began to reappear in the craft of the blacksmith.

These days, ancient blacksmithing techniques of bending, stretching and inter­twining are seen in elements of Riga's architecture. Exhibitions of applied art demonstrate that recently master blacksmiths have mostly turned to creation of interior decoration ­candlesticks, fireplace accessories, and metal ornaments for articles of woodwork. These have pre­served the historical traditions of manufacture and decoration.

Textile art

Weaving

 

Fabrics first began to be made on hand looms during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., but simple linen and woollen fabrics were woven in Latvia at the beginning of the present era.

The oldest textiles found in Latvia can be dated 2nd 3rd century A.D. Already at that time flax and woollen yarn were used for fabrics making.        

Until the end of 19th century flax cultivation and fleece processing were common in every farm-stead so there were a staple to make fabrics. Women made clothing for all family by themselves and used homemade fabrics. As well towels, coverlets, sheets, curtain, shawls, rugs were homemade. 

 

Weaving looms of Latvian farmers in 19th -20th centuries

Weaving belts today

Currently weaving is one of the most developed branch of folk art in Latvia. Some two thirds of all masters of decorative arts are weavers, and preserva­tion and development of their skills seems assured. Until now weavers use traditional ornaments and follow the lead of their parents and teachers, translat their world view, rhythms of life and obser­vations of nature into their handi­craft. This is particularly obvious in woven blankets and the skirts of folk costumes, in which the characteristics of different regional weaving traditions can be easily observed.

Examples of traditional ornaments and today’s textiles

   

 

  

  

  

  

 

Knitting

Knitting is one of the most ancient handicrafts. The earliest record of knitting has been dated to 5 000 - 3 000 B.C. In Latvia also, given its cold cli­mate, knitting became one of the earliest handicrafts. The first knitted mittens and gloves found here have been dated to the 15th century, while socks date to the 16th century. Knitting was the first craft what girls acquire.

 Gaining inspiration from the bright patterns in the gloves and socks of our ancestors, craftswomen today create collec­tions which preserve marked regional differences. Hand-knit­ted gloves and socks are still the most traditional textiles, and one of the most esteemed gifts.

  

  

Lacework

 

Various types of hand­made lace reached their heyday in Europe in the 18th century. A number of lacemaking tech­niques have also been popular amongst Latvian handicrafts at various times. Lace has been used to decorate costume and domes­tic items. This can be observed in collections of lace in museum col­lections and from family archives. The most ancient example of lacework - plaited fringing from the 11th century - was found in excavations at Priekule. "Guidelines for Dress", which allowed peasants to wear only home-made fabrics were in force in Riga in the 18th century. This also influenced the development of traditional Latvian lacework and its uses the lace was usually coarse and made of linen thread. Making lace has again become popular in Latvia. Knitters in folk art studios make lace using a variety of techniques. The main emphasis is placed on the pro­duction of ethnographic samples ­folk costumes, edging for towels and other details.

  

 

Bibliography

Auziņš Arnolds. Amatu noslēpumi : amats - mūža pamats. Rīga : Antēra, 2006.

Latvju raksti = Ornement Letton.  2.sēj. Tautas apģērbi un apģērbu daļas Vidzemē, Latgalē un Augšzemē.  Parīze : Latvijas Grāmata, 1990.

 

Latvju raksti = Ornement Letton. 3.sēj. Lauku celtniecība, istablietas, trauki u.c.  Parīze : Latvijas Grāmata, 1990.

 

Meistari : latviešu tautas lietišķā māksla 20.-21.gadsimta mijā = Meister : Lettische angewandte Volkskunst zur Wende des 20.-21.Jahrhunderts = Master Craftsmen : Latvian folk craft at the turn of the 21st century.  Rīga : Tautas mākslas centrs, Valsts aģentūra, 2003. 

Šterna Māra. Aušana. Rīga : Praktiskā grāmata, 2004.