The Traditional Woodcarving in Northern Macedonia. Centuries Old Tradition – West Meeting East

When I was a child, each time I saw some of these carvings I was stunned – how can a human hand create this? One of these carvers explained this on a TV transmitting – it can but you have to be very careful, with one wrong move you can destroy the work of one year.

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According to many researches this tradition exists in Northern Macedonia more than 1000 years. It was established as a craftsmanship for ornamenting the houses of the rich Byzantine families. The social status and its show-off was a very important issue in the Byzantine Empire – which according to all historians was the richest and strongest ever. Even after the fall of the empire, as a best currency in Britain was used the silver coin Bezant. Brits believed that the brightness of the silver shine was a proof of the purity of this currency. Etymologically the word business originates from this coin. Likewise much of the heraldic in our contemporary civilization is from Byzantine. For e.g. the national item of the Byzantine Empire was the two headed black eagle with yellow background which symbolized the spreading of the empery on East and West. This design – in black and yellow – is used for the logo of Western Union. Many countries in the world also use variations of the eagle-design for their national items, like Germany or USA. Another very significant part of this eastern heritage is the emphasis on the family. Every day in noon bells were ringing and the family members were going to the public baths to wash up, after which they were having lunch together. The Byzantines were always clean and were washing themselves few times a day. They were wearing expensive jewels (their preferred metal for this, as mentioned above was the silver) with diverse kinds of precious stones. They were all usually wearing flax tunics. Wealthier ones were wearing silk.

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All this motives from this great but vanished civilization were preserved throughout centuries in the tradition of wood carving. We can recognize in these carvings the elements of the patriarchal society that has piety for women, the culture of solidarity and parenthood, and which is very obvious, preserving the fertility of the soil. Some art theoreticians though say that the floral designs had to be applied due to their unique decorativeness. This exceptional craftsmanship survived the hardships of the medieval-ages, plague epidemics, many wars and rebellions as it was transferred from generation to generation of masters, as a family profession. At some time in the middle of the 14th century this art became more typical for the churches than for the noble homes and replaced the stone reliefs. This art was somewhat revived and restored at the end of the 18th century when realism replaced the stylizations. The standards that were applied were focusing on the depictions of the scenes from the Bible. One of the groups that were outstanding for this was the so-called Gang of Petre Garkata and Frchkovski. One of their masterpieces is preserved in the Church of St. Savior in Skopje. The carvers that still exist in Northern Macedonia own their craftsmanship mostly to the tradition established by this “gang”. One of the highlights of the current stars of this artistry is the carving in the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle – presented in these photos. This art doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, so usually each time there is a need for such, they come for this to Northern Macedonia. For e.g. the carvings of the restored Royal Palace in Warsaw were done by these carvers. Usually these groups of carvers present themselves once a year in the Dome of the Army of Northern Macedonia. They have their magazine too.

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Igor Pop Trajkov
Photos: Igor Pop Trajkov

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