I interviewed Alexandra Ungureanu from Art & Craft.
Please share with us stories from a meeting with an artist who makes items for Art&Craft.
We all know how difficult it is nowadays to keep alive the Romanian traditions and crafts, to take them forward from generation to generation as they used to our ancestors and, especially, to promote them. Although today the traditional and handmade products started to be increasingly popular and demanded, our traditional artisans have remained in a cone of shadow, not having the possibilities and resources to benefit of the exposure and visibility they deserve to.
We know how much work and how much patience lies behind their work, how much talent, skills and how much invested time. We know that the embroidery of one peasant blouse may take even a month to complete and that the hand painting egg process is extremely demanding and painstaking.
For this reason, we, the Art & Craft team, decided to support artisans and help them promote and market their products. They are fully aware that without our support their work would be in vain.
Besides the fact that for years we have a purchasing department that frequently goes directly to the artisans at their homes to choose the most beautiful products for the Art & Craft stores from the airports and for the online store www.artandcraft.ro. We decided that starting from January 2016, to make a series of trips around the country and to take pictures and videos with the execution of artisan products, with the materials that are used, to promote and to show the authenticity and uniqueness of traditional products.
We have started with Bucovina, where we were fascinated to discover how to weave an embroidered peasant blouse, manually or with the loom, how to sculpt objects in wood, how to model clay to create awesome pottery or how to handpaint eggs using various techniques: wax, paint, wax and paint. We then went to Horezu, Ponoarele, Corund, Baia Mare.
- The first time I got in contact with Art&Craft was at Henri Coanda Airport in Bucharest, once when I travelled home to Sweden. I thought it was a great place for country branding of products selling them at the airport. Could you tell us what is the focus areas for Art&Craft?
Art & Craft Design has debuted on the Romanian souvenir market in 2003; we address exclusively to the travel retail market. Currently, Art & Craft Design is the largest retail company specialized in souvenirs and Romanian traditional products, with a vast experience, which is reflected in its unique way of making the products, in the layout of the sale premises, in the offered services, in the conduct of those 60 employees and in its own distribution system on the entire Romanian territory.
Art & Craft aims to promote the Romanian traditions and customs beyond the country’s borders, the mission of Art & Craft being to transpose the Romanian universe into a creative form and to promote it to a contemporary audience by creating new and authentic products.
- You are working as PR and Communication Specialist for Art&Craft. What is the best part of your job?
There are many good parts concerning my job: I interact with many beautiful and interesting people, I travel, I meet talented artisans who create a large part of our products and, last but not least, I enjoy every day the great products that we have.
- Tell us about 3 products that you love in particular from your collections and why.
It is difficult for me to choose just three products; I am in love with at least 20. I really like the sweets of our brands Via Delice and Vlad’s Story (cream-filled nuts, cream-filled croissants, chocolate covered prunes, gingerbread, biscuits), I like the products that transmit the Dracula and the Bran Castle legend and which are created due to the talent of our designers, and, also,
I like very much the folk art products such as the embroidered peasant blouses, ceramic vessels, hand painted eggs, because they look like true works of art and I know how much work and how much talent is behind their creation.
- What is the meaning of craft in 2017?
Craft means everything that is done from the heart, everything that is handmade and homemade, everything that involves talent, skills and patience, specifically everything that comes out of the hands of artisans.
- I love ceramics as ceramics often speaks the language of ancient traditions. Romania has indeed a long history of civilisation and – ceramics. Can you tell us more about the stories behind the Corund ceramics and the Horezu ceramics.
Corund Ceramics comes from the town with the same name, located in Harghita county. Over 300 families in Corund are involved in pottery related activities, and other traditional activities such as wood carving, handloom etc. Usually, pottery is a family activity because it requires teamwork. Men create the forms of the pottery products and women decorate them.
The basic material for creating the Corund pottery is the gray and brown clay. This is brought from the riverbed near the village, kneaded and grounded in order to be cleaned of impurities and then taken to potters to be processed. After these skilled artisans give the clay the desired shape (the form of the pottery may vary, they typically have a circular shape), they let it dry.
In order for the pottery product to have a white colour, they are immersed in white kaolin (a clay rock, insoluble in water), and after they are dried, are freehand decorated with different stylized floral and zoomorphic motifs. The last step in the production of these works of art is their burning in the oven, once or twice. This depends on the type of ceramics, because there are more techniques and models.
The fact that these pottery products are manufactured and adorned by hand, makes each of them unique, authentic and especially beautiful.
If you go to Romania, I recommend you to visit this village full of artisans, to see with your own eyes how a piece of clay can be transformed into a true work of art and even try yourself this craft. The area is near Praid, also offering wonderful views.
One might say that Horezu is the most important center of the Romanian pottery creation. The potters from here have a long tradition and the Horezu pottery is known both in the country and abroad.
From the cultural point of view, the character of Horezu area is a historic and monastic one, oriented towards specific Romanian handicraft activities such as pottery, handmade fabrics and religious paintings. Pottery continues to represent the emblem of the place, an occupation that was passed from generation to generation by families of potters.
In 2012, during the seventh session, UNESCO has decided to enrol Horezu pottery on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, “a unique traditional craft.”
At first, in Horezu there were made two types of vessels: “common vessels” used daily, that were not “decorated” only “sprayed” with a few touches of colour made on the enamel, and the handicraft vessels, where the craftsmanship of artisans was visible through motifs that have become well established (Horez grouse, tree of life, double spiral etc).
The technique of Horezu pottery is not a secret, being known by all local potters. The earth is harvested in autumn from Hurezu Peak Monastery and it is passed through a blender until it has the consistency of modelling clay. It is kept in cellophane so that it doesn’t harden and, using a hand wheel, it is given the desired shape.
The colours are mineral: white, black and red earth, green copper, blue, cobalt blue, and the vessels are decorated with “jay” and “horn”. The motifs that are used are grouse, stars, snakes, trees, people, flowers, fish, double spiral, straight line, wavy line, leaf, ear, tree of life and peacock tail.
The Horezu vessels carry inside the long tradition of clay processing and dedication of artisans that make each object unique, containing a part of Romania. Currently, Horezu is a strong ethnographical point of attraction; it is a place where you can find Romanian crafts, artisans workshops, beautiful stories and a lot of kindness.
- What is the travel itinerary you would suggest to someone who had never been to Romania before?
Romania is a very beautiful country with many wonderful places worth visiting. Among them I recommend the area of Bucovina, Transylvania with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov, Bran, Peles and Corvin Castles , the Danube Delta, Bigar Waterfall and, not least, Bucharest, the capital.
- Easter is coming up soon. Could you tell us the stories about the beautifully hand painted Easter eggs?
The Easter eggs hand painting is an interesting and painstaking process. Hand painted eggs are mainly done in Bucovina and there are three techniques: hand painted eggs with wax, hand painted eggs with paint and hand painted eggs with wax and paint. I had the honour to witness a hand panting process while we were travelling through Bucovina and I have to say I was fascinated by the talent and craftsmanship of the women hand painting the eggs.
- What can you tell us about Art&Craft’s own collections?
Besides the folk art and crafts products that we take directly from the Romanian artisans, we have a design department, which develops the Art & Craft’s own collections, transposing the Romanian legends into spectacular products. Thus, we developed brands such as Via Delice and Vlad’s Story (brands of food), Bloody Famous, Transylvania, Destination, I love RO, Fashion, brands comprising a wide variety of items: pens, notebooks, bags, shirts, mugs, phone cases, handbags, balls, photo frames, scarves etc.
Pictures added with the courtesy of Romanian Art&Craft.