Macedonia is a country where tradition carries a lot of weight. The cultural expression, more or less, thrives by paying homage to traditional and ethnic elements. So it goes that Macedonian music, architecture, even food, stylistically tilt towards the past – being its mirror, teaching us volumes about Macedonian history and tradition. And if there is a single vertical where Macedonian history and culture express themselves together, that must be in Macedonian handicrafts.
Passed through generations, as a family trade, crafts in Macedonia are well respected. And while most of them created the peak of production before the Second World War, some were, even back then, dedicated to cultural expression and decor only. Macedonian handicrafts of today, without interruption continue this same line.
The origin of different types of handicrafts can be traced back centuries ago, and throughout the territory of the country. Some cities were better known for a certain type of craft, where families kept the trade alive with every next generation.
The types of handicrafts, even today, cover a broad specter of artistic expression. Using wood, textile, minerals, ceramics, almost all kinds of items are still being made. The list goes on and on, and it includes music instruments, jewelry, icons, woodcarving, decorative accessories, ceramics, shoes and many others.
Let this attempt of ours, to catalogue Macedonian handicrafts, be your guide in discovering Macedonian art through a whole different angle. Some of the stories behind the items, their origin, where can you find them, and even how to buy some…
Considered by many as the crème de la crème of Macedonian jewelry; with a very long line of tradition, and very high artistic value, it is an emblem of Macedonian handicraft art. The filigree, an art form of designing metal jewelry with silver, goes as far back as the period of Turkish occupation. Designed in secret, and passed as a trade from one generation to the next.
Each item is designed manually, under a slow and very careful process. The form varies and includes all items that your imagination can fathom. Macedonian museums, among many, often display the butterfly as a very valuable and recognizable piece.
Nowadays, the filigree art is still alive, and some even go a step further in applying the principles of designing, while pawing a new contemporary stream- designing contemporary jewelry, by staying close to the principles of filigree art, while including some traditional elements as well.
Search for the art of Vangel Dereban, who comes from a very long line of craftsmen; and Marta Pejoska, a young designer who tries to blend the modern and traditional into one concept of filigree art.
Ancient Christianity themes, produced by various artists and techniques, closely resembling original icons from the ninth century and beyond; Original and authentic, the iconographers have preserved the technique and nowadays paint some of the most valuable icon paintings on wood.
Using the deep carving technique, a lot of artistic expression through wood carving can still be found in Macedonia. Dating before the twelfth century, and usually passed through generations as a family trade, it covers plethora of themes and motives. Some depict history events; others try to capture nature, while many express religious themes.
And though you can buy small items from numerous artists, it is nice to pay visit to the iconostasis in St. John the Baptist-a grandiose example of Macedonian wood carving, divided into six horizontal squares abounding in floral and animal ornaments.
Ethno music instruments are still being made in some parts of the country- String instruments- like the Tambura and Kemane- which are not rare to find, small drums, and other percussion items… However, the woodwind section has more to offer, especially the Kaval which is, in comparison to others, more frequently made.
The leather and decorated footwear, the Macedonian traditional show, was produced throughout the country around beginning of the past century. Now, a craft kept alive by few, it still provides the ethno enthusiast with rare items.
Many preserved pairs are being part of someone’s collection, though there are still those who would gladly sell them for the right price. Each pair is handcrafted, and by design shows the region from where it came. With decorative elements, made almost exclusively from leather, they are a true piece of Macedonian handicraft treasure. You can nowadays, even find craftsmen who make then in different sizes, some even as souvenirs, or as a part of your key-chain.
Clothing and textile items
While traditional Macedonian costumes can cost upward to a real fortune, there are still artists who are devoted to such design. The range of items here is rather broad, including wearables, but small textile material as well. A chemise, a vest, a decorative collar, a headscarf, socks, detachable sleeves and of course an apron, all part of the Macedonian traditional vest, though available to be found separately.
Days of Macedonian handicrafts
As an effort to preserve the long line of tradition in making handicrafts, the ministry of culture collaborated with the chamber of crafts, sponsoring a festival of handmade Macedonian items and souvenirs, and all sorts of art forms. Being held annually, with artists from around the country cataloguing their work, it is a rare chance to be exposed to such a number of different crafts, and meat some of the best artists. A friendly advice – don’t bring your credit card with you, and take cash instead, for you will be tempted to buy quite a lot of items.
As for buying, aside from visiting online shops, the best option is to actually meet with artists and thus enrich your experience as a whole, while learning a thing or two more about Macedonian crafts and tradition.
An outdoor junkie and an adventurous spirit who loves the mountain. Slavko regularly talks about travel, lifestyle design, holistic health and fitness. You can find his writings on popular magazines around the net, and his regular guides and columns in The Lifestyle Updated.