The crafts of Tryavna – part 1
The crafts of Tryavna are just a few. The history of each craft that has emerged in these lands is interesting. The people of Tryavna left their own imprint on several crafts, which we will tell about in several consecutive articles. The earliest known works of the Tryavna craftsmen from the 17th century show an already well-formed style of work, which made the Tryavna art school famous towards the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century and defined it as the earliest Revival art school in Bulgaria. Today we will talk about wood carving, building, gaytanjstvo (the art of the traditional woolen string decoration).
It takes a lot of love and endless patience to turn a piece of wood into something exquisite, to bring it to life, to achieve harmony. Much skill and dexterity is required to carve the hundreds of lines, turning the surface of the wood into stylized figures, tangles and shapes as if untouched by human hand.
Wood carving in our lands has a long tradition both in everyday life and in arts. It is not known when the beginning of wood carving in Tryavna was established. The abundance of wood, the proximity of the samples from medieval Tarnovo helped the development of this craft. One legend tells how woodcarving came to be here – there was a monk named Vikentius from the Athonite monastery “Zograf” who passed through Tryavna and took with him a little boy to teach him the craft of woodcarving in the monastery. When he returned with the monk’s name Vitan, the boy had already mastered carving and icon painting to perfection. This was the beginning of the Vitanov family – the largest family of carvers and sculptors in Tryavna. Generations of craftsmen of the Genchov family from Genchovtsi huts also produced wonderful pieces of woodcarving. Carving as a craft was passed down from father to son. The masters first drew on paper the motifs they intended to transform into wood. The Tryavna people preferred plant motifs – rose, blush, marigold, vine leaf, as well as the sun as a symbol of the rebirth of life. Peacocks, doves, nightingales, even camels sometimes appeared among the branches and leaves. The outlines of what was drawn on the paper were transferred to the wood prepared for carving. The Tryavna masters worked on walnut, linden, alder, pear, oak, and poplar. By skilfully mixing techniques they achieved a natural play with the colours of the wood. Carvers made their own tools with the help of local blacksmiths.
A very strong urge to the development of this craft was given by the increased construction of churches in the Bulgarian lands, which lasted throughout the 19th century. The surviving early works of the Tryavna carving school are very few and are found in Arbanassi and some of the monasteries of Tarnovo. The lavish carvings of the 19th century can be seen in the two Tryavna churches, as well as in Gabrovo, Sevlievo, Svishtov, Troyan, Chirpan and many other towns and villages.
The simplicity and charm of domestic wood carving can still be found not only in the Tryavna houses, but also in the Bozhentsy and Zheravna houses. In 1808, the two suns rose on the ceilings of the Daskalov House, which to this day remain unsurpassed in their beauty and harmony.
Construction is one of the most prominent crafts in Tryavna. The skills of the Tryavna craftsmen to build beautiful buildings are linked to the development of two other crafts – wood carving and icon painting. At the dawn of the development of the Tryavna art school, the masters often took over the construction and interior decoration of churches. As the demand and orders for church building increased in the first half of the 19th century, construction, icon painting and wood carving were separated as crafts, which did not prevent individual families from combining their skills in each of those crafts. Thus, the Vitanovs were carvers and icon painters. The Genchovs were excellent builders and carvers. From this family originates the first master Gencho Kanev – the equivalent of Master Kolyo Ficheto, who managed to incorporate the Bulgarian building traditions into the European ones. In the 19th century the other great master of the Tryavna building school – Dimitar Sergyov, who was the first among the Tryavna builders to be recognized by the Ottoman administration as an “architecton”, i.e. with the skills of an architect.
The appearance of Tryavna is due to its unique architecture, thanks to the generations of master builders who built churches, bridges, schools, who created the original Tryavna house. Hidden behind a high stone walls during troubled times or with the open shutters of the mid-nineteenth-century workshops just off the street, the Tryavna houses impress with their architecture. Some of their distinguishing features are: two-story plan with bayed upper storey, white walls with numerous ‘eyebrow’ windows and chamfered outer corner windows. The most memorable Tryavna house is the Daskalova one – the house with the two carved sun-ceilings for which the master and the squire made a bet. Among the masterpieces of the Tryavna architectural heritage are the houses built by Dimitar Sergyov: Kalincheva /1830/, Dobreva /1834/, Raikova /1846/, Kireva /1851/ houses. Unique for its urban planning is the square “Captain Grandfather Nikola”, almost entirely preserved its authentic appearance from the 19th century.
Harmoniously connected with the surrounding architectural environment and the appearance of old Tryavna is the arched stone bridge, also known as the Humpback Bridge, built by Dimitar Sergyov in 1844-45.
There are much more than just a few examples of magnificent churches, school and other public buildings built by Tryavna craftsmen in many other settlements across Bulgaria.
After the Liberation many of the successors of the former builders went to neighbouring countries, to Asia Minor, America, Australia, where they worthily defended what they had learned from their predecessors.
Gaitandzhiistvo is the production of gaitan, a knitted woollen cord used to decorate traditional Aba clothing. As a craft, it accompanies abadzhiistvo and terziistvo (another two crafts related to the production of wooden and general clothing). Gaitans were originally made by hand – women spun the wool and plaited it. Later, the chekrak (a traditional spinning wheel) was used, the production was mechanised and the gaitandzhii bought directly the finished yarn. It developed rapidly during the Revival and especially in the 19th century. After the Liberation, Bulgarian gaitans continued to be sought after on the Turkish market and this continued until the First World War.
Гайтаните се използват за декорация на костюмите. От практично средство за заздравяване на ръбовете и шевовете на дебелите вълнени дрехи те се превръщат в сложна рисунка – свидетелство за усета на българката към красивото, за нейните творчески възможности и майсторство при изработката.
Gaitans are used for costume decoration. From a practical means of strengthening the edges and seams of thick woolen garments, they turn into intricate drawings – a testimony to the Bulgarian woman’s sense of the beautiful, her creative abilities and craftsmanship in the making.
The craft centers of Karlovo, Kalofer, Kazanlak, Gabrovo, Sopot, Kotel, Sliven, Pirdop, etc. became the main centers of the Gaytandzhii art. In the second half of the 19th century, the iron machine parts were introduced and this contributed to the further development of this craft. In the years immediately before the Liberation, the gaitandzhiistvo industry became one of the most important branches of textile production. Later it declined along with other crafts. The reason for this was the strong competition of manufactured products imported from Europe.
to be continued…