Annual pottery and crafts market in Beroun pulls the crowds
The traditional pottery and crafts market in Beroun’s Hus square welcomed thousands of visitors in June. Ceramics-making has a long tradition in Beroun going all the way back to the 14th century and the market, which is now held three times a year, attracts visitors from near and far. Radio Prague’s contributor Martina Kroa went to check it out and spoke with Jolana Izbická, the market’s chief organizer, about how it emerged.
“My father Vladimír Izbický actually started the market in the year 1997, which is 26 years ago. Originally it was a ceramics market because we make ceramics ourselves. Dad makes copies of the original Renaissance ceramics from the 16th century, which is originally from Beroun. It has a long tradition. In Prague during the reign of King Rudolf II they ate from pots that were made in Beroun. So it has a 450-year-old tradition. Maybe you know the pot from 1577. You can see it in the Museum of Ceramics, which opened eight years ago, and there is a beautiful big pot there from Šimon Nemazal, and on it is written the date 1577. It’s a really unique piece. They have it in Prague of course in the UMPRUM Museum archive. Here we have a copy, which was made by Mr. Čáda who is a very good potter, and he makes pots for historic movies. He is really excellent for replicas, and he did the Beroun one.”
How does this market stand compared to others in the Czech Republic or Europe?
“I started making ceramics when I was just ten years old. And we also made miniatures, which was very unique. We actually have a place in the Guinness Book of Records. The smallest pot in the world is from Czech Republic, from Beroun. The size is 2,7 millimeters. And it was really made on the wheal, so it’s perfect, a video of it also exists.
“We visited Europe in 1984, when Gorbachev came to power, and it became freer. For the first time we travelled to see markets abroad. They took place in Diessen in Germany, and also Milsbeek. They were beautiful ceramics markets, also Gmunden in Austria, really absolutely beautiful. First, we just visited, later we took part and sold our miniatures because they were very unique. My dad loved these markets.
“And Beroun had a tradition of markets in the past, even during communism there was a market selling various things. You could buy fake jeans for example. So, there was a market tradition every Saturday. And my dad got the idea why not try it here? He had a very close friend from Diessen, which is the greatest market in Germany, close to Munich. And he was invited, and also helped my dad with all the ideas. But it was not easy to tell people to come to Beroun. My dad got in his car and drove to Nezdenice, Domažlice, and all the towns and cities, also in Moravia. He drove himself, rang the bell, and everybody thought who is this –some crazy man? You know, inviting us somewhere, where it didn’t have any tradition. So, it started with 60 or 70 exhibitors in 1997, and has become a very beautiful market with an established tradition.
How many exhibitors and visitors do you usually have?
“Well, after Covid we had to change the concept a little bit. With visitors I am not very sure because we don’t sell tickets, the market is an open space, so it’s very difficult to calculate. But approximately, let’s say per day about 10,000 definitely, so together it could be about 15-20 thousand people. Thanks to everybody for coming, because it’s fantastic. They really support Czech made, handmade products. I myself am a potter, and I really hate products from China. And it makes me very happy that we have so many followers.”
What is the significance of this market in the Czech Republic?
“We have three markets in the Czech Republic: Beroun, Kunštát, and Kostelec. All of them are very successful and very good tradition and roots. So, it’s like rebuilding the roots after communism when they didn’t really care about history, to be honest. Even in Moravia all the costumes, the folklore and history were not very strong during communism. So basically, the reason why we started the market was to rebuild the tradition of the market and the history, and to put it back in people’s minds.”
What crafts are you selling? In the fall it’s a pottery-only market, but in the spring the market has other crafts as well.
“We started in 1997 with only ceramics. People loved it so much and we had great glassmakers, wood-carvers, and other craftspeople called us that they would like to be involved. But our answer was always the same: we organize a ceramics-only market. Then exactly 20 years ago we started the pot and crafts market. It has been a big success because for example Czech glassmakers have a big history, and we have some of the best here. They also have ovens here, so you can even see how the product gets made.”
I also spoke to some exhibitors who are from Poland, Hungary. Do you also have an international audience, both the visitors and the exhibitors?
“Since we travel, we always like to invite foreigners. It’s a little bit difficult because the Czech crown is still quite low, so the Czech-made products are much cheaper. So, it’s a little difficult to connect with Europe, but I hope in the future it will be a little bit more balanced. I am very glad that we can welcome mainly people from Germany, Austria and Poland. In September, when it will be a ceramics-only market, I concentrate more on potters who are our guests, we support them. They are from Spain, France, Lithuania and it’s very nice to show how people from other countries make ceramics, what it looks like.
“And also, it’s because in September when we start, everything in Europe is connected. A ceramic association exists for Europe, and you can also be connected. All the cities that have a tradition with ceramics are connected during these days. And usually, in every city all the buildings, museums, and towers are open, in Beroun as well. Everything is free and it’s a ‘Europe connected day’, always on the second weekend in September (European Heritage Days). “
Everything that is offered here on the market is handmade?
Mainly handmade, for sure, because we choose only the people who produce hand-made goods. It can’t be someone who buys a product and then sells it. We don’t accept people who are not handmade artists.”
Could I see the replicas of the 16th century pottery that you make here in Beroun?
“It used to be here in the market, but since it’s more and more work and more and more difficult, now it’s only possible to see it in the Museum of Beroun Ceramics. There you can see the originals that are 450 years old. And also, my dad’s pots are there.”
I read that opening the museum was your father’s dream?
“Yes, that’s true because we visited many places in Europe and you can see how people care about history. For example, in Tupesy in Moravia there was Tupesy Museum, and it was open even during the previous time. So, some places, more in Moravia, care more about tradition and history, here not so much. So, he saw it, like in Luneburg there is a big museum for Renaissance ceramics. And my dad’s dream was to also open something like that in the Czech Republic. Because believe it or not, the history is real, and the pot is really dated 1577. In those days there were about twelve potters in Beroun. Imagine, the royal city, it was a very small city and twelve potters! It was a really big tradition in Beroun. And also, they found excavations, where were these old ovens, which are also 450 years old. So, history is strong.
You used to have these Beroun markets twice a year. Why did you open a third market now?
“Because before we had already about 250-300 exhibitors, and during Covid it was not possible to organize anything. That was I think a very terrible time for everybody because it is really hard to sell ceramics online since it’s very fragile. And it was very difficult to do business. When it got a bit better, we were happy that we could organize a small market for about a hundred exhibitors only, with big distances between them. Because many of the potters work for six months, and then sell their products in Beroun, and then work for another six months.
“And actually, we got many letters, and people wrote to us that it was great that they could actually see all the products. Before, the tents were next to each other, and the visitors said they never saw the beautiful stuff we have here, that it’s gorgeous, and asked whether we could keep it because it’s fantastic, and they can see more, and buy more. It became not just market, but an exhibition, where the exhibitors can bring big pots, sculptures and put them on display. It was a welcome opportunity. So, now we can do it twice during the spring. Before it was 2x300 visitors, now it’s 3x200. So basically, the exhibitors are the same. We are not doing it because we would want a bigger market or something, but we want to give the people space, and a chance to see more products.”
What is the typical pottery from Beroun? I read that it’s hard to make the distinction, but it should be red and white or green.
“Yes, that’s right. Actually, here in this area, the Barrandien area, you can find trilobite. When I was a small girl, I found trilobites everywhere. And also, a very special red clay, that’s why I guess there were so many potters during the Renaissance period. Because there is fantastic clay in this area, Barrandien, Koněpruské jeskyně, are very rich for clay. They use it usually for sculptures and stuff, and the stone is fantastic also. So, this area is rich for very good quality kaolin, clay material. It’s red, and with the instrument called cuckoo you decorate it with white clay. My dad knows exactly how to do it.
“In the Beroun Museum of Ceramics they started to revive the tradition. Helena Klicperová did, she created a new design, we call it free replicas, and started to make more free decorations, and an absolutely new version. It’s the same decoration, but the clay is white and they decorate it with blue and green. Before it was red clay with white and green. And it’s really very beautiful. I am so happy that someone started working like my dad and that the new generation is interested in this decoration and they also do it.
Could you point me towards some interesting exhibitors?
“For example, here you can see Mr. Poláček, who makes handmade wooden spoons, and kitchenware. It’s such delicate work. Maybe somebody will say it’s expensive, but he is making the spoon for three days. He really does it the way it should be done. Mainly the people here love their job, really do it with love, which takes time. He is for example one of the best wood-artists.
“Next to him you have a blacksmith, also fantastic. They also work on bigger commissions like for castles. Really excellent artists. Basically, here you can find really mainly crafts which have a long tradition but also a contemporary slant. We don’t need to be here in costumes and show people that it’s a product of a thousand years, which ceramics is. We are not in a castle, and we don’t need to show that we have something like that. No, now it is a contemporary craft, but with a long history. That’s actually the motto of our market.”