Exhibitions harking back to the old days

'The Kitchen – our grandmothers’ kingdom', photo: Czech Museum of Silver

Look at some of the small town exhibitions currently underway and you can’t miss the trend – they all show vintage objects very often made up of stuff people find in their attics. The “out with the old and in with the new” fervor with which people cleaned out their attics just a few decades ago is long gone and families now treasure old family coffee grinders, foreign label-covered suitcases that belonged to seasoned family travelers or wooden weaving looms used by great grandmothers.

'The Kitchen – our grandmothers’ kingdom',  photo: Czech Museum of Silver
The museum in Kutná Hora recently put on an exhibition “The Kitchen –our grandmothers’ kingdom” which displayed a vast amount of kitchen appliances barely recognizable to present-day visitors – mincing machines, herb grinders and hand-operated washing machines. The Litovel museum has just shown an exhibition of old dolls – the oldest of them rag and wooden dolls dating back to the middle of the 18th century as well as an impressive collection of porcelain dolls many of which were handed down from generation to generation. Earlier this year Horní Věstonice put on display an exhibition of old prams from the twentieth century – the oldest dating back to the years of the First Republic.

Such exhibitions have the advantage of being low cost – people are happy to give away or lend stuff found in their attic and they attract considerable public interest. People are now recognizing the value of family heirlooms and objects of daily use with a history. The puppet museum in the town of Chrudim recently appealed to the public to scour their attics for old puppets they could donate and one family came up with a prize exhibit - an impressive puppet theatre made in the 1920s complete with props and backdrops. Šárka Bubíková, who played with it as a child, says she was surprised by the enthusiasm it generated:

“This is a puppet theatre that my father received as a gift from his parents when he was about ten. It was one of his favourite playthings and he handed it down to me and my sister when we were old enough to play with it. Since then, both my sister’s children and my own have also enjoyed playing with it so it has certainly seen some action! I’m a bit surprised at the fuss being made over it – I thought there were many more like it in people’s homes still.”

Photo: Chrudim Puppetry Museum
The exhibition’s curator Lucie Miklovičová says that, while such puppets can be found, a complete and well-preserved collection is rare. Some of them are now unique.

“This puppet is particularly valuable for us – it is a wooden puppet representing Death and it was made in the mid-1920s by the company Blanc.”

Even more valuable for the Bubík family are the wood-carved puppets that that were added in later years most likely by clever family members at the request of the children who found that there was not a suitable puppet for a given role. The puppets have therefore been loaned and are staying in family hands.

Meanwhile, the town of Svratka in the Ždiar region is offering people a walk down memory lane, having re-constructed a mixed goods shop from the days of the First Republic and a store from the communist era, complete with money from the communist days, an old till and two saleswomen dressed as they were in the old days. The trip to these stores –particularly the more recent communist-era one - which is still vivid in people’s memories is a strange throw-back in time and many visitors who come to have a look spend a long time chatting to the saleswomen, cracking jokes and exchanging memories about the way things were – like how eggs were sold in paper bags, meaning one rarely got them all home safe, or how milk was sold in thin plastic bags that often dripped or leaked into the other stuff.

Svratka Museum,  photo: CTK
The communist era mixed goods store looks entirely authentic with tins of minced meat, tea and coffee brands that flooded the stores in those days. Jana Vojtová, one of the saleswomen, who coincidentally helped organize the exhibition, remembers those days well. She says cooking for special occasions, such as Christmas, was a nightmare and shopping had to be planned and organized well-in-advance.

“When you wanted walnuts and were lucky enough to get them you could be certain that you would not get grated coconut kernel, or bananas. It was terrible –I wouldn’t want those days back for anything in the world.”

As a saleswoman she knows what she is talking about and has plenty of memories to share.

“You always had to have a ribbon in your hair or a piece of lace to hold it back. If you were caught without it you got fined.”

Many visitors spend a long time looking around the store and pointing out to each other long forgotten chocolate labels, tins, chewing gum and wrappings. Many people recognize stuff that they themselves contributed from their attics and cellars. The curator of the exhibition, Martin Mudroch says that while people keep a lot of old stuff getting hold of authentic old food products – in cans or tea boxes is not easy.

“Occasionally people find something in their attics that we can use. Food products are hard to find obviously, but occasionally they come across something good. Some things we get by shopping on the internet for old stuff. There are still many things to be found in attics.”

Svratka Museum,  photo: CTK
The store dating back to the years of the First Republic was even harder to put together but with the help of antiques and bazaar shops it provides a very authentic experience. Pride of place goes to an ice-cream making machine dating back to the 1920s.

Now, curators are once again turning to Christmas themes, preparing exhibitions of nativity scenes, Christmas tree decorations and Christmas postcards – once again with the help of the public. After a hectic day spent at the shopping mall, many people welcome a quiet moment at one of these exhibitions taking in the charm of these beautiful home-made decorations and loving hand-written Christmas greetings that survived many decades.

The episode featured today was first broadcast on November 7, 2013.