Gnome sweet Gnome in Central Bohemia
Did you know that the Czech Republic is the original home of the mass-produced gnome? Gnomes, elves and dwarves have quite a tradition here, but it is a tradition that has been scorned by snobs and neglected by the rest of us. Not any more: an exhibition currently showing at the Museum of Central Bohemia in Roztoky, just north of Prague aims to put things right. David Vaughan donned his red cap and went along, accompanied by the museum's programme director, Tana Pekarkova.
Now we are going to move on to the exhibition itself.
"We'll start in the first room, where there are gnome paintings and sculptures by well-known Czech artists including Kurt Gebauer and Miroslava Krausova."
Here there is a semi-abstract gnome, a plaster statue, one of the works of art with a gnome theme. And if we go on a bit further, we are going as if through the woods. The floor is green. And here is a gnome painting. He is in a field of green and red cabbages. It says, 'The Guard of the Red Cabbage'.
If we continue past the works by well-known artists we reach another little room, where there are various little statues of gnomes made by children. And they can compete pretty well with the works by the more famous artists in the previous room: there are all sorts of ceramic gnomes here of different sizes, in different coloured hats.
"Now we're entering the third part of the exhibition, where you'll find our oldest exhibits, which we've tried to arrange in groups to make them look as though they come from a fairy tale. We didn't want to take a dry, art-historical approach, although we do also offer examples of some really early gnomes. We have two from the late Renaissance period, and there are also many rare gnomes from the Maresch ceramics factory that used to be in Usti nad Labem in North Bohemia and was the first ever to create mass-produced gnomes. At the beginning of the last century it was exporting them all over Europe."
"They are caricatures of a noble woman and a peasant. They were made by the well known sculptor Matyas Braun and they parodied various human qualities, such virtue and vice."
And I remember that two of our Radio Prague listeners once stayed in a hotel next door to where the gnome normally stands, and they were driven nearly mad by the chiming of the mushroom which he hits every hour. They compared it to the sound of a scaffolding pole being dropped.
If you'd like to find out more about the exhibition or the Museum of Central Bohemia in Roztoky, go to www.muzeum-roztoky.cz