‘Moravian Glory’: Celebrating Czech heritage, from the American South
Monika Vintrlíková is the Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic in Atlanta, where her family moved a decade ago to open a subsidiary of their manufacturing business. Part of that honorary position entails working to develop trade, economic and cultural ties – her favourite aspect of it – between Georgia and her homeland. Working to bring the Czech expat and Czech-American communities together and celebrating the folklore and heritage of her own region “all came together” in the form of the foundation Moravian Glory (Moravská krása).
“In 2011, we decided to open a subsidiary of our family business in Georgia to follow our biggest customer to the United States. So, we moved my family to the U.S. and have lived there since then (laughs). This is a very short version of the story, of course. It was not as easy as it sounds.
“So, we’ve lived in Georgia for eleven years. And I became Honorary Consul last October, so my connection to the Czech Republic became even stronger. Ever since we arrived in Georgia, we’ve tried to promote Czech and Moravian culture – not only for Czech-Americans but for Americans.
“All of this came together in establishing the Moravian Glory foundation. So this is my life now – my family, the business, the Honorary Consulate, and of course the foundation.”
And when you arrived in Atlanta, was there much of a Czech community that you could tap into? For example, Czech churches or groups…
“We don’t have any Czech churches, but the Czech community is fairly large. There are an estimated 2,000 people of Czech descent and expats. They are all over Georgia and of course mainly in Metro Atlanta. About when we moved to Georgia, a Czech & Slovak school that meets on Saturdays was established, and life kind of started to revolve around that.
“The Honorary Consulate and school brought people together, and I think that’s still pretty much valid still because we organise different events, for example Czech That Film festivals with the Czech Centres, and many others to bring children together.”
And how did the idea come to establish Moravian Glory?
“It was a pretty natural process because my husband and I were supporting the Czech school from the beginning and closely working with George Novak, who was my predecessor as honorary consul in Atlanta, and always tried to bring interesting people and events to Atlanta to promote Czech and Moravian culture, and on the other hand keep the community together and offer them something from home.
“So, I started to work with people here in South Moravia, and bring their programs to Atlanta and later on to other destinations, for example Cedar Rapids (Iowa), where we have the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. So, the cooperation was very natural.”
And you are a proud Moravian, I imagine, and have deep ties to the region?
“Exactly. And I wanted to bring events for my children as well – I have two teenage daughters and didn’t want them to forget where they come from. So, yes, we’re a very proud Moravian family.
From your website, I’ve seen a few of the project that you’ve done. One was ‘Landscape of Memory’ with the photographer Honza Sakař. Could you tell us a bit about that and how it came about?
“This is a project we’ve been working on with Honza Sakař since the beginning of the year. We approached him because we like the historical technique that he’s using taking pictures on a metal sheet thanks to collodion, which is kind of like a chemistry lab for him. We wanted him to come to Moravia and take pictures with this technique not only of the landscape but also of people who live here and care for the region, have accomplished something important.
“So, for example, we photographed the Lednice Castle manager, Ivana Holásková, who has worked there for decades. Through hard work, she made Lednice Castle what it is today. So, that’s what it’s about. He finished at the end of July, and we will present the exhibition in Břeclav in October. We hope to also bring it to the United States and show it to Czech-Americans, starting with Cedar Rapids again.”
So, in these photos, using this very old camera technique (collodion), do you also recreate historical scenes, have people in period dress or anything like that?
“Not really. We really want to capture the current look of South Moravia. We try to capture personalities in the environment that they helped create. Ms Holásková’s portrait for example is taken together with the castle. So, we try to capture them showing the trade they are good at – for example, a lady who paint folklore ornaments.”
One of the other big projects you have going now is the Grandma Remembers (Babinko vzpomínaj). This focuses on you own grandmother?
“It’s actually my great-grandmother, Maryška or Marie. The story behind it is that she was very special in that she lived 90 years in the same house [in Charvátská Nová Ves], so pretty much the whole 20th century. We wanted to capture that – what life looked like during these decades. We present her growing up – her childhood, youth, and of course old age.
“We also show the different customs and traditions during different seasons, so spring, summer, fall and winter. So, going through the exhibition, you get to know what life was like in a Czech or Moravian village in the 20th century. Why my great-grandmother – because the fact she always lived in the same place kind of made the story.”
Was this a house that you spent time in yourself as a child?
“My grandmother was born there, and I spent some time there as a girl visiting my great-grandmother. The house is still standing but not in very good shape. Nobody lived there for the past decade, but we were fortunate to be able to buy the house from other family members, and now the [Moravian Glory] foundation wants to reconstruct and preserve it, and have a goal to make a museum there.”
And I read on your website that you are also looking to buy, borrow or be gifted all kind of period objects – furniture, photographs…
“Exactly. We want to make the museum very authentic and show the visitors what life looked like on a village farm – and the life of a farmer was very hard, obviously. We want to show it to our children who live today a fairly easy life.
“It should be very educational, and will try to make it interactive – which we already tried with the travelling exhibition that we sent to Cedar Rapids. We made QR codes with rhymes for people who would like to hear old Czech. You know, it’s our way to promote Moravia.”
Another project is the modrotisk or blueprint technique [a UNESCO-listed tradition]. Is that something you’re into – tradition block printing?
“It’s more a tradition or project of one of my friends, Dáša Benešová, who studied has studied blueprint for the past 10 or so years. This was the sixth year she’s organised a workshop, which in the past would have been more for a group of friends who were interested to learn the technique and maybe print their own dresses.
“This was the first year we did it in cooperation with the foundation also for the public. It’s a very old technique and something we want to promote and make available to more people.”
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about related to Moravian Glory or specific projects that you’d like to highlight?
“I’d like to highlight that we try to make our projects available to Czech-Americans and we want to find more groups and organisations in the U.S. who would like to work with us in promoting the projects.
“So, like the travelling exhibition at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids will be displayed there until September 6, and we’d like to send it to other locations so that people can see the stories and support Czech folklore, Moravian culture ornament painting and all that we try to support.”