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Ancient traditions and crafts have been preserved in Latvia and there also enough history enthusiasts whose hobby is experimental archaeology. Visitors to Latvia have the opportunity to try out the old crafts – to forge jewellery and chafe grain on a millstone, to make a wicker chair and bake bread like in by-gone centuries.
Making your own souvenir from Latvia, trying out one of the jobs of the ancient craftsmen is interesting!
An opportunity to learn new crafts
That won’t demand great resources, but will provide an interesting experience and new impressions. Almost all museums invite many craftsmen who know the old crafts, and are willing to share their skills and the ancient crafts with others to participate. For example, in Riga, at the Ethnographic Open-air Museum craftsmen work every day – in the smithy, they build or restore buildings in conformity with the old traditions.
During special theme days, which usually are held on week-ends, the Museum invites craftsmen who work in other places to demonstrate their crafts.
However, the major event with participation of the best Latvian craftsmen is the Fair of Applied Folk Arts, which can be seen at the magnificent festival of crafts which is held on first Saturday and Sunday of June. It is one of the most important, large-scale events in the cultural life of Latvia, every year bringing joy to tens of thousands visitors from all over the world. The craftsmen themselves prepare for this festival for the whole year.
Only the best Latvian craftsmen participate in the Fair at the Open-air Museum and the Fair can be seen as an exhibition of folk crafts. The Day of Ancient Crafts was held on September 12th 2010 at the Open-air Museum. This was the day when it was possible to try the ancient crafts of weavers, spinners, make objects from birch-bark, cast pewter, make barrel hoops, process leather, forge jewellery, learn about herbs and amber processing. July 4th was the potters’ day, August 8th – handicraft day, August 15th – the day of wicker and wood craftsmen, August 22nd – the day of smiths, and on September 19th the Museum will celebrate the solstice, on October 10th – the potato festival, and November 7th will be the celebration of St. Mārtiņš’ Day.
To the workshops!
The festivals of various cities and towns, as well as folklore events also bring interesting impressions. But in order to try out and learn the ancient crafts on a more serious level, it is better to visit masters in their work-shops. Since 2009 the School of Traditional Skills is active in Latvia, through it the State Agency of Intangible Culture Heritage organises the study of crafts. It is possible to carve spoons, make wax candles, make clay pots and forge a brooch under the guidance of skilled masters at the weekends. These events have been attended by locals, state officials and tourists. Information on when and where the next class of the crafts school will take place can be found at the home page of the agency.
It is also possible to make clay pots, learn the trade of the smith or to make musical instruments while travelling in Latgale. More information in Latvian, Russian and German about the craftsmen who teach the crafts can be found here.
Grain chafing and bread baking
It is possible to try out the ancient crafts of the 9th and the 10th century, if “The Workshop of the Ancient Environment” is running in a town, folklore or medieval festival. This group consists of enthusiasts whose hobby is experimental archaeology. They let others try out some of the ancient crafts – chafing grain on a millstone, baking bread, weaving on a vertical loom or making pottery without a wheel, making ancient costumes and jewellery. One can try one’s hand at making ancient jewellery and minting Livonian coins by visiting the jeweller Daumants Kalniņš at the laboratory of experimental archaeology at Cēsis Museum. Some masters of the ancient crafts can be contacted through the gallery “Etnostils”.
Bees and the bath-house
At Laumu Nature Park in Talsi region the only Path of the Bees in the Baltic States has been set up where visitors can imagine themselves in the “role” of a bee. Inquisitive visitors can put on the clothes of a bee-keeper and observe the life of bees in the beehive or try out the ancient customs of beekeepers and try to climb a tree using the old beekeeper’s equipment - dzeinis. In Līgatne, at Vienkoču Park it is possible not only to enjoy the quiet of nature, to bathe in the old bath-house, but also try one’s hand at carving a log-boat or a wooden sculpture, or to make a miniature log-boat to take home. And in Vaidava, near Valmiera, at Lejasbrežģi Museum of Chairs one can learn the traditional skill of making wicker chairs.
The Museum of Bread in Aglona offers a display of ancient household objects, an opportunity to use the hand-mill, sowing-baskets, and mortars. Additionally, the traditional and ancient food of North Kurzeme, sklandurauši, can be baked at the biological farm Ūši (Kolka Cape). At the bakery of "Lāču maize" in Babīte, close to Riga one can find out the secrets of making real rye bread and bake one’s own small loaf of bread. Here the old traditions of bread baking are observed, the bread is leavened in wooden troughs, put into a bread oven fuelled by firewood on a wooden bread-shovel, and the secrets of bread-making are openly shared. The secrets of bread-making can be learnt also at Aknīste Sēļu house, where batter is made with water from a sacred spring.
Pottery and wickerwork
The potter’s craft can be tried out in many potter’s workshops - kilns. One of these belongs to Olga and Voldemārs Voguļi. They allow the visitors to make their own mug on the potter’s wheel, to carve their name and come back to fetch the work after it has been glazed in the kiln. The potters tell about the history of pottery and serve delicious herbal teas. Also, in the famous Upšeļi potters’ work-shop in Rēzekne district everybody can make his or her own whistle, svilpavnieks. Nearby, in the farmhouse “Mežmalas”, one can also learn to make splinter baskets.
Wickerwork is taught by Guntars Āboliņš - (Kr. Voldemāra iela 8-24, Rēzekne, phone: 46 37202, 6454969). Smith Jānis Lupka at the farm “Pauguri”, Nautrēnu parish, Rēzeknes district, phone 9111736, teaches the skills of metal forging.
If you happen to be in Latgale you can learn weaving skills from the weavers of Izvalta, and in the vicinity of Liepāja it is possible to try out weaving on the loom from Regīna Kalniņa and examine the splendid folk costume of Nīca district.