New exhibit celebrates Czech life

Czech Museum's new exhibit comes all the way from Prague

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A figure all in white, with a huge cone for a face, represents St. Lucy, the patron of light. A carnival hat festooned with paper flowers and pictures of scantily clad women represents the fertility of nature and preparation for spring. A bride’s hat, covered with ribbons and mirrors and jewels, still is worn by some women in the Czech Republic.

These are a few of the figures and artifacts found in an exhibit opening Thursday at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids. The “Celebration! Rituals and Revelry of Life” exhibition traveled to Iowa all the way from Prague, from the National Museum of the Czech Republic. The exhibit will remain in Cedar Rapids until January.

More than 200 items represent holidays and celebrations from Czech and Slovak culture, including clothing, statues, masks and pottery, along with other artifacts.

“Some things people will recognize, but some things will be new to them. All of these traditions didn’t travel to the United States, or they have died out,” said Cedar Rapids Czech Museum curator Stefanie Kohn. “I think there will be things Czech-Americans haven’t seen

before or don’t know.”

Some traditions can be traced to pre-Christian times but were updated to reflect Christianity. There also are holidays Americans may not be familiar with, such as Parish Fair, a summer holiday, and the Ride of the Kings. According to legend, the Ride of the Kings marks the Hungarian King Matthias fleeing, disguised as a woman, from the Czech king.

Outfits and objects associated with Easter, All Soul’s Day, Advent, St. Nicholas Day and Christmas also are represented. Other objects in the display reflect important life celebrations such as marriage and baptism.

Czech Republic curator Petra Cervinkova came to help install the display. She said she’s happy to see Czech culture hasn’t been forgotten by descendants of immigrants in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s nice to see that people here try to keep the tradition,” she said.

This is not the first time the Cedar Rapids museum has partnered with the National Museum of the Czech Republic. They also have collaborated on a Bohemian garment and a Czech book exhibit.

Cervinkova said the Czech Republic museum is happy to help keep Czech culture and history alive in Iowa.

“It’s nice to see it and hear it, to see how the tradition is connected to things today,” she said. “Children have to understand their traditions; they have to know their history.”

She said it’s also important to expose Czech traditions to other cultural groups.

“It’s nice to see the habits of the culture and the traditions of other nations,” she said. “Maybe they will find something similar to their own culture.”

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