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Home / Treasures of Slovakia on exclusive display at Cedar Rapids’ National Czech & Slovak Museum
CEDAR RAPIDS — A new exhibit on display at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library may be as close as one gets to freezing time, with artifacts on display dating back to the 16th century.
The new exhibits in Treasures of Slovakia, put together by museum curators from Bratislava, Slovakia, span four centuries. Organized by exhibit types — from leather and woodwork to industrial fruits and personal items from historical figures — the wide variety of items will fascinate your attention on different parts of Slovakian culture, folklore and historical significance over the country’s tumultuous history before and after it was part of Czechoslovakia.
The artifacts are the first ones the museum has gotten from the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava. Their debut in Cedar Rapids is the first and perhaps only appearance many of the artifacts will make in the United States; many have never left Slovakia before.
What: Slovakian Treasures exhibit
When: through March 20, 2022
Where: National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Pl. SW, Cedar Rapids
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday
Price: $10 general admission; discounts for seniors, students, children, active duty military members and veterans
“It’s highlighting what (Slovakian curators) think represents Slovak history and culture. A lot of these things have never been in the United States before,” said museum curator Stefanie Kohn. “This is it. This is not traveling around the country.”
Short of traveling to Bratislava yourself, Kohn said the exhibit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the ornate details of Slovakian crafters, laborers and key presidents up-close through more than 120 rare and significant artwork and artifacts.
The exhibition starts in the 16th century — when present-day Slovakia was ruled by the Kingdom of Hungary — with a quirky clock painted to depict the Siege of Szigetvar. The pivotal battle in 1566 was the conflict between the Hungarian Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire.
“There’s a lot of conflict with the Hungarians, and then the Austro-Hungarian empire. So there’s artifacts telling that story of the past conflicts and wars,” Kohn explained.
Life under the Austro-Hungarian Empire is seen through various art, an 1848 flag and carved pipes before viewers are introduced to the 20th century. There, they can see in new light a suitcase from Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia after its formation in 1918, and eyeglasses from Alexander Dubcek, a high-ranking political leader during the rule of communism in the country.
Though Czechoslovakia was a single country for most of the 20th century, it faced constant challenges, including Nazi invasion and the rise of communism.
“During that communist era … parts of Slovakia and East Germany were sort of like the industrial parts of the communist bloc,” Kohn said. “So you have the radio and TV factories in Slovakia turning what used to be a rural, village-type environment into a lot of industry in the 20th century.”
Remnants of that era, including a television and Tesla radio from the 1950s, are on display as a reminder of the lasting effects from the era still at play in the eastern European country.
“They still build cars in Slovakia — it’s one of the major auto builders of the world,” Kohn said. Certain models of Kia, Volkswagen and Land Rovers are built there today.
From the early 20th century, an array of exquisite headpieces, metal works and wood carvings serve as a feast for the eyes with painstaking detail delicately preserved. Metal wire in gold and less extravagant varieties is fashioned into everything from festive head pieces to an unusual mouse trap, sparing no details of craftsmanship even in its most practical forms.
For the price of admission, the exhibit offers interesting stories behind works like a busy-patterned appliqued leather jacket, where intact wool remains on the inside and elaborate symbolic art adorns the outside. With the jacket from the Tatra Mountains displaying the “Tree of Life,” Kohn said old Slovakian folklore instructed mothers to lay their babies directly on the wool if they wanted them to have curly hair.
“In some of the folk dress, you can definitely see a Hungarian influence,” the curator said. “In some of the older forms of folk art, you can even see a Turkish influence from the Ottoman Empire coming in.”
The exhibition is rounded with fine art sampled from well-known Slovakian artists, including Martin Benka, Albin Brunovsky and Ernest Zmetak.
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