Bohemia's claim for freedom/Peasant art in Bohemia

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THE Bohemian peasantry, whose chief occupation until the middle of the nineteenth century was agriculture, created for themselves, on the basis of old traditions, an original style of arranging their homes, and their costumes. They had also their own poetry, music and dances, customs and ceremonies, all of which may be considered as the artistic side of Bohemian peasant culture and exhibiting in a striking manner the national characteristics in art and manufactures.

The loss of Bohemia's independence and the determination of the Government to Germanise her people were the causes that alienated the great mass of the population from the cultured class which was educated in the higher German schools. These educated people forgot their nationality and sank their individuality, while the country people, on the other hand, lived their own old national style of life.

But the peasants in Bohemia were even during those times of oppression the owners of the soil they tilled, and they possessed so much innate energy and creative power as to make their surroundings sufficiently artistic to raise themselves above the dreary monotony of daily drudgery and preserve their national character.

The state of civilisation above described now belongs to the past. The upper classes of the nation are once more in sympathy with the people, and powerfully aid in raising the intellectual standard of the country and recruiting from the masses the best artists and men of letters. They now regard the traditional art of the peasants with pride as their own inheritance, seeing in it also the link that binds together the various branches of the great Slavonic race.

From 1880 upwards, memorials and relics of national art have been collected with great care in the Ethnographical and Historical Museums in Prague and in almost all of the larger towns in Bohemia.

Folklore, national art, and culture are made the object of intense study by a considerable number of literary men, who publish journals and beautifully illustrated works dealing specially with these subjects.

The characteristic feature of the various national costumes in Bohemia, more especially in the dress of the olden time, is the evident aim at producing a good effect not by the use of expensive materials, but by the display of rich embroidery. In this respect the dress of the peasant class in Bohemia is akin to that of Moravia and other Slavonic countries.

In the different districts these ornamental trimmings vary as to the patterns and combination of colours, and often as to the manner of execution; but all agree in the common source of inspiration—Nature. The flowers and graceful foliage of the native soil, the opening buds and lovely blooms are full of suggestion to the embroiderer who requires no printed patterns; and while the marks of inherited tradition are always conspicuous, the designs, as before remarked, are as a rule the outcome of the technique employed.

More characteristic and varied, and even more interesting, are the embroideries from Moravia and the north-eastern part of Hungary. The Bohemians and Slovaks of Hungary are ethnographically one nation.

In the south of Moravia everything is decorated with work of floral designs, not only the dresses, but the walls of the dwellings, the furniture, mugs, dishes and plates, and of course the Easter eggs!

The people's art has developed now into an important home-industry.