We don't now think of the Czech republic and Slovakia as having been part of this empire, but it is important to know that it was in order to understand the influences on its lacemaking. Although Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, (and to some extent Hungary), had all made fashion lace for sale through Vienna, their folk laces were of great personal importance and provided the skills for the development of contemporary lace when the fashion market for traditional lace collapsed. The Art Nouveau movement (and the numerous Arts and Crafts movements around the world)
at the end of the nineteenth Century provided the intellectual climate for this development. The most important of these was the revolt of artists in Vienna and the rest of the A-H Empire against the hideous neo-Baroque excesses of the 19thC, and the subsequent formation of the Vienna design workshops.(Wiener Werkstatte) In their early days it was their express intention to educate the public as to how they might best turn their lives into total works of art ? an intention that was rather unrealistic, given the mediocre quality of life enjoyed by the average person in that region.
The Vienna workshops had a big influence on lacemaking, which continued long after they were disbanded. As late as the 1970s lacemaking was taught in a number of handcraft colleges in Vienna, the aim being to enable students to design and make domestic and fashion laces for sale. However, in common with the rest of the world lacemaking has not been a significant commercial activity in Austria for some decades.
In the region which became Czechoslovakia in 1918 (an amalgamation of the areas of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia) the development of lacemaking was slightly different. Traditional craft skills of all kinds were highly valued and a number of government-sponsored craft cooperatives were formed in an effort to foster a sense of national identity for the new nation state. Makers were provided with professional designs and assistance to market what they produced. Several of cooperatives were still operating for the production of lace and textiles at the end of the 20th century.
Also at this time ? the end of the first World War ? a completely different kind of lace emerged in Czechoslovakia, encouraged by a trio of talented artist-teachers at the College of Fine Arts in Prague. This lace we now think of as 'art lace' to distinguish it from the traditional lace everyone was used to. Stan Skoumal , writing about Czech lace in the 1960s, says that although both use the same skills base,
traditional and art lace art lace are essentially two different objects. While both require an artist to create the design and a craftsman to realise it, there is a difference in the objective of the design which sets them apart. In the case of traditional lace the deigner's aim is to create a decorative object for a well-defined application, while an artist freed from this restriction will design lace with an intellectual purpose which then stands as a creation in its own right. To differentiate between these two forms of lace two new terms came to be used, namely applied lace for the former, and expressive lace for the latter.
The key to the appreciation of contemporary expressive lace is to understand that in this concept lace[making technique] is only the means to an end and not an end in itself as is the case with applied lace. In essence expressive lace is a drawing, but a drawing with threads and knots through which the artist realises an intellectual input instead of using drawing tools or paints. As in the case of a more traditional artist who chooses between pen and pencil,, paper and canvas or palette knife and brush to obtain the desired effect, so must the lace artist choose from many available materials, decide on the stitches and judge the effect of various techniques to ensure that the end product is what she wants.
This then is the background to the lace of Elena Holeczyova who was Slovakian and a graduate of the School of Fine Arts in Prague. She subsequently became the driving force behind the 'art lace' movement in Slovakia.
R Shepherd 17-10-12