Historical photographs from the beginning of the 20th century clearly prove that Piešťany (except for the spa settlement called Teplice) had a strong village character at those times. However, none of the old small clay houses, with three rooms and straw roofs, have remained in this region. At least a replica of such houses made by folk craftsmen who mastered the original building techniques has been preserved in the Balneological Museum. The replica was built on the occasion of the opening of the museum in 1932 - 1933.
Folk culture has had a very important place, both tangible and intangible, in religion. There were the symbols of Christianity in significant places, within the regions, such as crosses or small chapels. Sacred stone statues greeted visitors at the entrance of the villages. The Holy Trinity Column from 1883 has been preserved up to now, near the old road in the direction of the villages at the foot of the Little Carpathians. Other statues were placed in the interior of Piešťany. In the 1950s, in the times of the harshest totalitarianism, these statues were removed from their original place and placed in a small park near the Church of St Stephen the King, where they are still situated.
A small belfry with a crucified Christ on the front (known as a crucifix) in Staničná Street in Piešťany placed at the beginning of the alley of horse chestnut trees is one of many tiny sacred buildings with a distinct folk character.
Let us go back to the works of art made by folk stonemasons, which are mainly seen in cemeteries. Besides common crucifixes they created unusual arched sandstone gravestones for married couples, which are typical for the region of Trnava and Piešťany. Rudolf Bednárik, an ethnographer, locates the origin of these gravestones to nearby Dobrá Voda, where they started to appear from the middle of the 19th century. Local stonemasons made them for a wide area.
There is only a short step from sacred stone statues to wooden ones. However, wood is a much more pliable and widespread material, that is why there was a small statue with a religious motif in almost every house. These statues were supposed to protect the dwelling and its inhabitants from evil such as diseases, poor crops, natural disasters, wars, evil spirits and other dangers. It was possible to buy wooden statues on pilgrimages. Although there were many places of pilgrimage in the surrounding areas of Piešťany (the nearby village of Sokolovce used to be one of them in the past), Šaštín with a sculpture of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows was the most sought after destination for religious people. That is why, besides the crucifix (the symbol of Christianity), pietas from Šaštín were the most widespread folk sculptures in western Slovakia. Although the production of these pietas was of high quality, they were carved in large numbers and various sizes, and thus marked by certain regularity. Individual works from local self - taught folk carvers are more interesting and valuable from today’s point of view. They were also inspired by a religious model but they could also render it in an original and convincing way. Sacred statues were placed in niches of house facades and sometimes also in the icon corner of a room.
A wide range of pottery products from milk jugs and tripods to wedding pots were used in folklore. These pots were large in sizes and volumes of 30-40 litres, which is why their construction was strengthened with small chains which created the only decoration of clay wedding pots as were usually not glazed on the outside. Sometimes the bride’s initials are found on them. Pottery products were solely functional articles and were bought at fayres.
Folk majolica was a more valuable kind of ceramic typical of the holiday celebrations. Its purpose was decorative and representative. It was rarely used as a dish. Plates and bowls were hung on walls in a row and small jugs and stoups (holy water vessels) were used for religious purposes. Majolica products had a tin-lead glaze and grey clay. It was brought by the Habaners - Anabaptists, who settled in the western part of today’s Slovakia in the 16th century. Habaner majolica became popular in the 18th century. The majority of workshops were situated in villages on either side of the Little Carpathians. The most northern one was in the town of Trenčín. There were various workshops in the surrounding areas of Piešťany, where the descendants of Habaners worked. The Odlers’ workshop in Dechtice was the longest to resist, till the First World War, the strong competition of factory products. A manufacturer in Modra has continued in the tradition of Habaner heritage where famous majolica is still being produced.
Embroidery held a very important place in folk culture where it accompanied people from birth till death. A woman with her child in postnatal period was separated from other members of the household and visitors by a corner sheet which was called záponná in the surrounding areas of Piešťany. Usually it was made of two or three sheets of hemp linen with red embroidery (or a woven part) which was supposed to protect the mother and child against ill - wishes. Such superstition was understandable if we take into account that mothers and newborns very often died up to the first half of the 19th century.
The art of embroidery was used in Piešťany’s national folk costume in which the sleeves were the most beautiful. Straight or buttonhole stitches were used. Patterns were sketched by copyists. Yellow (sirková) and orange (žeravá), later red and blue, were dominant colours of Piešťany’s women costumes. Special large holes were filled with "little spiders" called gatre, similar to embroideries from Trnava. At the end of the 19th century ten villages on the right bank of the Váh changed the original and uniform costume of Piešťany, which was worn in the valley of the Váh between Piešťany and Nové Mesto nad Váhom. The exact place of origin of a variation of the Piešťany costume is not known but the adjective "krakovianska" (from the village of Krakovany) indicates a lot. It was characterised by tiny holes and a general diminution of particular motifs. Sleeves, which were narrowed downwards (called "na skos"), were embroidered for common use. During holidays and special occasions women were dressed up in wide sleeves called "taclové". The process of innovation was finalised when Piešťany bobbin lace was inserted in the centre of the embroidery in the "taclové" sleeves. A skirt which consisted of two parts, front and back, was unique. It was folded around the waist and the width in the lower part reached up to eight metres. During the interwar period, when folk culture had been on the decrease for a long time, these very impressive folk clothes became the most famous Slovak costume. The visitors of the Spa were interested in Piešťany costumes and they often used to buy it as a souvenir in shops with folk art.
It should be mentioned that Trnava’s costume has always been worn in some villages which are still a part of the Piešťany District and which lie south-westwards from Piešťany in the direction of the Little Carpathians. These are also among some of the most beautiful folk clothes in Slovakia.
Text: Kornel Duffek
Photos: Eva Drobná, Tomáš Hudcovič, Jozef Radošinský ml.