The Objects (Customs) Collection
There was once a village universe which lived according rather to the beliefs and superstitions inherited from ancestors than to the rules of the Church. Although it tried hard to root out the “pagan” practices, the Church ended up by tacitly accepting them. Thus, there was not a single day without interdictions or without a custom to be kept which, if not observed, could bring upon the community illnesses, drought, poverty in one’s home or scarcity of crops.
Nowadays, almost all of these are lost in time out of memory, but they are “told” by the objects brought together, in time, by the experts of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant and gathered in a “bunch” called The Objects (Customs) Collection.
We can admire here around 8,000 pieces from „times of peace and times of war”, like painted eggs, folk masks (costume masks and head masks), objects from ceremonial props (Christmas carols stars, clubs and bulls, and also mărțișor – trinkets tied with a red and white string and offered on the 1st of March – and textiles used at weddings and burials), musical instruments, hardware and decorative objects.
When Tancred Bănățeanu, the second director of the museum, grouped in collections the patrimony that had already been acquired, the inventory register of The Customs Collection was opened with objects like painted eggs, and folk masks manufactured by skillful craftsmen, to be used for the winter holidays. Made of wood, fur, feathers or weave, they have different meanings and they cover the wearer’s head or body, shielding him from the sight of others. Taking on new features – of goats, bears, little horses, ugly creatures, doctors, tagsters, codgers, grooms, brides, etc. – the masked men and youngsters dare to play out freely, with no social constraints: they adopt a trivial tongue, mock the peasants’ behaviour, make fun of their fellow villagers, but nobody gets upset and all take part in the show.
In the `90s, the cardiologist Maria Zahacinschi and her husband, the pharmacist Nicolae Zahacinschi – a lady from Oltenia (Caracal) and a man from Botoșani county (Mihăileni) – donated to the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant an impressive collection of around 3,000 painted eggs, added to those which already existed since the `50s or `60s. Thus, almost all centres of egg-painting in the country are represented: Argeș with Lerești, Corbi and Albeștii de Muscel; Olt with the well-known Oboga; Dâmbovița with Vișina; Botoșani with Mihăileni; Brașov with Bran and Poiana Mărului; Dolj with Drănic and Valea Stanciului; Vrancea with Nereju; Suceava with Ulma, Breaza, Vatra Moldoviței, Moldova-Sulița, Izvoarele Sucevei, Vatra Dornei.
The painted eggs are surrounded by many legends, beliefs, techniques and painting motifs. For example, in Lerești women used to paint the eggs on Holy Thursday, fearing „Joimărița” – a kind of beldam that punished the housewives who did not finish spinning the hemp or coating the eggs. They also used to keep a painted egg from Easter, which they put in the bed with silkworms during summer to prevent the silkworms or their cocoons from getting hexed.
In Bucovina, where there are eggs decorated with colourful drawings or floral motifs – ouă închistrite and muncite (worked out), the latter reminding us of Christ’s Passions -, the painting technique is quite niggling. First of all, the eggs are washed, ungreased and put near the hearth, to stay warm. For those which are închistrite (with the contours made with wax), the lady who makes them imprints the warm wax on the clean surface, using chișiță (a paint brush made of hair) for the contour of the drawing which must remain white, and feleșteu (a stick with a small rag at the end) for the dots. Thus coated with wax, the eggs are dipped in the chosen colour (red, yellow, green, blue, etc.) and boiled. The hot water melts the wax and the result is red, yellow or green eggs, painted with white figures. The ones that are muncite are washed, ungreased, emptied, waxed on the white background (the wax is imprinted on the white surface) and dipped in yellow tinct. After getting yellow, they are waxed on a yellow background and dipped in red tinct, to get red. The procedure is repeated on the red background and it turns green and so on, until the last colour wanted. When they are taken out of the last tinct, they are still warm and can be wiped up with a clean cloth, unveiling the various colours used for închistrire. The colour of the background is the last one used. The eggs are coated with grease to shine.
Regarding the decor on the surface of the eggs, we can admire simple motifs, such as lines, rhombs, flowers, and more complex ones, known under different names: “the fangs of the pig”, “the mill”, “the lost way”, “the shepherd’s staff”, “the horns of the ram” etc.
After the field research which took place in 1991-1992 in Brănești, near Bucharest, the patrimony of the collection was enriched with masks and costumes from “Alaiul Cucilor” (The Cuckoo Suite), a spring custom practiced in the Bulgarian communities in our country. According to this tradition, in the first day after Shrove Tuesday, the unmarried young men, disguised in “Cuckoos” or taking part in their suite, participated in a series of actions (sometimes quite agressive), meant to purify the space and ensure the villagers’ health. They dressed in traditional costumes to which they added masks – spectacular “faces”, made of cardboard and ornamented with beads, mirrors, paper or rabbit fur.
The value of the collection is enhanced by the almost 500 objects which entered the Museum’s patrimony from the very first years of its existence. Let us mention here the wedding wimples displayed at the Jubilee Exhibition in 1906, the oprege (embroidered rectangular and narrow pieces of weave put over the skirt) from Banat, worn and donated by Crown Princess Maria herself in 1907, embroideries donated by Mrs. Maria Fălcoianu, president of “Munca” (Work) Society in 1907, Ioan Kalinderu’s collection of ceramics from Cocioc, donated by him in 1911.