This joining of artistic visions, practical skills and bold imagination fed by local culture made the Workshops a pioneering concept. The very nod towards the rustic was inspired by the Workshops’ respect for independent authors, in particular those from rural areas – for their instinctive sense of the material intertwined with genuine inventiveness. It is no wonder, then, that the Workshops dared follow the path set down by Antoni Buszek, author of an inspired method of teaching art. Following his fascinating experiences in Paris, he arrived in Kraków just at the time when the Workshops were being formed. His proposed methods were later awarded the Grand Prix at the World Expo in Paris in 1925.
Buszek had a knack for inspiring children and teenagers’ creativity. He started by approaching peasant women working at the cigarette factory at Dolnych Młynów Street. He convinced them that they’d make better money doing a more interesting job at the Kraków Workshops at Smoleńsk Street. After a few trials, he asked them to draw and paint the way they did when they were children. They were soon creating fabulous patterns for batiks, fabrics and wooden toys, working alongside artists such as Zygmunt Lorec and Zofia Stryjeńska. This process uncovered the flair of Józefa and Zofia Kogut and Felicja Kossowska, all of whom were awarded individual Grand Prix in fabrics at the Paris expo. (There is not enough space here to include the full list of prizes awarded to the Workshops, but it’s worth noting that the Workshops won 20 of the 36 Grand Prix presented to Polish entrants.)
The Kraków Workshops wouldn’t have been possible without support from the Museum of Science and Industry at 9 Smoleńsk Street, which provided technical backing such as a weaving loom, batik and dyeing studios, metalwork workshops, carpentry tools, a bookbinding workshop and a printing press. The collaboration resulted in many fascinating designs, perhaps the finest of which is the stairwell balustrade designed by Józef Czajkowski. Today, the site of the former Museum of Science and Industry is home to the Faculty of Industrial Design of the Academy of Fine Arts. The façade, also designed by Czajkowski, still bears the inscription in a distinctive font: “Municipal Museum of Science and Industry. Institute Supporting Industry and Craft”.
The economic crisis of the 1920s put a stop to the experiment, and the Workshops closed in 1926. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the gesture of the Kraków Workshops remains a visionary one, bringing together circles of heritage, education, design, craft and modernity. What’s more, the invigorating spirit of the Kraków Workshops arose in spite of previous disasters and crises faced by the city. The association also resisted the temptation to simply copy patterns and designs from folk culture. On the contrary, Czajkowski postulated, “Let’s create freely without looking at categories and concepts, instead simply drawing on our greatest pleasures” – and his motto came true.
A century later, the concept of “beautiful and useful things” and “art penetrating everyday life” is making a comeback in Kraków. The Ethnographic Museum is working with designers, craftsmen and local communities to create solutions for public space inspired by the spirit of the location. There is also talk about founding a design museum in Kraków. Another interpretation of the Workshops’ code is proposed by Jerzy Hausner from the Kraków University of Economics, held under the banner Firm-Idea – a concept of enterprise management that answers major problems of today. It is implemented by the Open Eyes Economy Summit.
Will the gesture of the Kraków Workshops return to Kraków?