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A toy cart, or actually a platform on wheels with holes to thread a pulling cord through and 31 figurines arranged on it, rocking while the toy is pulled. The whole toy, including the platform and the figurines, is made of polychrome wood. The rectangular platform with its bevelled corners and wheels are painted green. The edges are coated with white, yellow and pink paint, and the spokes are marked with yellow, blue and red.

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A toy cart, or actually a platform on wheels with holes to thread a pulling cord through and 31 figurines arranged on it, rocking while the toy is pulled. The whole toy, including the platform and the figurines, is made of polychrome wood. The rectangular platform with its bevelled corners and wheels are painted green. The edges are coated with white, yellow and pink paint, and the spokes are marked with yellow, blue and red. Besides the Lajkonik, whose clothes are made of fabric, the figurines are dressed similarly and denoted by their means of sculptural techniques and paint. Details such as eyebrows, eyes, moustaches and beards are defined with black paint, the lips being painted red.
All the figurines, or actually the whole crowd of hilarious characters, are facing the same direction and are mounted on springs. As a result, when the toy cart moves, the figurines move as if marching or even running in procession.
In the very centre, you can see the most important and the biggest character — Lajkonik. His face has an exaggeratedly big and pointy nose, a moustache and beard made of hair. He is wearing a wooden pointy hat and is clad in a loose orange long-sleeved tunic with blue sleeves made of various fabrics. On the front he is adorned with a golden openwork tape that crosses on his chest, a pistol and an aluminium sabre by his side. Raised in the air, the right hand is holding a red mace; with his left hand, Lajkonik is holding the reins of a horse with a tiny white head, decorated with painted black-green-pink strips, as in the Kraków’s children toy. The horse has a mane of white fur, a plume of feathers, a harness with three bells on his neck, is covered with a blanket made of cardboard covered with a fabric with floral ornamentation and a shorter blanket of the colour of Lajkonik’s tunic, and edged all over with a golden tape.
Accompanied by a whole retinue and the Mlaskoty band (named after the squeaky sounds of their music), Lajkonik, once known as Konik Zwierzyniecki [Zwierzyniec Horse] shows up on Kraków’s streets only one day a year: on the octave of Corpus Christi. At noon, he sets out from the Norbertine Convent and while acting up among passers-by, he deals blows, supposed to provide the beaten with good health and success. In the evening, he arrives at the Main Market Square and here, under the Town Hall tower, after dancing a dance during which a standard-bearer waves a huge red flag with a white eagle and Kraków’s coat of arms on it, proceeds to collect a symbolic tribute. He also drinks a glass of wine to the success of the city and its inhabitants.
This custom is also connected with the participation of the congregation of rafters, committed to floating wood down the Vistula River and whose headquarters was in Zwierzyniec, in Corpus Christi processions. It has been also coupled with the legend of Tatars’ assault having been repelled in Kraków by rafters, the bravest of whom entered the city on a horse wearing the trophy Tatar costume.
This custom is cultivated to this day, although rafters were once replaced by workers of the Municipal Waterworks. Designed by designers and artists, costumes of the retinue and the band changed over the years, too. However, the costume of Lajkonik itself has remained unchanged since 1904, when it was designed by Stanisław Wyspiański.
In the toy, the procession is headed by the standard-bearer: a person in a blue tunic with a yellow braid in the front and trousers inserted into the red boots, and a red Kraków four-cornered hat on his head. He is holding a flagpole with the symbol of a star (golden and embossed, like the one for Christmas tree decorations) and a crescent (a silver half-moon cut-out of staniol), symbols just like in the pennants of the Polish Tatar Cavalry Regiment during the Polish-Russian War, which is connected with the Legend about Tatars. Lajkonik’s retinue includes four rafters holding white and red, red and blue, and white and blue pennants mounted on long flagpoles. They are wearing various costumes and four-cornered hats and pointy hats.
The Mlaskoty band is made up of a harmony player wearing a light-brown waistcoat, a white shirt, and a flat-crowned hat with a white feather; a bass player in a white sukmana coat and a red four-cornered hat; two violinists, one in a jacket and a bowler hat, the other in a white short sukmana coat and a celender; a trumpet player wearing a suit and a hat and two people with a drum, one in a jacket, the other in a sukmana coat, both wearing four-cornered hats.
The procession consists of a crowd of various characters, inhabitants of Kraków, mainly Zwierzyniec, a suburban district of Kraków, hence some of them are serious townsmen wearing suits, hats, having moustaches and beards, looking as if they were holding document cases, books or piles of papers, though some are clad in a Kraków peasant style, in a white sukmana coat wearing celenders and holding axes, or in a highlander style: in sheepskin vests, hats with strings of shells on them and mushrooms for sale. Obviously, there are also married women and young girls, wearing colourful dresses and hats, and holding umbrellas and bags.
All of those figurines show a consistent style, yet differ in height. It is not clear whether the artist wanted to represent children in this way, young newsboys, Zwierzyniec rogues running after the procession or he composed the whole with previously prepared figurines that did not always fit together. What stands out in this crowd is the policeman, or actually a gendarme with a walrus moustache, wearing a black uniform and an Austrian hat no. 4931. On the other side, the procession is followed by a small dog with a turned-up tail, white fur with large black spots and a green collar. What is puzzling is the bearded person with sidelocks in the very front, in the centre. The man is wearing a black gabardine, a flat brown fur-trimmed hat. He is leaning under the weight of the sack on his back and holding a stick in his left hand. What makes him different compared to other figurines are the yellow shoes with black pointy toes nailed to the platform, the springs being fixed to the neck rather than the shoe soles, as opposed to other figurines. It is easy to see that this figurine represents a Jew.
Between the late 19th century and 1939, wooden figurines swaying on springs representing bearded orthodox Jews clad in traditional costumes: black gabardines, yarmulkes and fur-trimmed hats, were a kind of speciality of spring Kraków fairs, remembered and sought-after in markets to this day. In folk tradition the figure of a Jew has belonged to the category of the Others – those standing on the border between our world and the external one. The figure of a Jew was thus considered a mediator, whose presence, as was believed, was supposed to make wishes come true. Besides their ritual role of ”bringing luck”, all of those figurines of Jews did entertain, amuse and, today, touch us when we recall the once inhabitants of the Kraków district of Kazimierz. Among other toys, sometimes brought from afar, they were sold at church fairs: at the Emaus market held each Easter Monday at the foot of the Norbertine Convent in Zwierzyniec, the following day at Rękawka, by the St. Benedict Church in Podgórze, and on the occasion of St. Stanislaus Day (8 May) by the Pauline Fathers Monastery at Skałka. The tradition of spring church fairs survived and they are still visited by huge crowds. Nowadays, however, it is hard to come by toys that had been sold in the 1st half of the 20th century as church fair souvenirs. The more and more popular cheap plastic toys from factories have supplanted wooden and clay toys. Fortunately, these have been preserved in the collection at the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków.

Read more on Jan Oproch’s toys and Krakow traditions of folk toy production.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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The Lajkonik Parade

The Lajkonik (a person dressed as a Tatar riding a hobbyhorse), formerly known as the Zwierzyniec Horse, appears on one day of the year on the streets of Kraków together with its whole entourage and the Mlaskot band (which owes its name to the shrill sound of the music it plays), on the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi.

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The Lajkonik (a person dressed as a Tatar riding a hobbyhorse), formerly known as the Zwierzyniec Horse, appears on one day of the year on the streets of Kraków together with its whole entourage and the Mlaskot band (which owes its name to the shrill sound of the music it plays), on the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi. At noon he sets off from the Norbertine convent, and then interacts with passers-by and touches spectators with his mace. This is supposed to bring health and prosperity to those who have been touched.
In the afternoon, he arrives at the Main Market Square and, after having danced near the Town Hall Tower with a standard-bearer (who waves around a large red standard with a white eagle and the coat of arms of Kraków), the Lajkonik collects a symbolic tribute from the municipal authorities and drinks a cup of wine for the welfare of the city and its inhabitants (see The Lajkonik is offered a treat in front of the Town Hall).
This custom is connected with the participation in processions of the Feast of Corpus Christi of the Zwierzyniec congregation of rafters who float timber along the Vistula River. It has been associated with the legend, which tells how the rafters repelled an attack of Tatars near Kraków, and how the bravest of them entered the city ceremonially on horseback, dressed in a trophy Tatar costume.
This tradition is maintained to this day, though the former rafters have been replaced by the workers of the Municipal Water Supply Company, and the costumes of the attendants of the procession and the band have changed over the years, designed by artists. For example, since the 1950s, both the rafters and the Mlaskot band have used costumes designed by Witold Chomicz (a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, and a lover of folklore and the traditions of the Zwierzyniec borough of Kraków). The costumes have been refreshed by Krystyna Zachwatowicz since 1997.
However, the costume of the Lajkonik has remained unchanged since 1904, when it was designed by Stanisław Wyspiański.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

See also:
Toy “Lajkonik's march” by Jan Oprocha (father)

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Jan Oprocha's World of Toys

In the 19th century and up to the mid-20th century, Kraków was a major centre of the folk toy industry. This was because during winter (when bricklaying ceased), the masons of the suburbs of Kraków: Zwierzyniec, Krowodrza, Czarna Wieś, Ludwinów and Podgórze (which was a separate town until 1915) could earn extra money by building and selling cribs, as well as going carolling with puppet nativity scenes. They were also engaged in the production of popular toys to be later sold during annual spring fairs.

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In the 19th century and up to the mid-20th century, Kraków was a major centre of the folk toy industry. This was because during winter (when bricklaying ceased), the masons of the suburbs of Kraków: Zwierzyniec, Krowodrza, Czarna Wieś, Ludwinów and Podgórze (which was a separate town until 1915) could earn extra money by building and selling cribs, as well as going carolling with puppet nativity scenes. They were also engaged in the production of popular toys to be later sold during annual spring fairs.
One of the few artists creating wooden toys in Kraków known by name is the creator of The Lajkonik Parade, Jan Oprocha, born in 1858. He created his works up to the start of World War II. He made not only figures of Jews, but also other figures typical of Kraków and its suburbs, seen in various situations. His toys, which have been preserved in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, are easily recognisable because of his distinctive and unique style. All of them are slightly grotesque, with rounded shapes and chubby faces, which may not always make one laugh, but at least it brings a smile to the faces of people seeing them. Oprocha was the author of many figures representing professions and activities today long forgotten, for example a wandering herb trader, a wandering shoe trader, a dog catcher on a wagon pulled by horses. In his toys, he also presented funny situations such as: A carrier with a lady in the boat or A drunkard with a bottle on a swing. The artist also depicted one of the games popular in Rękawka up to the 1950s. With the pulling of a string, a wooden figure of a boy climbs up a rod imitating a pole in order to win the longed-for prize, as on the top of the rod there are shoes, sausages and a bottle. It must be remembered that these were mass-produced toys intended for sale. Figurines, often repeatable, composed in different groups or independent, were placed on stands. Under their shoes or feet they had springs, so they  could move, sway or bounce. This usage of springs in the construction of wooden figurines, depicting not only Jews, is a characteristic feature of the toys made in Kraków by masons. The same can be said about the stands on which the figurines were set, which were painted green, and sometimes decorated with white, yellow or pink borders.
Jan Oprocha’s name and work were carried on by his son until the late 1970s. His figures were similar in style, but they didn’t have the same grace as those made by his father. In the collection of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, the Lajkonik procession made by Jan Oprocha Jr. can be found, in the form of an arrangement placed on a stand without wheels, with figures fastened on springs, as well as the numerous figures of Jews, scythe bearers, a pair of Kraków citizens and a policeman with a dog.

More information on the toys of Kraków can be found in: Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz, Grażyna Pyla, Czar zabawek krakowskich [The charm of the toys of Kraków], Muzeum Etnograficzne im. Seweryna Udzieli w Krakowie (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), Kraków 2007.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków),© all rights reserved

See also:
Wooden toy — a cart pulled by horses

Toy Wooden locomotive

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Wooden folk toys

In the past wood was the basic material used to manufacture toys, just like plastic is nowadays. Children were able to acquire toys in one of three ways: they could make them by themselves (among the exhibits from Małopolska’s Virtual Museums there is a bicycle made by a 12-year-old...

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In the past wood was the basic material used to manufacture toys, just like plastic is nowadays. Children were able to acquire toys in one of three ways: they could make them by themselves (among the exhibits from Małopolska’s Virtual Museums there is a bicycle made by a 12-year-old boy); they could be carved by adults or older siblings, a member of the family or a craftsman; or they could be bought on market days during local church fairs and from middlemen.
Among the most popular toys were wheeled horses and tiny tools, carts or wheelbarrows, horses pulling carts (see the cart from the collection in Małopolska’s Virtual Museums), hens pecking grain, carousels, cradles and various types of pinwheels and birds.
The imagination of children was activated by toys made of several linked wooden slats that could be assembled and disassembled. They often had some carved figures of soldiers and dolls mounted on them (see the march of Lajkonik from the collection in Małopolska’s Virtual Museums). Such sophisticated constructions with driving mechanisms and the beautifully carved and painted figures were often made by folk sculptors and handymen.
Kraków was one of the toy manufacturing centres — toys were sold here during traditional church fairs of Emaus and Rękawka that took place on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter.

 

Elaborated by the editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

 

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Toy “Lajkonik’s march” by Jan Oprocha (father)

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