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- Author Jan Oprocha (father)
- Date of production 1920s
- Place of creation Kraków, purchased at Emaus fair
- Dimensions height: base: 66 x 32 cm, total height: 35 cm, length: base: 66 cm, width: base: 32 cm
- ID no. 35057/mek
- Acquired date purchased from Krystyna Pol from Kraków on 25 June,1969
- Object copyright The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków
- Digital images copyright © all rights reserved, EMK
- Digitalisation RDW MIC, Małopolska’s Virtual Museums project
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.more
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.
Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved