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Seasonal high-mountain herding was a traditional form of breeding in Podhale. For several months in a year people used pastures for sheep, and also for cows, oxen, goats and horses in the past. In pastures situated in the Tatra Mountains they had shelters where sheep milk was processed to make cheese. The dishes that were present in every shepherd’s shelter included, for example, scoops (cerpoki), wooden cups with a decorated handle that were used by shepherds to drink żentyca — sheep milk whey.

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Seasonal high-mountain herding was a traditional form of breeding in Podhale. For several months in a year people used pastures for sheep, and also for cows, oxen, goats and horses in the past. In pastures situated in the Tatra Mountains they had shelters where sheep milk was processed to make cheese. The dishes that were present in every shepherd’s shelter included, for example, scoops (cerpoki), wooden cups with a decorated handle that were used by shepherds to drink żentyca — sheep milk whey. The scoops were also used as a cheese measurement device while making oscypek (smoked cheese).
The displayed scoop comes from Stefan Szymański’s collection created in Zakopane in the years 1905–1939. This is the last compact collection to reach the collections of the Tatra Museum and it has an enormous ethnographic value. It features highland furniture, spoon racks, paintings on glass, tools, lamps and torches, musical instruments, pipes, pins, ceramics and a few shepherd equipment items, and dishes, including several scoops. The ornaments of one of them include the edelweiss motif drawn from the Alpine souvenirs and popularised in Podhale by the School of Wooden Industry in Zakopane founded in 1876. It educated highland youth in carpentry and wood carving, and initially introduced foreign patterns to the ornaments of traditional wooden objects made by the students. This is the case with the scoop on display.
In the Polish Tatra Mountains and the Tatra region one could find scoops with a capacity of 0.5 — 1 litre, with an attached vertical handle with two or three finger holes for a better grip on the dish filled with żentyca.
The Podhale scoops were generally shaped as an upturned, bevelled cone, and were made of sycamore maple wood by hollowing or turning. Sycamore maple wood was valued for its beautiful colour, and the highlanders believed that it did not change the taste of sheep milk products. When filled with hot żentyca, it became dark yellow with a colour coming close to amber. The scoop bottoms were frequently cut of a separate piece of wood and fitted in the groove made in the bottom part of the walls. The handles were also made of a separate piece of wood and attached to the scoop core in the following manner: their edge was placed in the vertical groove cut in the outside wall of the scoop and the top fastener was placed on its edge, while the lower narrow part of the handle was connected at the bottom edge of the scoop with a groove and fixed with two wooden pegs. This part was additionally enclosed with a wooden or iron ring around the scoop bottom.
The scoop handles sticking out over the edge were engraved with geometrical and zoomorphic motifs, but rarely plant motifs. They could be finished in a couple of different ways: with a shrine, a cock head with a comb, a dog or bear figure, a horse head profile, or a reptile figure like a snake with a crown on its head, bulging eyes and open jaws that appeared in highlander legends. The most common scoops had their handles finished with a spiral similar to a ram’s horn. Sometimes the scoop handles also featured an unexpected cross performing the function of both an ornament and a symbolical sign that was to protect the persons and their property – in this case milk and cheese – against evil forces.
The scoops were kept in the shepherd’s shelters together with other wooden dishes and barrels of żentyca in a chamber. They were placed on a high and narrow shelf, known as a podysor, which was also used for storing cheese. In shelters without a chamber, the scoops were hung with ladles (large wooden spoons to scoop żentyca) and ferulas (flat wooden mixers with an elongated hole in the middle used to beat the congealed sheep milk) on pegs or nails on the wall opposite the fire. Scoops and ladles in the shelter belonged to the baca highlander. The simpler items were made by bacas themselves, while those richly decorated came from specialist craftsmen. One of them was Franek Więcorzów of Dzianisz who made beautifully carved scoops, ladles and ferulas ordered by bacas in return for cheese, even after World War II. In the past it was customary to send the first żentyca from the pasture to the priest in a splendid scoop made by a specialist. Scoops with handles of ornate shapes and engraved decorations were the most representative objects in the shelter and were the source of pride for their owner. There were always a couple of them in the shelter. The wooden scoops were used to drink milk and sheep milk whey in the shelters by the tourists visiting the Tatra Mountains and the patients coming to Zakopane to treat lung diseases with żentyca.
The scoops were also used as measuring devices to measure the quantity of cheese used to make one oscypek. After beating the congealed sheep milk into lumps with ferula, baca collected and knead the cheese into one solid, and then the cheese mass was beat and placed in scoops which was then treated with hot water. Then the beaten cheese mass for oscypek was taken out of the scoop and knead further by hand, squeezing as much whey as possible to finally form the spindle-shaped cheese known as oscypek.
The collection at the Tatra Museum features 522 objects related to high-mountain herding, including 77 scoops and 8 scoop handles.
The one on display has a vertical handle bent to the outside at the top and finished on both sides with spirals that resemble ram horns, which were typical of Podhale scoops. Its side walls were made wholly from a single piece of sycamore maple wood, expanded in funnel-like manner towards the top. The round bottom cut out of spruce wood is joined with the dish walls with a groove cut around them horizontally. The handle of a single piece of sycamore maple wood is attached similarly to the bottom of the dish. Its edge is inserted in the groove cut along the external wall of the scoop, and the latch at the top is placed in the cut edge of the dish. At the bottom the scoop is fixed with a metal ring. The handle has two round finger holes, and its lateral surfaces are decorated with engraved geometrical and plant ornaments: zigzags, triangular indents, lines, pits emphasised with double arches and styled edelweiss with a leaf stem. The last motif is generally considered typical for Podhale, even despite its foreign origin. Let us observe the fact that each side of the handle has a slightly different decoration, and its ridge is profiled with two deep furrows. While decorating this scoop, the unknown maker used wood carving techniques of a simple engraving and chip carving technique (regular, diagonal cut, wedge) and open work.
As mentioned earlier, the scoop comes from Stefan Szymański’s collection, which included objects collected in Zakopane and the neighbouring villages.
Stefan Szymański (1884–1924), son of January insurgent, doctor of lung diseases from Warsaw, was an ardent enthusiast of the Tatra Mountains and highland folklore. Since 1905 he came to Zakopane every year, and started to collect objects of folk art and material culture of Podhale highlanders. In 1919 he bought a small highlander cottage situated at Bystre near the Nosal Mountain from Jan Gnybus — a Zakopane hamernik who used to work in the steelworks in Kuźnice. He called it “Tea” after his mother’s name: Teodezja Anna. With his brother, he planted about three thousand trees in the vicinity and placed his collection there. He frequently received the exhibits for his collection from highlanders as payment for doctor’s advice or delivered medications. He spoke the local dialect well, played the bagpipes and basses with a highland band, and held nights with music and dance for befriended highlanders. After Stefan Szymański’s death the collection was inherited by his younger brother, Tadeusz. It was he who donated the collections to the Tatra Museum before his death in 1951. The valuable collection of 260 ethnographic objects became the property of the Tatra Museum a year later.

Elaborated by Zofia Rak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © all rights reserved

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