Serbia's Straw Girls Folk Tradition

Perhaps you remember Suzana Ilic whose elegant quilled lettering I featured here a few weeks ago. Recently Suzana emailed me about an unusual Serbian folk tradition she thought I might be interested in. It's a technique of weaving and shaping straws of wheat, cherished in a province called Vojvodina, where there is almost nothing as far as the eye can see, except flat plains with wheat, sunflowers, and just one mountain.
  Zetva by Ana Milodanovic, 1967

These folk artists call themselves straw girls (slamarke). Suzana told me there is quite a bit of similarity between quilling and straw art. The straw girls make intricate designs with straws of wheat that they cut and soak in water until flexible, and then create folded roses, tight coils, fringed flowers, and shapes such as teardrops, just as we do in quilling. (This puts complaints about cutting strips of paper into perspective!)

The straw girls decorate blown eggs and religious icons, and make jewelry. They also create scenes composed entirely of wheat straws, such as the first picture, that are so highly detailed they're considered a form of painting.

Suzana searched through her boxes of magazines to find more examples and came across an article written by Ljiljana Matejic-Vuckovic about Miriana Kirbus, a grand master in straw art, in the magazine called Zenski Svet (Women's World) from August 26, 2005. These first two egg pictures are from the article.

We found video excerpts of documentaries about this fascinating art - each is quite enjoyable to watch if you have a few minutes, and not to worry, there are English subtitles. The first was made by Branko Istvancic and is called Od zrna do slike, From Grain to Painting. The other is Boris Malagurski's Slamarke, Straw Art [edit: no longer available].

And one more image... these egg designs were created and posted by a member, Smizla, of a craft forum called samsvojmajstor or Do It Yourself... lovely!

Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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