The economic, social and political changes brought about by the communist takeover, and the anti-peasant policies of the 1950s, which included the expropriation of peasant landholdings and the forced creation of agricultural cooperatives, triggered tectonic processes in Hungary. The undermining of peasant society, traditionally based on self-reliance and self-sufficiency, resulted in radical changes in lifestyle and led to the unstoppable disintegration of peasant culture.
As a result, traditional cottage industries practiced in peasant homes fell back into the background.
The aim of the so-called socialist cottage industry cooperatives created by the state was to expand the domestic market for goods produced by households, in keeping with the quotas established in the five-year economic plans. In the 1960s, the mass – partially factory-based – production of over-ornamented decorative objects was urged. The formal and aesthetic heritage of objects that had once been made for use by peasants was stripped of its value and essence, subsumed by the spread of useless ornamental objects of questionable taste.
Established in 1972, the goal of the Young Folk Artists’ Studio (FNS) was to reinterpret traditions, not just in dance houses but also in handicrafts. The imagination of these young artists was captured by the original state of folk culture in which lifestyle and the arts still formed an organic unit. Their goal was to create everyday objects known from peasant lifestyle which couple the primacy of utility with a clarity of form and sophisticated aesthetics.
The handicrafts movement of the 1970s sought to free itself from the schematization prevalent in socialist cottage industry production, as well as from the ideologically motivated false image of folk art and its rigorous system of relations. They wanted to rediscover the freedom of creation and explore ways in which individuality that relies on the power of community could develop. To acquire authentic knowledge, they sought out and learned from old craftspeople in the villages of Hungary and Transylvania. For some of the artists, finding the “purest source” meant not only researching traditional peasant culture, but also exploring the ancient roots dating back to the conquest era, as well as the culture of related peoples in Central Asia. The research undertaken by these artists made possible the revival of several forgotten crafts, including horsehair weaving, the making of bark bowls, felt making and frieze weaving.
The Young Folk Artists’ Studio also organized the first children’s craft clubs, fairs, activity groups and exhibitions. Workshops were established nationwide, and annual creative camps were held in Tokaj, Velem and Magyarlukafa. These self-organized community events and jointly performed volunteer work reinforced a sense of community.
Music, dance, handicrafts, architecture, other allied arts, and even the ecological thinking emerging at the time came together in this intellectually stimulating period. A volume summarizing the work of the Young Folk Artists’ Studio was published in 1981, its title, Nomád nemzedék (The Nomadic Generation) – a term coined by Sándor Csoóri – giving the movement its name.
In the decades since its inception, it became clear that the handicraft movement was not just a subculture of a rebellious young generation. Today, the founders of the movement and their disciples continue to pass on their authentic knowledge, vision and interpretation of traditions