From the Székely Gate to the Last Towel

The Gábor Szinte Collection 2/Sep/2015 - 1/May/2016
Gábor Szinte is regarded as one of the most active ethnographic field researchers of the early 20th century, whose work aptly represents the types of projects carried out under the auspices of the Museum of Ethnography during his span of his career.

At the time, institutional ethnography was characterised by methods that centred on the collection and analysis of local material, and by collective endeavours to identify the origins and lines of development of various phenomena. Since as early as the 1880s, those in higher positions at the Museum of Ethnography had been in contact with many of the nation's drawing instructors, recognising their potential as "men in the field", who could be enlisted to work, if only in their spare time, to precisely document topics of interest specific to certain localities. In addition to their work recording ethnic Hungarian ornamental motifs and exploring their origins, such men conducted investigations into folk material culture, architecture, lifestyles, customs, and other areas of research rooted in an interest in the nation's past.

A mikházi kapu rajza, Mikháza, 1901
A mikházi kapu rajza, Mikháza, 1901

For his part, Gábor Szinte began as an "amateur" archaeologist, later maintaining a professional relationship with the National Monuments' Committee and, later still, the Museum of Ethnography, as a researcher of material ethnography. By 1899, Szinte had become a permanent researcher for the Museum and would remain in its employ for another fifteen years. The institution's director, János Jankó, in an increasingly emphatic drive to collect information on matters of material culture, charged Szinte with the study of ornamental and folk art motifs. From Budapest, Szinte returned repeatedly to Székelyföld, the land of his birth, and other areas with a culture regarded as particularly archaic. His primary investigations dealt with Székely gates and homes, along with other topics in folk architecture.

In his approach, art instruction, too, was closely linked to the field of folk culture and ornamentation, and he urged that folk artefacts - "from the Székely gate to the last towel" - be collected in the same manner as had folk poetry and music before.

For the present purposes, Szinte's career is evaluated with primary reference to the material he submitted to the Museum of Ethnography between 1900 and 1914, whose core sources comprise more than three hundred photographs, one hundred sketches, reports of his journeys in the field, related visual notes, and a number of published works. Within this material, Szinte's nitrocellulose films, glass negatives, positive images, pen and pencil sketches, and watercolour paintings explore the topics of ecclesiastical and folk architecture (with particular emphasis on the Székely house and ornamental gate). Offering documentary evidence on 127 different communities, most of them in the former Csík, Kolozs, and Udvarhely Counties of Transylvania, and Máramaros and Szatmár Counties of the Kingdom of Hungary (now partly in Romania),this material forms an integral part of Hungary's national cultural heritage.

The exhibition includes a display of the component pieces of the oldest surviving Székely gate, the gate to the Mikháza Ferences Monastery constructed in 1673, which was first documented by Gábor Szinte. Visitors will also have the opportunity of designing a gate of their own using an interactive drawing program, viewing archive photographs at a special projection installation, and using an Android application constructed on IBeacon technology to gain a thorough and objective look at information on the topic.

Curators: Tímea Bata, Zsuzsanna Tasnádi