Craft Education & Practice in Bulgaria

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By Kirsten Wood (Historic Environment Scotland)

Hosted by the Devetaki Plateau Association

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An ‘eclectic’ group of seven professionals with a wealth of knowledge and experience ventured to Bulgaria for a week to immerse themselves within the Devetaki Plateau and surrounding towns. Led by our host Velislava Chilingirova we visited a range of sites and places to gain an understanding of the current management of natural sites, modern interpretation of crafts, archaeology and tourism as well as local community involvement. This report contains my responses and feelings towards a particular area of interest related to my own work practice within Scotland.

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Kirsten Wood (Learning Officer)

Historic Environment Scotland

My background

Based at Stirling Castle my post involves working with a range of audiences engaging them, in a meaningful way, with our heritage. Most of my work involves programming activities and managing several projects which are primarily co-designed with the participating groups/organisations. One of my main annual projects – in partnership with Craft Scotland – sees local groups working with established designers to produce artwork inspired by the wealth of design and architecture seen in Scotland’s traditional buildings. The project has been running for six years with an array of outcomes from sharing craft skills, enriching knowledge of our cultural heritage to confidence building and an exhibition at the end of each project viewed be visitors from around the world visiting Stirling Castle.

With an arts background myself (primarily in design) I was keen to experience the crafts of a country I know little about. The study trip funded through Erasmus+ was a great opportunity to broaden my horizons both personally and professionally. With ‘crafts’ as my focus I went along with an open mind but a few questions to ask. Firstly, what traditional crafts are still prevalent in Bulgaria? Is there funding to support craftspeople and craft related projects? Are there any potential ways of linking up to share the skills and knowledge from our two countries via partnership work?

Crafts in Bulgaria

In order to understand the traditional crafts of Bulgaria you first have to look at the many cultural influences on the country over many centuries through settlement. A number of ancient civilizations, including the Thracians, Ancient Greeks, Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, East and West Slavs, Varangians and the Bulgars have left their mark on the culture, history and heritage of Bulgaria.

I must confess I wasn’t as well informed as some of the others on the trip regarding this wealth of cultural shaping on the country we see today so I was like a sponge soaking up information as we travelled together. I know this area of interest will be covered in other reports so I will allow the more knowledgeable to share their views!

POTTERY ICON PAINTING WOODWORKING EMBROIDERY SMITHERY

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WEAVING AND CARPET MAKING

So what of crafts practice in Bulgaria today? During our trip we met with Maya Krasteva from the Regional Chamber of Skilled Crafts (Lovech) who spoke about the legal framework of crafts training. It was quite a lot to take in and perhaps requires further dialogue with Maya but what I took from our meeting with her was the following.

Pre 1945 there were apprenticeship grants which were then cut post 1945. After more than fifty years craft activity became regulated in 2001 by the Crafts Act adopted by the 38th National Assembly. According to it “the State undertake to support and stimulate the crafts enterprises and their organisations for enhancing their competitive power and employment ability”. The act also regulates the introduction of craft training. Two qualifications are outlined:

– Apprenticeship (three years) with successful completion to the level of ‘Calf/Journeyman’. – Calf/Journeyman (three years) with a successful completion to the level of ‘Master’.

The primary list of crafts in Bulgria includes 129 activities though there number was reduced in 2011 to 57 and devided into two catagories: 1. Artistic crafts – 22 activities manufactoring products such as leather, ornaments, artstic ceramics, pottery, woodcarving, handmade carpet weaving and the repair of historic weaponary, national costume and musical instruments. 2. Others – glass painting and engraving, watch making, fireplace making, shoe making, tailoring, hairdressing etc………

Directly related to the Crafts training is the Vocational Education and Trainging Act (VETA) 1999 which sets out regulations with regard to a citizen’s right to VET according to their personal interests and abilities. The Act regulates the conditions and rules for the recognition of vocational qualifications acquired in other EU states or third countries in order to gain access and practice regulated professions. There are institutions at regional and national level responsible for coordinating the crafts sector – a total of 26 Regional Chambers of Skilled Crafts (RCSC) organise the self-governance of local craftspeople in accordance with the Craft Act.

The main objectives of the RCSCs are:

  • To encourage the revival and development of skilled crafts thus reducing unemployment in the country.
  • To regulate the organization of crafts, craftsmanship and craft training.
  • To promote crafts among the community members especially young people as a potential career path.
  • To support socially disadvantaged groups and young adults at risk of social exclusion through vocational craft training.
  • To promote the interests of established craftspeople by strengthing the political and social dialogue.
  • Control the quality of crafts produced and the legitimacy of artisan activities.
  • Maintain a register of apprentices, journeymen, master craftsmen and craft enterprises.

At a national level there is the National Chamber of Skilled Crafts (NCSC) established in 2002 with a head quarters located in Sofia.

The Crafts Chambers recognize the critical role that education and training play in the future growth of Bulgarian craft and in the preservation of cultural heritage. In order to achieve this there needs to be a constant dialogue with education providers to ensure that training provides the necessary skill set for the work place.

My thoughts

It was interesting to hear that despite training opportunities there is not much uptake by young people to follow a career path in crafts. Many leave rural areas and head to the larger towns and cities for employment. Indeed some villages we drove through had an abundance of derelict houses and one we were told had 300 homes occupied out of a total of 1000. So what can be done to encourage young people into a career path within crafts? The model of an apprenticeship whereby the individual receives training through a dual system is an approach which works well. This involves a combination of theoretic training in an educational establishment combined with practical training in a crafts enterprise. Over the last few years Historic Environment Scotland has directed funding into apprenticship schemes in a number of its directorates. In the area of conservation there are paid apprenticeships in tradition crafts such as stonemasonary, joinerary, plumbing and painting. Individuals receive a wage and are guarrenteed employment after successful completion of the training. Indeed apprenticeship schemes across Scotland in all areas of work are on the rise.

Compared to Scotland there seems a lack of funding towards supporting awareness, education and training in crafts and indeed some lessons could be learnt from models used here. Through partnership work with the likes of DYW (Developing the Young Workforce) and Springboard we speak to secondary year groups on career pathways within the heritage sector always promoting apprenticeships. Right through the education system in Scotland strong links are made with formal learning and the world of work achieved through offering senior pupils work placements in order to gain that vital insight before making their decision on what to do after school.

If we look at Bulgaria today it is becoming a top tourist destination and with this comes employment and enterprise potential for younger people. With a wealth of heritage there are so many stories to communicate with visitors and for me crafts are a great medium to convey these stories. Buying something with a story, made by a local person has so much more value than a mass produced artefact.

During our time in Bulgaria I was please to see that there are those striving to continue a practice in traditional crafts. One inspirating crafts village we visited near the Troyan monastery had an array of ceramic work, wood carving, jewellery and more. Some of which fused contemporary techniques with those of the past. I can safely say we all enjoyed visiting the place and I think most of us bought at least one piece of artwork!

It was after visiting this place that I started to mull over the potential for creative partnership working. The Who, What, Why, When, Where’s still a long way off but thinking on what I have already achieved in partnership with Craft Scotland allowed my creative mindset to kick in and pondering over the possibilities and scope going forward!

Crafts village in the Troyan area

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Another inspirational place was the EcoArt Guest House in Drashkova Polyana village near Troyan which we stayed at for two nights. Here we met Encho Gankovski and his wife Velichka. Encho is an accomplished ceramicist working from his studio at home who teaches his craft to those who visit. During our time with them we learnt about traditional glazing techniques and some of us had a go on his potter’s wheel. All around his house and garden were examples of his as well as his daughter’s ceramic work. It was lovely to see a family passion for the craft and our stay there was most definitely one of my highlights.

EcoArt Guest House

Hand built vases

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Time to reflect

On my return to Scotland I thought of what the potential could be for linking up with crafts in mind. Me being me I think big but must remind myself what is feasible! So, starting with this I think there is potential via my partnership with Craft Scotland to link up craftspeople initially in conversation. Would there then be funding available to support short exchange residencies to share knowledge and practice? For artwork to be exhibited as a result of this exchange? The next step is having that initial conversation with Craft Scotland to scope out what can be achieved.

That step has begun, and I have found out that Craft Scotland has recently moved to bigger premises in Edinburgh which now provides studio space as well as accommodation for short residencies. Exciting news and I feel even more so now that something can be achieved and not just talked about taking our partnership project to an international level! Our next craft partnership project commences in January 2020, so it feels fitting to delve deeper into investigating links with Bulgaria beyond this project. It will be a step by step approach but there is a positive vibe going forward into next year and indeed exciting prospects ahead……..

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Archnetwork for making the study trip possible and to Velislava who guided us each day and kept us on time! To all the amazing people we met who shared their knowledge and warm hospitality. Lastly, to the six amazing people I travelled with. I learnt so much from all of you and we had fun on our way! So, on this note here are some outtakes……….blagodarya

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