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The Marius Matei ethnographic collection

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In Giroc, a rich commune from the Timişoara suburbs, one of the most authentic collections of traditional Romanian costumes from the plain area of Banat is carefully kept. The result of over 12 years of meticulous search, enthusiasm, effort and expense, today has resulted in a collection of over 1000 pieces of clothing and accessories (which contain 150 complete traditional 19th and 20th centuries costumes). The author of this impressive collection says that he decided to gather these pieces from the moment that he realised how fast the village was losing the “treasures” of the old civilisation.1)Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014 Marius Matei, the man who we are talking about, is only 30 years old.

The youngest collector of traditional costumes from Banat

The story of the collection owned by Marius Matei starts 20 years ago, during the time when Giroc started to seriously urbanize. This aspect was also observed by those in the Ethnography section of the Banat Museum in Timişoara, and they were the ones with the initiative of organizing an exhibition focused on the old traditions of Giroc, as well as the presentation of ethnographic objects that were specific to the area or the history of the Chişoda and Giroc church, of the schools, the brass band and the main institutions of the commune.

“They came by here, in order to get information regarding my grandfather, Dimitrie Rotariu. He lived between 1900 and 1947 and was a self-taught peasant scholar. He had over 2500 books, which was one of the greatest personal libraries around the Timişoara area. When the communists came to power, all those books were considered harmful to the regime and he was obliged to burn them in front of his house”, says Marius to us. Out of the 2500 volumes, today there are only 600 left.

“I gave details regarding my grandfather to those from the Banat Museum. I also gave them a few books from his library and a couple of his personal belongings. After that, they asked if I had any traditional costumes around the house, any of those Turkish rugs/ kilims (“cilimuri” in Romanian) that were used as bed coverings or any other such objects. I told them that I didn’t knew and that I would ask my family about it. That’s how I found out that my grandmother, Drăghina Rotariu, had a great skill for crocheting, sewing and embroidery and that her mother, Domnica Rotariu, was well known for the way in which she mastered the sewing techniques specific the to the area (and more so) and that she used this to gain some extra money.”

His mother and grandmother then showed him a few beautiful things that they had around the house and that had been passed down from one generation to the next in his family and that have been very carefully kept. He showed these further to the people from the Banat Museum. “They were as impressed as I was and they proposed to hold a separate exhibition, showing off only these items, idea that became reality two years later”, says Marius. “At the opening of the exhibition, many representatives from the Timişoara County Council were present, from the Arts and Culture Center, from the Banat Museum, specialists and important people from the Banat area. I was surprised by the impact that the exhibited things had on them.”

“I started the collection with the things that I had at home. I was 16 years old, I think. And since then I started collecting.”2)Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014 More so, after his first exhibition, he was noted by the people from the Museum, who wanted to hire him. “I didn’t had any studies finished, so I couldn’t be hired then, but they hired me after I finished college. This was in 2007.”3)Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014. Today, Marius Matei is a curator for the Banat Village Museum of Timişoara and, at the age of 30, he is the youngest collector of traditional costumes from Banat. “Passion turned me into what I am today”, he added.

There should be a map with ethnographical boundaries for the traditional costumes of Banat. For the architecture, there should be another map.

The ethnographical collection of Marius Mater includes both traditional clothing pieces as well as traditional unglazed ceramic objects, traditional glazed Hungarian ceramics, jewelry, small pieces of furniture and other interior objects. To all these, an extraordinary background of old photography is added. “The photographs are the best testimonials and the best proof that each costume I assemble is done the right way. On the other hand, each piece is individually photographed has an analytical ethnographic file attached in which details such as origin, frequency (how common it is and how rarely or often it is found in other areas), dimension, etc. are written down”, says Marius.

He also claims that has chosen to collect only pieces of clothing which are traditional from the field area of Banat because he considers it to be an extraordinary fact that, in the Timiş County, at least, over such a small area, where the native population was very restricted and the pure Romanian villages just a few, the traditional costumes were, contradictingly, unique for each and every village.

“After that much field work I noticed one thing, about which I don’t know if there has ever been written: there should be a map with ethnographic boundaries for the traditional Banat costumes. For the architecture, there should be another one. These were never done, the zones were always divided as a whole, without keeping track of these certain <<boundaries>>. The Lugoj city, for example, matches Făget very well. Buziaş looks very much little like Lugoj. Timişoara is special but matches Deta and Ciacova. The differences can be seen in both the architecture as well as in the costumes.”

His collection has only pieces of traditional Romanian clothing. He would like to gather from other ethnicities from the Banat area, but claims that they are really hard to recover. “You can’t find too many pieces from the costumes of the other ethnicities even in the museums. The same goes for the Romanian costumes. Inside a museum you rarely find complete costumes, individual pieces being more easily found. Noticing all this, I started to collect them”, said Marius Matei to us.

The national costume, the traditional costume and the handcrafted costume are three different things.

His collection comes from four ethnographic subareas: Timişoara, Lugoj, Buziaş and Ciacova – Deta. For almost 12 years he has not had an easy time gathering it. “First of all you need to know the centers and the type of costume specific to the area, you can’t go and knock on every door. People don’t give up their costumes easily, especially the wealthy ones. The less wealthy give them up more easily but it also depends on who you buy them from. If you get them from the grandchildren and the grandparents are no longer alive, they can give them up very easy. They aren’t as attached to them and probably don’t even know how much they are worth.”

A great part of Marius Matei’s costumes represent the festive traditional clothing of Giroc. The women’s costume is made out of spăcel (shirt), poale (skirt), opreg, cotrânţă (straight apron), brâu (belt), pieptar (vest), obiele and opinci (traditional sandals or shoes) to which the coin embroideries and head coverings with complicated patterns are added. Interesting is the fact that through all this, the Banat local woman would show her wealth, social status and her place in the local community.4)Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014 “From afar, the Banat costumes for women were not at all spectacular. But when observed closely, they have a strange beauty about them, which amazes and intimidates.”5)Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014

The men’s costume, appears to be much sober while still being constant in time. It is found in the collection with all its elements: cămaşă (shirt), pantaloni (trousers), brâu (belt), chintuş or pieptar (vest), clabat or pălărie (traditional hat).6)Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014 Just like in the case of the women’s costumes, all the ornaments and symbols on the men’s clothes speak about their social status, material status and community status. The men gave up more easily the old costumes, adopting much faster pieces from the Swabian clothing or the urban ones.7)Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014

“I would have liked to concentrate more on the symbolism of the clothes, in order to be able now to explain every model on every piece. But I didn’t because, after the ‘50s, the rural clothing started becoming more and more urbanized. They would buy materials over which they would wear aprons. This traditional costume fashion appeared much later. The national costume, the traditional costume and the handcrafted costume are three different things.”

“The national costume wanted to be a mix of elements and ornaments from all the regions. The traditional costume is old, inherited, crafted from hemp cotton, sewed only with silk which was either black or white. The handcrafted costume is the one that can also be made here, in Timişoara, at the mall. Still, the people from Banat have kept their ornaments. Eventually, the national costume proved to be not as those who started this trend expected, especially Queen Mary, who was a huge promoter of the traditional clothing”, claims Marius Matei.

…the contribution of the Romanian peasant women to the European art is clear. What they did can be anytime considered as art.

“I have noticed that in other regions the specifics and elements are kept, only the work materials being changed and the work becoming more delicate. Here, in Banat, I think that the clothing was always in a state of change. This could be due to either the minorities influence or the geographic space. In the Buziaş area, for example, there are a few more isolated villages where some of the finer materials have not reached. Most of the materials were brought by the Jews in booths or small stores, through the routes of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and even from France. Even a few work techniques were brought, such as the <<net>> technique – which is rather French inspired.”

“The <<opregele>> were specific only to the Banat area. In the Oraviţa area they are called <<chiţele>> – and the work technique is very meticulous. The Buziaş area has <<cotrânţele>> in darker colors, even black. There were men in Buziaş that used to trade sewing models. They would bring them from the Timişoara area. There were sewing books. Now, there are so many techniques lost. There is a lady, today, that is trying to reproduce some techniques but she can’t recreate some models unless she makes them 10 times bigger than the original. For years she has been trying and she can’t understand how they could have been sewed so finely, in such small sizes and with such precision, without any aesthetics training.”

“They all have an extraordinary harmony. And the women that created them had no aesthetics training whatsoever. How can you explain this? In any way, the contribution of the Romanian peasant women to the European art is clear. What they did can be anytime considered art.”

In the search for a space for a permanent exhibition of the collection

For now, Marius keeps his ethnographic collection in Giroc, in the closets of his grandparent’s house, in an uncommon order, because he hates the aspect of storage. The temperature is low and constant inside the rooms in which the pieces are kept and not even sunlight is allowed to enter.

He hopes to receive a space for a permanent exhibition right in Timişoara. “I am trying, with the support of the Timiş county Council, to obtain a space inside the <<Bastion>> building (a part of the city’s ex-fortress), where I can hold an exhibition for an unlimited period of time. But, I don’t know when I will be able to do this. I struggle and I hope to manage it.” But the fact that he doesn’t have, for now, a public space dedicated to his collection, does not prevent Marius from showing it off to the world every time when he gets the opportunity, in the country of across the border.

“Inside the Banat area, I have exhibited it wherever I could. In Timişoara, at the Ethnography section of the Banat Museum. In the Banat Museum of now, inside the Bastion, I tried to gather all the collectors. There aren’t many of us. Ten in all, and seven of us are fixed on ethnography. The rest of them, they collect everything (old books, furniture etc). I had exhibitions in Jimbolia, at the Stefan Jäger Museum, at Deta, at Ciacova. At Lugoj, in the History and Ethnography Museum I tied my collection with theirs, we completed each other in order to create an evolution of the costumes from the ethnographic Timişoara-Lugoj zone. It was a success.”

“I had an exhibit at Drobeta Turnu-Severin, at the Iron Gates Museum. Last year I had an exhibit at the Timişoara mall, where it was extraordinary. The exhibit had an unexpected impact. It is a very good area for exhibits but, in the same time it is very bad. The costumes are made out of different metallic threads, gilded or silvered copper, which can turn black if they don’t benefit from a constant temperature.” The ethnographic collection’s popularity got all the way to Bucharest, where it appeared in exhibits at the National Village Museum “Dimitrie Gusti” an at the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant.

The most recent exhibit took place last week, in Sibiu. “On 28th of January it was the 110 years anniversary of the painting of the Sibiu Cathedral by Octavian Smigelschi. He used traditional motifs from Banat, being a very close friend of Miron Cristea. For example, he painted behind the Holy Mother, these Banat motifs from <<cotrânţe>> and other ornaments of the Banat clothing. My costumes “bounded” well with Smigelschi’s paintings.”

“At Gyula, in Hungary, I had an exhibit in 2008, and, last year, in Munich, Germany. Now, I hope to go to Belgrade, in Serbia. I finished the tour of exhibits inside the national museums and now, I have to travel outside, in order to increase the significance of the collection.” When asked if he regrets anything after these 12 years, Marius responds that he feels sorry that he gets more attention from other areas than he gets locally. He thinks that this is happening because “the people have stopped feeling the area. We don’t have that sense of community that once existed.”

Where can you see the Marius Mater ethnographic collection

The impressive collection is very well presented in the Marius Matei – Tezaur banatean (Banat Treasure) catalogue, with a preface by Dr. Doina Isfanoni8)Marius Matei – Tezaur bănăţean; cu o pref. de prof. univ. dr. Doina Işfănoni, Astra Museum, Sibiu, 2014, but also on Facebook. Our advice is to go and see it in person sometimes, because it is totally worth it.

In the near future, Marius Mater will hold an exhibit at Timişoara, in Unirii Square (in collaboration with the Unirii Square Association) and at the Mountain Museum of Reşita, in the month of April. For news, we recommend to follow the Facebook page.

Photo credit: Flavius Neamciuc

Translated by Doiniţa Spuză


1 Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014
2 Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014
3 Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014
4 Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014
5 Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014
6 Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014
7 Marius Matei: portul bănăţean, Muzeul Ţăranului Român, Editura Martor, Bucureşti, 2014
8 Marius Matei – Tezaur bănăţean; cu o pref. de prof. univ. dr. Doina Işfănoni, Astra Museum, Sibiu, 2014
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