PHOTO BY JUNICHI ITO
Artful white floral patterns, animal prints, and folk motifs crisply punctuate dark blue fabrics in the traditional Central European art form of modrotisk. The process, which became popular in the 18th century, uses hand-carved blocks to apply dye-resistant paste to white fabrics that are then colored in a deep blue indigo dye bath, producing high-contrast works of functional art. The technique is such an important part of the region’s culture (it’s popular in the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Germany) that last year it was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
“We view it as a recognition of our ancestors, in whose steps we continue,” says Jitka Binderová of Strážnický Modrotisk, one of only two workshops in the Czech Republic that still print using traditional methods. Located about three hours southeast of Prague, in the town of Strážnice, the shop has been hand-printing items such as bags, scarves, jewelry, and pillows (pictured) for more than 100 years.
“The method of producing the blueprint has remained the same to this day,” Binderová says, “but its use and place in society have changed.” Although modrotisk was once reserved for folk costumes, it has undergone a rebirth among Czech artists and designers such as Petra Gupta Valentová, who combines modrotisk with Indian woodblock printing, and Alice Klouzková, who swaps out the usual patterns for bold, minimalist polka dots and stripes. With contemporary takes like these, the “intangible” icon should flourish for another three centuries. Pillows from $10, straznicky-modrotisk.cz
Hello/Goodbye • Dobrý den/Nashledanou
Pronunciation: dohbree den/nuhskhladuhno
Yes/No • Ano/Ne
Please/Thanks • Prosím/Deˇkuji
Excuse me, where is the…? • Prominˇte, kde je…?
Pronunciation: prohmeenytay, gday yah
How do you say…? • Jak se rˇekne…?
Pronunciation: jahk say zjeknay
I will miss Prague • Praha mi bude chybeˇt
Pronunciation: prahhah mee booday kheebeeyet
What’s new? • Co je nového?
Pronunciation: tso yay nohvayhoh
In English, if your voice is hoarse you might say you have a frog in your throat. In Czech, you’d say, “Mám v krku knedlík” [mom v kirkoo knedleek], or “I have a dumpling in my throat”—a fitting phrase for a country whose national dish is veprˇo knedlo zelo (roast pork served with sauerkraut and dumplings). —Hilary Hodge
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