A woodenware salesman

Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

Ribnica woodenware was first mentioned in the Lož fair document dating from the 14th century. The tradition of making and selling woodenware has survived 500 years and is still preserved today.

The making of woodenware  is the most popular and widespread craft activity in Slovenia, and has one of the longest traditions. Written records relating to woodenware – which is present throughout the territory extending from the Barje wetland south of Ljubljana to the river Kolpa on the border with Croatia, as well as in the south-western Notranjska region and in mountainous Gorenjska – exist from as long ago as the fourteenth century. The craft continues to thrive above all in Ribnica and its surrounding area and, further east, in the Suha krajina region, particularly in the Dobrepolje district. 

Wood has long been an important source of income for the people of Slovenia. In 1492 Emperor Frederick III granted the people of Ribnica permission to export livestock, canvas and various wooden items, including hazel hoops and spruce rims, to Croatia and other lands bordering Slovenia. The production of woodenware focused on exploiting natural advantages and meeting demand. Every patch of land, no matter how small, was used: from spruce trunks to hazel and dogwood bushes, from maple, ash and cherry wood to willow switches. The work was evenly divided among all the members of the family: from the farmer, his wife and their children to the old grandmother sitting at the table, turning the knife and making toothpicks. The makers of woodenware included craftsmen specialised in rims (sifters and sieves), bottoms (sieve bottoms were woven by hand and required a great deal of skill), containers (buckets, tubs and pails), spoons (wooden spoons and ladles), hand joinery (chopping boards, graters, drying racks, mouse traps, hangers, children's toys, etc.), wooden tools (rakes, forks, scythe handles, brooms, etc.), wood turning (plates, bowls, rolling pins), wickerwork (baskets, hampers, etc.), skewers (and toothpicks), and so on. 

The industriousness, creativity and inventiveness of woodenware makers was well known, not only in their domestic environment but also through the sale of their wares far beyond their borders of their homeland, where the manufacture of woodenware was at one time inseparably tied up with the activity of peddlers and hawkers. 

Text by Tanja Glogovčan