Delicate patterns and techniques remind us of famous masters
Slutsk sashes were made by Belarusian hand-weavers in the late 18th-early 19th century, being unique in global and national art culture. In the past, sashes were worn by men of wealth, with their rich embroidery showing the power and status of the wearer. Those Belarusian masters who made the belts entered Western European history for their skills in decorative-and-applied arts. The sashes’ compositional harmony and sophisticated motifs earn them a place among the paramount achievements of global art culture.
In fact, the mastery of Belarusian weavers was so high that all sashes — even those produced outside Slutsk — were called Slutsk sashes: they were sewn in Poland, Ukraine, Russia and across the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in the Rzech Pospolita and, even, in French Lyon. All were influenced by Slutsk designs and workmanship, with training in the art taking seven years or more. Apprentices were taken on under strictly controlled terms, to preserve the secrets of the craft.
Sadly, those secrets have been lost, although attempts are being made to restore the ancient craft — at the request of the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. He has asked historians, art critics, technologists, designers and weavers to liaise with textile enterprises to revive the making of embroidered sashes.
The Culture Ministry recently met experts from the Institute of Study of Arts, Ethnography and Folklore (named after K. Krapiva) of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Art Museum, the State Committee for Science and Technologies, and Vitebsk State Technological University to discuss the matter. They were joined by several companies: Belkhudozhpromysly, Slutskie Poyasa and the Borisov Combine of Decorative-and-Applied Arts. Original Slutsk sashes are to be studied to allow reconstruction and reproduction — for representative purposes and as souvenirs. It is hoped that this will significantly influence the domestic and external market for tourist services.
The Director of the Institute of Study of Arts, Ethnography and Folklore, Alexander Lokotko, believes that several issues need to be settled, with the history of Slutsk sashes studied thoroughly. We need to understand not only how they were made but their ethno-social functions. Several different styles existed (made in Belarus and abroad) from the late 18th-early 19th century, so it would be useful to create a catalogue — from domestic and foreign collections. Various sashes can be grouped by style, theme and technical characteristics.
We should also study the materials used in the production of original Slutsk sashes, so that alternative modern substitutions can be chosen carefully. In addition, it needs to be decided how ‘modern’ Slutsk sashes might be used in our contemporary world. A range of marketing proposals are needed, with the tourist sphere likely to be at the centre of the mission.
Those at the meeting were shown a unique late 18th century Slutsk sash, by the Director of the Museum of Ancient Belarusian Culture, Boris Lazuko. He explained that specialists are welcome to view the collection at his museum, so that reproduction sashes can be created in the same style as the historical originals. Slutsk sashes are a symbol of our national culture but much work lies ahead to revive this aspect of Belarus’ past.