Beyond the Horniman Museum : history, heritage and craftsmanship in the collection of Romanian artefacts

Buchczyk, Magdalena. 2015. Beyond the Horniman Museum : history, heritage and craftsmanship in the collection of Romanian artefacts. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis provides an exploration and critique of the Horniman Museum’s Romanian collection of folk art through an investigation of the front stage and back stage of the collection. Firstly, the museum’s holdings are unpacked through archival study of the events that led to their collection, including the cultural exchanges of the 1950s and the myriad institutional and personal encounters that informed their collection and original display. Investigation of the historical context of the objects’ arrival in London reveals the importance of their performance on the Cold War cultural stage, where acts of exhibiting and giving away folk art across the Iron Curtain became a pretext for building diplomatic relations and creating particular representations of the state.

A second form of backstage is explored through a series of ethnographic encounters that generate insights into the afterlives of the art forms represented in the Horniman Museum collection by bringing these objects into dialogue with contemporary craft makers in Romania. Whilst in the context of the museum, the folk art collection appears as a homogenous set of traditional things, in the context of contemporary Romania, different art forms have undergone very divergent histories and hold very different social and economic value and significance. Focusing on the contemporary flourishing of pottery-making and neglect of textile production in Romania today sheds light on the various ways idioms of tradition and modernity, work and heritage are understood in the local context as well as lending insights into transformations in material environments, techniques of making, life histories, and the spaces in which crafts are situated.

An exploration of the past lives and afterlives of craft objects held in the Horniman museum offers a window onto the diversity of modes of production and meaning-making that co-exist in Romania and the embedded historical relations and specific social, economic and political milieus in which different art forms have developed and become valorised. This combination of archival and ethnographic research provides a means of locating the Horniman collection in time and space whilst at the same time recognising the dynamic and ever-changing nature of craft production in Romania. The thesis highlights both the limitations of folk art and heritage discourses within the museum and their contemporary relevance and reinvention beyond the museum.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Material culture; Heritage; Anthropology of Europe; Museology

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 June 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

23 Jul 2015 12:43

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:32


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