Folk art and culture were habitually included in the Czechoslovak national pavilions at world’s fairs in the interwar period; they were believed to highlight the historicity and authenticity of the newly formed state. Since the late 19th century, folk art had been an important marker of national identity linked to the Czech and Slovak national revival and this understanding was also retained strongly amongst the Czech and Slovak diaspora in the USA that often participated in the national pavilions. A lesser-known exhibition, The Woman’s World’s Fair in Chicago in 1927, featured the Czechoslovak Folk Art exhibit which consisted of folk dresses and products and was organized by the female members of the Czech and Slovak diaspora. In this exhibit, folk culture became not only a symbol of national difference but also a useful commodity that could be sold to American ladies. Taking this event as a starting point for a broader discussion of public displays and engagement with folk art, the talk will address questions related to folk art, the diaspora, emancipation and exhibitionary practices. What roles were assigned to folk art in the context of exhibitions driven by progress and modernity? What identity did folk art carry in Czechoslovakia and in the USA? What part did women play in forming Czech and Slovak identity and what part did folk art play for women’s emancipation?
Peasant Gowns for American Ladies and the Meaning of Czechoslovak Folk Art
Dr. Marta Filipová is Research Fellow at the History of Art Department, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic where she specializes in modern visual arts and exhibitionary cultures. She has recently completed a monograph entitled Czechoslovakia at Interwar World’s Fairs (CEU Press, 2024), she is the author of Modernity, History and Politics in Czech Art (Routledge, 2020) and of the edited volume Cultures of International Exhibitions 1840-1940. Great Exhibitions in the Margins (Ashgate, 2015). She is currently working on a research project “Beyond the Village: Folk Art and Cultures as Agents of Modernity, 1918-1945,” sponsored by the Czech Science Foundation. She is a trustee of the Design History Society and a member of the editorial board of the journal Art East/Central.