Folk art of the Matyó, embroidery of a traditional community

The colorful folk art motifs from Hungary may be visibly recognizable as examples of traditional Hungarian design. However, less known is the fact that one particular style has its origins in Mezőkövesd and is called Matyó. Heavy embroidery adorning clothing and decorative textiles for the home, as well as bright patterns decorating household objects are characteristic of Matyo folk art. This regional art form is protected as one of Hungary’s Intangible World Heritage elements.

Mezôkövesd, 130 kilometers northeast of Budapest, is the capital of Matyó, a distinct Magyar-speaking Hungarian ethnic group. The people are Catholic and also live in two nearby towns, Szentistván and Tard. Legend says that the people either take their name from King Matthias himself or that they are descendants of one of his bodyguards. Legend also says that the colorful folk motifs used in their traditional crafts were inspired by Matthias’ Renaissance court.

“The folk art of the Roman Catholic Matyó community in and around the town of Mezőkövesd in north-eastern Hungary is characterized by floral motifs that are found in flat-stitch embroidery and ornamented objects. Matyó embroidery decorates the traditional dress of the region, worn by local people in celebratory events and in folk dancing and singing. The floral motifs have played a crucial part in strengthening the self-image and identity of the Matyó community and are employed in interior decoration, contemporary fashion and architecture, in addition to embroidery. Community members established the Matyó Folk Art Association in 1991 to transmit the skills of embroidery and organize numerous cultural events and performances. In its Borsóka Embroidery Circle, anyone can learn the art, techniques and motifs of embroidery from experienced masters. In its Folk Dance Ensemble, members wear the finely embroidered traditional costumes, thereby contributing to their perpetuation. The national popularity of Matyó embroidery has made it into a form of auxiliary income, enabling women to buy the fine fabrics and supplies necessary for making elaborate costumes. Most often practised as a communal activity, embroidery strengthens interpersonal relationships and community cohesion, while allowing for individual artistic expression.”

The designs specific to this area of Hungary are not originally Hungarian, however. The floral motifs that decorate household objects such as headboards, tables, and storage chests, originally came from Norway in the 18th century. Called rosemaling, it employs the use of bright colors on a white or colored background. Bold strokes used to create the forms of flower buds and leaves, as well as geometric folk designs, are typical to this type of folk art.

Matyó embroidery may be a more familiar type of folk art. Based upon the decorative painting techniques, it is a style of embroidery with densely packed leaves, petals, and other motifs. The most traditional motif is that of the rose. The traditional costume of the local people displays this type of embroidery richly. Today, traditional motifs can be found on tablecloths, doilies, napkins, shawls, blouses, and other garments.

To purchase traditional Matyó folk art, travelers can visit the place where it is still made by people who learned the skills from their parents and grandparents. It is also possible to purchase Hungarian embroidery and folk art online from Matyó artists or other folk artists from different parts of Hungary. However, purchasing one of these special items online doesn’t compare to choosing the style and type of item that you want in person. Some authentic pieces make their way to the capital, Budapest, but just as many are mass-produced knockoffs that have only souvenir value and do not represent the quality and skill of authentic pieces. In addition, Matyodesign is a shop in Budapest selling contemporary clothing items that sport traditional designs in a fashionable way.

If you decided to visit Mezökövesd, the town offers an old center, called Hadas, which preserves the old Matyó way of living, with old houses (or recreated former dwellings) and artists’ workshops, including a gingerbread bakery. A couple of museums and a thermal bath are also located in the town. Several festivals throughout the year contribute to Mezökövesd’s attractiveness.

If you love the folk art and embroidery of Hungary, it is worth getting to know the different styles of embroidery, painting, and other decorative work, as well as the regions of the country from which they originate. Hungary’s folk art makes some of the best gifts and souvenirs in addition to other local products. The Central Market Hall in Budapest, with its two floors of Hungarian products, is one excellent source for Hungarian souvenirs, including folk art. The quality varies between items and sellers here, but you would be hard-pressed to find such a variety to choose from under one roof.

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