Prepared by Antanas STRAVINSKAS, Mecislovas Sakalauskas. V.: VAGA, 1992

Antanas Stravinskas: INTRODUCTION

Ethnic folk culture has always been and traditionally will remain a firm foundation of Lithuanian folk art; it takes root even in ancient Europe, in the culture of Indo-Europeans, Proto-Balts and Balts. This has been confirmed again by the most recent ethnological, particularly by mythological and archeological research into spiritual and material culture of the Balts, to the sphere of which also belongs a rich heritage of Lithuanian folk art.
Old Lithuanian folk architecture, its various small scale forms and particularly such a unique constituent of folk art as crosses aroused interest as early as the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. This interest has especially grown at present with the resurrection of Lithuanian national consciousness and culture, customs and traditions.
Lithuania has retained quite a rich heritage of roofed pillars, pillars and chapels above which suns radiate in the form of crosses as their iron pinnacles. Great numbers of those iron tops have been accumulated in the mute stock of Lithuanian museums. Multitudes of them still soar above churches, chapels, belfries and churchyard gates or remain upright in cemeteries and in forsaken graveyards.
The first crosses erected in various places on various occasions were doubtlessly wooden but beginning with the eighteenth century (and significantly earlier in towns) iron tops of memorial monuments and crosses for places of worship were forged. As P. Galaunė maintains, their prototypes could have been embellishments of wooden crosses, as “pinnacles of crosses shaped like suns also used to be wooden”. This would be a logical issue of the development of the decoration of Lithuanian wooden crosses.
Thus iron tops crowning the monument is an inseparable constituent of roofed pillars, pillars and chapels. Therefore our album of “Lithuanian Folk Art” devoted to iron tops of monuments is something like a sequel to two already published books of “Small Scale Architecture” (1970, 1990) which reported upon roofed pillars, pillars, chapels and crosses.
The ingress of the Roman cross to Lithuania was long and troublesome. It was accompanied by the sword of the Cross and Sword-Bearers who brought much spiritual and physical suffering to our nation; it came along with the crown of the kings of Lithuania and Poland. The pagan Lithuanians long resisted refusing the old faith relics of which survived in various spheres of folk culture up to the beginning of the twentieth century. It is known that necrocult was highly developed in Lithuania; to commemorate the dead, tomb-pillars, ornamented pillar-boards, roofed pillars, pillars and chapels in miniature used to be erected. Since the time of Mindaugas (the middle of the thirteenth century) and Jagiello (the fourteenth century) along with these commemorative monuments the use of crosses gained ground. Eventually and especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries crosses became so widespread that the land and particularly Žemaitija used to be called the fatherland of crosses, chapels in miniature and chapels, the sacred land of crosses or simply the cross marked Lithuania.
Iron crosses is a constituent not only of folk architecture but also of the history of Lithuanian smithery. That is why its basic aspects deserve at least a cursory glance.
Lithuanian folk artistic smithery has old traditions. It started in the second millennium B. C. with the use of non-ferrous metals (later, of precious metals) in decoration. However, the real smith's craft should be related to the extraction and forging of iron in the middle of the first millennium B. C. Wrought iron articles acquired a greater spread in the Christian era. Beginning with the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries they came to be widely used in military equipment, building construction, transport (for binding), as well as for the construction and decoration of travel and dowry chests.
When wrought iron began to be used for decoration of memorial monuments or places of worship, the guild smithery in towns played an important role. Like in other countries, in Lithuania town smiths united into fraternities and guilds which helped them develop their professional skill. Town smiths also performed artistic work. This is testified not only by exhibits preserved in the museums, but also by the crosses which in the form of suns radiate in all their beauty and magnificence above the churches of Vilnius, Kaunas and other Lithuanian towns. That is why we would not like to decline a presumption that urban hammermen could have had a certain influence on smiths. This is likely to be the case because some village and estate smiths had acquired their experience in the guilds in towns. It cannot be denied, however, that more and more free craftsmen (who had no obligations either to estates or to urban communities) appeared in Lithuanian villages, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They often had an extraordinary talent and not infrequently the artist's soul. They typically had a profound sense of native environment and an inborn feeling for beauty and harmony. They took upon themselves the noble task of fulfilling the spiritual and aesthetic demands of the then country people: alongside with farmwork, they skilfully adorned roofed pillars, pillars and other monuments with wrought-iron tops in the form of crosses.
M. Brensztejn, a researcher into the Žemaitija crosses and chapels, was one of the first to notice the gifts of ordinary rural smiths. He pointed out that there is so much vivid imagination, refinement and taste in the work of these hammermen, i. e. in the iron tops of monuments, that it is hard to believe that their source is an ordinary rural smithy, whilst their authors are self-taught smiths.
Indeed, it has been past the time that these bright, resourceful personalities and their destinies caught attention. Several smiths were mentioned by Č. Kontrimas in his work, others were mentioned by J. Petrulis, J. Mickevičius, B. Kviklys and Z. Žemaitytė. The author of the present paper also managed to trace a few. They all lived and worked in the second half of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth century. They are but a few, that is why it has been maintained that it is necessary at least to mention them here. They are: Andrijauskas from the village of Gaigoliai (Kupiškis dis.), Pranas Brazauskas from Skirsnemunė (Jurbarkas dis.), Petras Buzas from Juodžiūnai (Kupiškis dis.), Jonas Dagys from Punkiškiai (Kupiškis dis.), Karolis Freibergis and his son Jonas from the former estate of Krašatinas (Pakruojis dis.), stone-cutter and smith (?) Gailius-Gailevičius from Ukrinai (Mažeikiai dis.), A. Gaučys and Gataveckas from Utena apskritis (district), Antanas Gedvila from Ramygala (Panevėžys dis.), P. Jankauskas from the environs of Plungė, Kazlauskas from Medžiūnai, Antanas Markevičius from the environs of Ramygala, Jonas Mikalauskas from Telšiai (died in Chicago), Petrikas from the village of Skroblė (Rietavas valsčius - a small rural district), Povilas Ragauskas from Drūlėnai (Kupiškis dis.), Jonas Ruibys from Rietavas (Plungė dis.), Antanas Semenavičius-Semėnas from Dapšiai (Mažeikiai dis.), and Juozapas Tilindis from the former estate of Antašavas (Kupiškis apskritis - district). Perhaps a few more might be discovered. Obviously the list is very short. Regretfully short. But a multitude of Lithuanian hammermen of iron crosses (like numerous masters of other branches of folk art) remain unnamed; nevertheless these Lithuanian folk masters deserve great esteem and attention.
Like in most folk art, the possibilities of smith's craft and the form of his work is primarily determined by the material. It is iron in this case. To forge the tops of monuments, Lithuanian smiths used flat, edged and round iron sticks and tin (at present also copper) plates. Iron used to be delivered from Riga, Karaliaučius, Warsaw and other industrial and trade centres. It is true that up to the second half of the nineteenth century it came in fairly small amounts. That is why, with inconspicuous exceptions, it was used sparingly but constructively and resourcefully in monument forging.
Iron used to be processed heated in the furnace of an ordinary rural smithy. The plastic properties of red-hot iron are virtually unlimited. It used to be not only forged or beaten flat, but also stretched, split, twisted, bent, cut and welded, while being cooled it used to be riveted. Like tin, iron was occasionally treated in conditions of ordinary metalwork. Smiths employed riveting and mounting of bent iron bands. Quite frequently, especially at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, manufactured spikes used to be fitted and fixed in.
Unusually variously beaten, bent and sometimes twisted edged iron forms not only graceful, light and delicate tracery shapes, but also retains a play of light and shadow, has lively, rhythmically vibrating lines. The iron top of the monument set in delicate tracery, its tortuous lines are especially impressive against the blue of the sky. To acquire a variety and rhythm in decoration, smiths occasionally managed to cut out numerous perforations, rhythmically arranged cross-shaped ornaments even in massive flat iron what would give to the solid iron shape features of tender tracery and lightness. Thus a variety of these metal articles and a multitude of ways of their decoration were formed.
As it has become evident from recent research, some cross tops of monuments were chromium coated. Besides, the crosses and miniature crosses of churches and belfries differ from those on tops of roofed pillars, pillars and of chapels in miniature not only in their decoration but also in size. In general the size of crosses varies between a half and one and a half metre.
The illustrative material of the album (about 700 illustrations) is divided into two very unequal parts in fact: iron tops of monuments and iron tomb crosses. The tops of monuments are grouped according to their decoration and symbols: little decorated crosses and miniature crosses with one or several cross pieces (the image of the tree of the world); crosses decorated with Christian emblems; crosses weather-vanes; crosses of geometrical patterns; crosses decorated with shapes of celestial bodies (double and tracery discs of suns, clear shaped moons and stars); finally, crosses decorated with elements of fauna and flora. Iron tomb crosses come at the end of the album in quite scanty illustrations.
A different grouping of the illustrations is also possible: it may be according to the place where the monuments belonged and still are or according to the application of the crosses. Such grouping, however, requires more accurate data which is missing in many cases: numerous tops found their way into the museums without the exact documentation. The compilers of the album and the artist V. Armalas made an attempt to represent the iron tops of monuments from Klaipėda region and Žemaitija on the left-hand sheet, whilst those from Aukštaitija, Dzūkija and Suvalkija on the right-hand sheet.
In the album almost every group of the tops of monuments is set apart by insertions of several illustrations: they show ansembles of old Lithuanian architecture - churches and belfries, chapels, chapels in miniature, pillars and roofed pillars harmoniously grown into Lithuanian landscape. All of these used to be decorated with artistically forged iron tops.
Like all Lithuanian folk art, iron tops of places of worship and of various memorial monuments as well as iron tomb crosses characteristically expose old traditional ornaments and compositional harmony of decorative elements when forged metal is joined with wood or stone.
Among other branches of Lithuanian folk art, iron tops of monuments are distinguished for the variety of decorative elements and forms and particularly for the plastic properties of forged iron, which are the flexibility of forms, gracefulness of profiles and shapes, lightness and subtle tracery design. Symmetry and frequently repeated decorative elements create exceptional harmony and render the impression of musical rhythm. This testifies to the great skill of Lithuanian smiths, their artistic taste and ability to make use of the plastic properties of iron. Lithuanian smiths managed to join harmoniously ancient ornamental forms and Christian symbols of Western and Eastern Europe into one whole.
The album is compiled of photos which have been taken in several years by a great lover of folk art, photographer Mečislovas Sakalauskas. The photos have been taken of the iron tops of monuments and the iron crosses preserved in the Čiurlionis State Art Museum, the Lithuanian Art Museum, in the Telšiai, Rokiškis and Ukmergė Museums of Ethnography and in the Museum of the Čiurlionis Secondary Art School in Vilnius, as well as of those monuments and iron crosses which stand in various etnographic regions of Lithuania.
We believe that the specimens compiled in this album will stimulate further research into and systematization of the above mentioned monuments and help apply their subtle beauty in Lithuania today and in the future.

Old lithuanian sculpture, crosses and shrine