On foot, by bicycle, train and lorry: Field research by Orel’s teams
One of the most important bodies of material gathered during the hundred-year history of the Slovene Ethnographic Museum consists of the photographs, drawings and notes from what are known as Orel’s teams. These were annual, systematic field trips by the curators of the then Ethnographic Museum, introduced in 1948 by the head of the museum, Dr Boris Orel, a member of and leader of 18 teams.
With Orel’s arrival at the Ethnographic Museum in 1945 a new era began. Since the pre-war collections were to a large extent represented by national costumes and folk art, mostly from the Gorenjska and Bela Krajina regions, Orel set as one of his first tasks the supplementation of the collections so that
“the museum will truly present a full picture of Slovene folk life”.
He decided to systematically study, using field teams, individual parts of the Slovene ethnic territory that were underrepresented in the museum, initially mainly Dolenjska and Primorska. He thus began a carefully planned study of the material, social and spiritual culture in the chosen parts of Slovenia. Through this collective field work the researchers obtained many objects and created a large quantity of material for the museum, which through the years became the most interesting and used collection of the museum’s Documentation Department.
The teams consisted of 10 to 20 members – curators of the museum, external experts from related institutions and sketch artists from the then School for Handicrafts. Orel was fully aware of both the organisational and methodological problems involved, and tackled the preparations for the field work in a very precise and systematic manner. In order for the work to run as smoothly as possible and, above all, according to the plan, specific questionnaires were drawn up for all the research areas, and individual places were visited in advance, where lectures were given to the locals about the importance of ethnological research. After the work was completed, in a few cases they even staged a temporary exhibition in the field, where the collected material and results of the work were presented.
The introduction of the field teams began a new chapter both in the museum’s work, as well as in the development of Slovene ethnology. Orel was probably aware of this since he wrote in his work diary:
“August 1 – In the field! Št. Jurij – a historical event in Slovene ethnography”.
After Orel’s death in 1962, under the leadership of the new head, Dr Boris Kuhar, the field research continued and another 14 field trips followed, the last one in 1982. However, the way the work was carried out changed over time, the size of the teams gradually diminished, the cooperation with sketch artists for documentation purposes was abandoned, research became more thematically directed, and researchers used to visit specific fields individually and for a shorter period for a number of consecutive years.
The exhibition presents the photographic moments of collective field work in Slovenia between 1948 and 1982 and shows the work of the museum's researchers through selected objects. On the other hand, the exhibition is a tribute to dr. Boris Orel, the first post-war director of the Ethnographic Museum, and his colleagues, the pioneers of group field research in Slovenia. Without them, the Slovene Ethnographic Museum today would not have such extensive fund from the fields of material, social and spiritual culture.