Slovenski etnografski muzej

Shrovetide custom in Vrbica
The first floor of exhibition house
8. February 2023
26. March 2023
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Shrovetide custom in Vrbica

For the fifth year in a row, the Slovene Ethnographic Museum is presenting new museum objects (7 complete Vrbica Shrovetide characters: a white and a black hunter, a pair of white characters, a gypsy* woman, a gypsy* and a bear). Other carnival characters and different wooden moulds for making leather face masks are also presented at the exhibition.

The Vrbica Shrovetide characters are a Carnival group from the village of Vrbica near Ilirska Bistrica. The group consists of around sixty characters or masks, which are divided into white or noble characters and black or serf characters. The most recognisable and oldest figures are the white and the black hunter. On Shrovetide Sunday, a silent play comes alive in the village and on Shrovetide Tuesday there is a house-to-house collection, while on Ash Wednesday the group carries out a burial of Carnival.

A special feature of Vrbica Shrovetide characters  are leather face masks. Making the characteristic leather carnival masks is a lengthy process demanding special knowledge and skills, as well as creativity and inventiveness. During the first stage of mask-making a wooden mould the size and shape of a head is used (every character has a different mould). The leather is soaked in water to soften it and then it is stretched over the mould and attached with special nails so that it dries and acquires the right shape. The openings for the eyes and mouth are then cut out, and features like moustache, wrinkles, etc. added, and finally the mask is coloured. Only a few individuals still possess the knowledge and skills involved in making leather masks – Boris Čekada, Janez Čekada, Marijan Prosen and Tomaž Prosen – but they are passing their knowledge on to the younger generations.

The oldest known preserved document about the Shrovetide characters from Vrbica is a photograph from 1935, when they visited Ilirska Bistrica. Then the group included 28 individuals and only men could take part. After World War Two, the Shrovetide customs were revived and in 1968 women were included.

* Names of the characters are based on the local terminology.

Exhibition author: mag. Adela Pukl
Exhibition curators: mag. Adela Pukl, Miha Špiček
Professional collaborators: mag. Anja Jerin, Tomaž Prosen, Boris Čekada

White hunter and flag bearer, 2022. Photo: Miha Špiček.Pairs of white characters, 2022. Photo: Miha Špiček.Old man and old woman, 2013. Photo: Adela Pukl.Colletion around the village, 2022. Photo: Blaž Verbič.The burial of carnival, 2022. Photo: Adela Pukl.