The first mention of Gypsies in Slovakia comes
from 1322, and others from the 14th and 15th centuries. Individual groups,
which moved from the Balkans through Middle Europe to the west, were entirely
dependent on the help of local inhabitants. In exchange for food and clothing,
they offered their labour, musical performances and products. The most
important craft they performed was the smithing, the knowledge of which
they had probably brought with them from India.
In 1563 Gypsies who settled down in Liptovsky Hradok were given permission
to make tools for farmers; e.g. nails, hoes, axes, spades...
In 1712 Pavol Rakosz, Roma leader, was given a licence which entitled
him to practice his craft in the regions of Trencin and Liptov.
A similar licence was given to Gypsies living in the Zvolen area. Another
group of Gypsies lived near Trebisov. A document from 1734 says that one
of the duties Gypsies had towards their lords was smithing.
The black-smith's trade was the most common job
of Gypsies after they had settled down in Slovakia. There were some differences
between the traditional work of Roma smith work and "white" blacksmith
work. Gypsies worked in an old fashion way, they focused on processing
used materials and they traded their work for food or household goods.
The work of Roma blacksmiths was very popular, particularly among poor
farmers. Roma blacksmiths were usually respected by farmers and they very
often became intermediaries between the world of Romas and the world of
At the beginning of the 20th century Roma blacksmiths
worked in almost every village in East Slovakia. However, between World
War I and World War II the interest in their products decreased because
most iron goods were manufactured and sold inexpensively. The Roma black-smith
trade started to decline very rapidly. Only those who passed an examination
and gained a certificate were given a chance to survive. Some of them specialized
in making one of a kind originals - artistic blacksmithing.
Artistic products of Roma blacksmiths had already been available between
the wars. Iron crosses, wrought iron enclosures for graves and various
decorative iron work were among them.
Conditions for the work of Roma blacksmiths did
not improve after World War II. Some of them did not give up though and
they gradually set up workshops and started independent businesses. Andrej
Patkan (born in 1923) from Bardejov and Eugen Fejco (1932 - 1992) were
among them. They made various bars, candelabra, flower pots, metal frames...
Artistic smith work in Dunajska Luzna near Bratislava was of an extremely
high quality. The workshop of Alexander Reindel (born in 1945) became a
branch of Pamiatkostav, a business aimed at preservation of monuments,
and specialized in production of historical sheathing. After 1989 some
of the Roma workers started their own businesses. They live in modern houses
and work in modern workshops. Rigokov and Robkov are the best known. They
make various artistic subject - shelves, flower stands, beds, chairs and
armchairs, music stands etc.
Blacksmiths from Dunajska Luzna have presented
their products at several exhibitions: in the Slovak National Museum, Martin
(1990); in the Ethnographical Museum, Kottsee, Austria; and, in the Compatriots'
Museum of Matica Slovenska, Bratislava (1994).
In December 1994 twelve blacksmiths established an association - Dunajska
Luzna Blacksmiths' Guild. According to Robert Rigo (born 1953), "the aim
of the association is to preserve the craft of our ancestors at a professional
level and to develop artistic blacksmith work."