Into the Žilina Basin opens the renowned Rajecká valley, characterized not only by an attractive natural environment, but also by rich craft traditions. At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, wood carving began to develop and prosper in this area. The town of Rajec was larger than Žilina in the mid - 19th century, hundreds of craftsmen plying their trades. However, following the construction of an important railway route which bypassed Rajec, an economic decline commenced. At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, wood carving began to develop in this area. Its figurehead became Jozef Brieštenský. He was however, certainly not the earliest to use and develop this craft, as the earliest reports of wood carving in this area date from 1774 and are associated with the name of Ján Zeranovič, a craft wood carver.
In the 19th century, the creations of ordinary people emerge, producing everyday objects yet in varying unique styles, for example "črpáky" (carved ornamental mugs), cheese making implements and other objects for everyday use. From this same creative environment also came Ladislav Rúčka who carved figural sculpture works with religious themes.
From this plethora of creativity folk and craft wood carving prospered in Rajec and throughout the whole valley. Another important wood carver was Jozef Matušík, formerly trained as a barber. Initially he carved merely for pleasure, but then began to produce various figures and characters for sale. He created wooden sculptures of people in folk costumes from the Rajecká valley, carved animals and was also the author of several Bethlehems.
Occasionally he worked for Jozef Brieštenský, who acquired his experience in Poland and the former Yugoslavia. When in 1903 he returned to Rajec, he established his own workshop, which soon gained a very favourable reputation. He also participated in the foundation of the Wood carving folk artist association in 1908. The Association ceased, but the workshop of Jozef Brieštenský continued, carving everything that was demanded. With other carvers, they lay the foundations of the lauded wood carving of Rajec and the whole Rajecká valley.
The unique movable Slovak Bethlehem in Rajecká Lesná
The carvings, both of old and new masters, will always attract visitors to the Rajecká valley, especially charmed by their simple beauty and meticulous treatment. Another gifted figure in the field of wood carving is Jozef Pekara, a member of the new wood carver‘s association and the creator of the unique movable Slovak Bethlehem in Rajecká Lesná. Today, this Bethlehem is admired by tourists from all over the globe, providing a veritable tourist attraction for the area.
Source: M. Mrva