Pag Lace: Rise and Fall

Pag lace school students a hundred years ago

The town of Pag is known for 2 things. First, for its church and stone square in the center town, designed by Juraj Dalmatinac, Šibenik’s most famous designer whose masterpiece is Šibenik Cathedral. Second, for its delicate and durable world intangible cultural heritage: the Pag lace.

Pag Lace Rising Time

Father Frane Bulić, a Croatian archeologist known for his excavation of the ancient town of Salona near Split, hosted an exhibition in 1880 showing to Europeans the beautiful lace of Pag. Since then it has become very popular in whole Europe, but because of its high price, only aristocracy, nobles, and rich people, could become customers, so that in the 19th century, Pag lace was called “white gold”. Whoever had a lot of Pag laces was considered as a wealthy person. The more laces a girl’s family had, the easier it was for her to get married.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Austrian Lady Natalie Bruck-Auffenberg wrote a book “Dalmatia and Folk Art”. She spent ten years traveling in Dalmatia looking for the disappearing Dubrovnik lace. She travelled along the coast and all its islands and finally arrived in Pag where she bought some laces. In October 1905, back in Vienna, she offered a lace to the mother of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, the Grand Duchess Maria Josephine of the Otto Von Habsburgs of Slovakia. A few days after receiving this beautiful gift, the Grand Duchess came to Pag and became the first royal member to order laces. The same year, she summoned several women from Pag to enter the Royal Palace in Vienna, to make shoes, clothing and accessories for the royal members and to furnish all the supplies needed for the church. Since then, lace has become the royal imperial article of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the nobles in the city were rushing to order these luxury goods.

As local demand increased and trends changed, lace was required to meet more specific design goals and different popular styles, so that Nilla Rakamarić, a woman from Pag who accomplished a year-long course of lace-making in Vienna, returned to hers hometown of Pag in 1907. She opened a lace school in a house next to the stone square, began to give lace-making courses, and create new designs. The mayor Budak himself made some very successful designs, and later he became a drawing teacher at the school. From this period onwards, lace produced by the school appeared in the geometric shapes that we can see today.

The Crisis

After the First World War, with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Roman Empire, the power of the European aristocracy declined, and with it, gradually disappear the interest for traditional costumes, tablecloths, altar cloths, bedspreads and handkerchiefs. The amount of lace orders quickly decreased, and Pag school almost closed. However, in 1937, due to the gold medal at the New York World’s Fair and renewed fame, the number of customers temporarily increased. A few years later, the outbreak of the Second World War caused the dissolution of the school in 1944.

After the war, the entire Balkan Peninsula formed the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a communist country. The lace, which symbolized the wealth of the royal family, was ignored and lost all its customers. In the following decades, women with sewing skills dyed, and this traditional technique was in danger of disappearing.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

After Croatia’s independence in 1993, the new country began to re-emphasize lace tradition. Therefore, with the joint efforts of local residents and government, the new lace school was re-opened in 1994. Each year the course begins in September and ends in June of the next year. Students who have completed the studies receive a certificate of completion from the school after handing in their work.

If you want to get more information about Pag and Pag lace, watch out this video:

In 2009, the technique of sewing Pag lace was registered as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Pag lace has been known for hundreds of years, but it is not only the pride of the Island, it is also a diplomatic state gift used by the Croatian country to heads of state or important guests.

Today, in Pag, it is still possible to see older ladies in traditional costumes, diligently doing lace weaving work in the streets.

The town of Pag continues to produce the lace cherished by the emperors.

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