The Block

Slovakia has a long history of textile production and embroidery which became items of prolific trade and sources of income for various merchants during the 19th century. Embroidery has generally been viewed as an important part of the country’s folk culture. For this piece, blockmakers Esther (Gazdik) Bryan and Elena Mirga, created a sampler to represent a heritage that includes numerous distinct regional customs and embroidery styles. Among these methods are the all-red cross-stitch frame and the central Čičmany embroidery, which is often stitched in traditional yellows, oranges and reds. Women of this small, mountainous town became so skilled at embroidery that they began hand-painting similar designs onto their wooden cottages, two of which have to date been turned into museums.

Slovak symbols in surface embroidery fill each corner of the block: the dove symbolizes peace, while the hearts proclaim victory over adversity, through love of others. In the upper corner is the Gothic shield, Slovakia’s national emblem. It features a double cross mounted on a central peak of three mountains, which represent the Carpathian Mountains (Matra, Fatra and, an important part of the Slovak identity, Tatra).


Habura cerkov
Wooden church in Habura
Cicmany-radenv dom2
Painted wooden houses in Čičmany
Jánošíkove dni 8
Folk costumes
Budatínsky zámok, expozícia drotárstva 25
Tinker’s ar
Bojnice Castle
Slovakia folk art 27

Cultural Profile

Slovakia, or the Slovak Republic, is a small landlocked country in central Europe. Formed in 1993, it is one of Europe’s newest nations and is divided into two distinct geographic regions: the lowlands and the mountains, which are dotted with about 200 castles. The Krahule hill near the town of Kremnica is the geographic centre of Europe. In the past, gold and silver mining were important factors in Slovakia’s economy; today magnetite is the most mined and processed mineral. Slovakia is also the birthplace of mathematician and astronomer Maximilián Hell who was the first to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun. The official languages of the country are Slovak and Hungarian.

Family is very important to Slovaks. Children are raised to respect their elders and within the population’s rich collection of proverbs is one that says, “Who rears the first child well creates a treasure for the rest.” Since independence in 1993, Slovakia has resumed the celebration of Christian holidays such as Christmas, and Easter. Some of the traditions observed during Easter go back to pagan times, such as dousing women with water — where buckets were formerly used, water pistols and small bottles are now more the norm. Slovakia’s strong architectural heritage of wooden churches includes a building in Paludza that seats 3,600 people, and was constructed without a single nail. The country also has a rich musical heritage and daily tasks are often accompanied by folk songs. Typical instruments include the fujara, similar to a bassoon, the gajdy, a type of bagpipes, and the konkovka, the shepherd’s flute. Folk dances, such as redovy, which are wedding dances, odzemok and verbun are known for their variety and colour. Folk art traditions are also important to Slovaks who are known for their weaving, bobbin lace, ceramics from the town of Modra, carving, glass painting and straw and wire art. Winemaking is a Slovakian tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years and several towns are famous for their wines.

The first known Slovak immigrant to Canada was Joseph Bellon, who came to Toronto in 1878 and started a fireworks factory. Following his arrival, Slovak immigration occurred in four waves: 1885 – 1914, post-World War I, post-World War II and after the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Many early immigrants settled in Western Canada, finding work in the forestry, mining and agriculture industries. Those who came in later years settled in cities such as Montréal, Toronto and Windsor. They created many organizations, such as the Canadian Slovak League, and published several Slovak newspapers. Canada has the third-largest Slovak community outside Slovakia (after the Czech Republic and the United States) and there are now more than 66,000 Canadians of Slovak origin here. They have played a significant role in the life of Canada in such areas as business (Stephen B. Roman, owner of Denison Mines––the richest uranium mine in the world), politics (William A. Kovach), sports (Stan Mikita and Elmer Vasko played for the Chicago Blackhawks during the Golden Era of hockey), and journalism (George Gross).

Sponsor: Slovak Canadian National Council, Toronto, Mrs. Lydia Matusky in memoriam John S. Matusky, Ann Adams, and La Maison Slovaque Inc., Montreal | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons