New direction of Zázrivá bell making

New direction of Zázrivá bell making

Elena Beňušová

The Orava region is currently characterized largely by its shepherding culture, which has remained in many parts in its original form based on traditional processes. Cattle and sheep breeding have had a significant influence on the character of folk production. Bell making has a significant and unique place in it. In the mountainous terrain, the sound of bells helped to predict the direction of movement of feeding cattle or sheep and made orientation much easier for shepherds. Folk producers used to produce bells in Orava region. Zázrivá is an area where bell making is still alive in its almost exact original folk form. Currently, the producer creating bells in Zázrivá is Stanislav Otruba, a native of the municipality of Biela. As a trained locksmith with many years of experience, he decided to continue with the traditional production of Zázrivá tin bells after 1990. Their production had been stagnating for a while because the original creators reached the age where one has to relax rather than work. This was a challenge for him, but at the same time a worry as well as responsibility as to whether he could continue the work of the old masters.

Stanislav Otruba orders his products according to size, from number 3 to number 35. The sizes are given by the width of the bell’s shoulder (the top part) in centimetres. So, for example, number 3 is the smallest bell with a shoulder width of 3 cm. The individual sizes have characteristic shapes, markings and names. The sale of bells is greatest at markets (Kežmarok, Prešov, Myjava, Bratislava, Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, Jablonkov, Strážnica) and in winter at the Christmas markets. They are often sought after by Polish farmers. In Slovakia, they are often bought by farmers who have two or three sheep. There is a great demand abroad for bell chimes, for example from Poland and Canada. Also entrepreneurs buy them who want to make their areas of work more alive and want to be inspired by folk tradition. Bells are most frequently bought as souvenirs.

The focus of Stanislav Otruba is to make bell craft a product of country tourism. In his native municipality of Biela, where he built a forge, he wants to continue with the tradition of Zázrivá bells. In the future, he plans to improve the area in such a way that it can be available to visitors – tourists looking for old traditions.