WOMEN MASTER MASONS

This post is part of the VET Gazette 2
AUTHOR
Jelena Uršič
Principal of The Higher Vocational College Sežana
VIŠJA STROKOVNA ŠOLA

WOMEN MASTER MASONS

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Karst is a specific and unique rocky landscape in the southeast of Slovenia, after which karst phenomena around the world are named. Natural features have given this space a specific look. Through hundreds of years, Karst’s natural characteristics caused a development of certain crafts and a specific type of vernacular architecture.

In a combination of natural and cultural features, a cultural landscape was created that the people of Karst and wider strive to preserve. Therefore, it only made sense for the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport to establish The Higher Vocational College in Sežana (capital of Karst) in 2008 with study curricula of Designing Materials, stone. The study programme was much needed as the branch of stonemasonry was slowly disappearing in this area and so were the typical architectural elements in stone.

We cannot preserve cultural heritage if we do not preserve certain professions and skills from the past. However, we can preserve this knowledge only through intangible cultural heritage as experience, procedures, and the development of the material’s use that we adapt to more modern conditions.

Mitski park; Slovenija; Postavljanje skulptur; Špela Šedivy

For centuries stone was a very important material in Karst. It is known that in the past, each village had its own small quarry. So, the villages never lacked properly educated and trained stonemasons, who helped preserve the special aesthetics of Karst architecture with their products and way of work.

WOMEN IN KARST ARE NOWADAYS BECOMING INCREASINGLY KNOWN AS MASTER MASONS.

There aren`t many known facts about the role of women in quarries and stonemason workshops. Especially due to the physical complexity, it was considered that quarrying was not suitable for women. Hence, it was believed only men worked in the quarries and they were also the only ones allowed to learn stone-related trades.

Recent research shows that female representatives were often overlooked. Their role in the quarries was by no means negligible.

»They worked in quarries in administrative roles and took care of the food, which no mountain of a man can go without. If the kitchen was not close by, the women would bring lunch to the quarrymen from remote villages on foot or by bicycle. Their wicker baskets, which they placed on rolled-up cloth on their heads, contained pots with up to 30 litres of hot food; additionally, they would carry two more pitchers, one in each hand. Their journey could take an hour or more; when they came to the quarry, there was no time to rest. Instead, they did hard manual labour, working the lime kilns or operating the winch (a pulley used to lift slabs of cut stones). They also worked the blacksmith bellows and threw away surplus stones. (…) In 1946, women rebuild the whole stretch of road between Štanjel and Podlasi, which means that they dug, broke stones, filled, and completed all the necessary roadway construction works.« (Po svoji poti: 25 izletov po zgodovini žensk / A Path of their Own: 25 Excursions into Women`s History, p. 86)

After reading the paragraph above, it is somehow easier to understand the statistics in the Designing Materials, stone, program today. Thirteen years since the programme’s launch, forty-three graduates have successfully completed the programme. Among them twenty-seven women (62.8%). Apart from graduates (men and women), who have inherited or work in family businesses, it is female graduates who are involved in the most ambitious and “most difficult” projects. Their role is nowadays becoming increasingly known as master masons.  

One of representative projects of women master masons is Mythical Park in Rodik (funded by EFRD funds under the Interreg V-A Slovenia-Croatia 2014-2020 program). In this project team of mostly women masons created forty-one stone sculptures for twelve locations. All sculptures at the end weighed over 40 tons and create an impressive path near village Rodik. 

Špela Šedivy, our graduate and the main author of designes and sculptures, was also a mentor to our first year students Sibila Leskovec (6 sculptures), Iva Vita Hostnik and Marija Romih. All of them did and amazing job and demonstrated that they are taking the initiative in this professional field. 

The graduates, as well as all the other women who finished the programme, prove that being a great mason is an achievable challenge for all women. Thru their works, the profession that was on the verge of extinction is coming back to life.

References:Po svoji poti: 25 izletov po zgodovini žensk / A Path of Their Own: 25 Excursions into Women`s History, Ana Cergol Paradiž et al., 1st ed., Ljubljana: Društvo za promocijo žensk v kulturi – Mesto žensk = Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture – City of Women, 2021

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