Lace Design Work of Arpad Dekani

Illustration: Arpad Dekani Lace design c1908

Much of the early twentieth century revival of practical lace making, but more particularly that of designing lace within Hungary, can be attributed fairly squarely to Arpad Dekani. Professor Dekani, who started his career relatively humbly as a teacher at a provincial school in Hungary, eventually became a professor at the Arts and Crafts School in Budapest. It was in this position that he had the influence to restructure some of the aims and ambitions of lace production throughout Hungary.

Dekani used old traditional Hungarian patterns as an origin point in which to engender the production of a whole new system of styles for twentieth century lace production. He was also able to engineer the training of students on two levels. Firstly, there were those who would hopefully produce lace as a going concern. These students were trained in all forms of lace making as well as that of book keeping and the general maintenance and organization of a business. On another level Dekani organized the training of students which in turn who become teachers themselves. These newly trained teachers who were well versed in the new production and design parameters that Dekani had set out for the modernisation of Hungarian lace making, would filter out into the traditional areas of lace making in Hungary, particularly in the north of the country. These Dekani disciples if you will, were given the task of restructuring and repositioning local customs and traditional frameworks of lace production, not to industrialise the craft as such, but to give it a decent competitive edge within Europe.

Illustration: Arpad Dekani lace design c1908

A number of areas of traditional lace production in Europe particularly that of Italy and Austria, had already gone through a restructuring process, giving exports a much more contemporary look and feel to their lace design work. Although still based very much as a traditional craft, European lace did see a considerably robust marketing campaign in the late nineteenth century, but particularly that of the early years of the twentieth century, when so many other crafts and traditions were also having to reshape and redesign themselves for the new century.

Hungary as a partner within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, tended to follow the structure already set out by the Austrian craft schools and college system, whereby traditional craft design and decoration was upgraded, restyled, repackaged even. However, Austria was not the only example of this repositioning of design and craft for the new century. Schools and colleges from Glasgow to Moscow were having to re-evaluate the textile craft system, its present position and its potential future in a rapidly expanding market that was becoming increasingly dominated by mass production and consumerism. Hand production of printed and woven textiles, as well as that of embroidery and lace was particularly vulnerable to market forces. The situation was not helped by the increasing reluctance of customers to subsidise these traditional crafts by paying much more for hand crafted work than they would for industrially based work.

Illustration: Arpad Dekani lace design c1908

In some respects the blame for the decline of the craft system of hand production can be placed with the general buying public as much as with industry. Many who could afford to subsidise these old traditions did so on a progressively smaller scale. As fashion began to incorporate the marketing ploy of inbuilt obsolescence, there was even less room for the craft system to manouvere, particularly with a product that was often produced with the intention that it be seen as outside the role of obsolescence and therefore fashion. Even though some craft work might have attempted to compete with fashion, by its very nature and its high price tag, craft products were meant to be bought as long term investments rather than for short term profit.

This by no means implies that Dekani and many others like him across Europe failed in their attempt to redesign and in many cases relaunch craft traditions. There is a long line of repeated craft initiatives that stretch across the twentieth century. Many of these might well have been short term or failed for various marketing, pricing and fashion reasons. However, the craft system is still with us today and as it yet again restructures itself in the form of contemporary craft, we should be thankful for the many individuals, such as Arpad Dekani who kept the ideal of production that was largely outside the increasingly fragile and some might even say destructive cycle of fashion and redundancy.

Illustration: Arpad Dekani lace design c1908

Reference links:
By Hand: The Use of Craft in Contemporary Art
Contemporary Crafts
Form Magazine - Australia
Crafts: Contemporary Design and Technique
Arts and Crafts Furniture: From Classic to Contemporary
Contemporary African Arts and Crafts: On-Site Working with Art Forms and Processes [460 Photographs; 23 Color Plates]
Common Ground: Contemporary Craft, Architecture and the Decorative Arts (Mercury Series)
Craft and Contemporary Theory
Craft and contemporary culture,
In Praise of Hands: Contemporary Crafts of the World
Exploring Contemporary Craft: History, Theory and Critical Writing
Jim Partridge (Contemporary Craft Series) (Contemporary Craft Series)