The Sieve Makers' Croft In Biłgoraj in the Roztocze Region

Who is spun around by a lolownia? Can you kirzyć with a bandużosa? You can find that out in the Sieve Makers’ Croft in Biłgoraj.

The Sieve Makers’ Croft in Biłgoraj in the Roztocze Region is a subsidiary of the Museum of the Region of Biłgoraj. It was subjected to museum protection in situ – that is, without being moved to a different location. Currently, it is one of the few remnants of the old architecture of Biłgoraj, standing in sharp contrast with the surrounding concrete high-rise buildings. The most interesting things to see in the croft include a complete set of tools used for the production of sieve parts: meshes and rims, as well as the original house interior as was left by the last owner.

Since the Sieve Makers’ Croft is subject to in situ preservation, its history begins with the history of the Biłgoraj architecture itself – a history which reaches back to the foundation of the city in the 16th century, when the first sieve makers moved into the area from the Mazovia and Kielce Regions. It is likely that at that time, houses were being constructing in the central part of the town. The beginnings of the architecture which became characteristic of the sieve makers of Biłgoraj and the surrounding area found in the 17th and 18th centuries. Much like in the majority of towns of the old Lublin Region, these were houses which combined town architecture with the building type characteristic of country cottages, incorporating granaries and barns into the house structure, since the inhabiting townspeople sustained themselves from stock-raising and agriculture. Beside craftsmanship, stock-raising and agriculture were also the occupations of the Biłgoraj sieve makers.

Due to the town’s history, only a few examples of the original architecture survive to the present day. Also, the photographic and iconographic documentation is scarce. The city’s original buildings were destroyed during the wars in the 17th and the 18th centuries, while the II World War consumed the late 18th and 19th century architecture. The wooden buildings which remained intact in the central part of the town were in turn demolished in the 1960s and 1970s to create space for the construction of large house complexes, as in the case of the Nadstawna Street. Owing to the efforts of local regionalists and culture aficionados, one of the few remaining original 19th century sieve makers’ crofts still intact by the Nadstawna Street was surrounded with museum protection. Janusz Bętkowski and Roman Sokal, subsequent directors of the Museum of the Region of Biłgoraj (then the Folk Handicraft Museum in Biłgoraj) made extensive efforts to preserve the croft. Thanks to the initiative of Roman Sokal and Jan Górak, who was at the time the voivodeship heritage conservator in Lublin, the croft was saved from disassembling and entered into the heritage register. In the mid 1970s, the Museum purchased the croft, which was then subjected to in situ protection. It was taken apart, conserved, and reassembled. It should be noted that the only piece which was replaced during conservation was the fence: among other minor works, new entrance gates were added (originally, the fence only had one, frontal, gate). In 1976 the croft was opened to the public as a subsidiary of the Museum.

Although the croft was surrounded with similar timber architecture as late as the 1970s, it is currently the only surviving house of this type and one of the few remnants of the old architecture of Biłgoraj. The asphalt-and-concrete surrounding gives it an incredible atmosphere - the original sieve-makers’ farmhouse stands in contrast with the modern blocks of flats. Upon leaving the asphalt road and entering the wooden gate and the grass-grown yard with beehives, a treadwheel, and a whitewashed hut, visitors experience a peculiar feeling of having traveled back in time.

The farmstead consists of the cottage with a vestibule, a “white room” and a “black kitchen”. Of the objects assembled inside, the workshop with a well-exhibited handloom (called krojsce) and a footloom used for weaving meshes, and an exhibition of old sieves, colored sieves and sieves prepared for transport, are especially interesting. The exhibition in the white room shows a collection of traditional holiday costumes worn by the Biłgoraj sieve-makers, adorned with the lasowiacki-type embroidery. A Russian-style samovar attracts attention. It is a remainder after the last masters and a symbol of the sieve-makers’ frequent merchant voyages, as well as a mark of high material status. Apart from the living quarters, the farmstead consists of farmhouses – a woodshed with machines for making rims – kobylica and lolownia, a granary, a carriage house and livestock buildings, which currently hold an exhibition of handcrafts from Biłgoraj and the surrounding area. A beautifully exhibited wagon (called wasąg) placed in the driveway, garners particular attention. Much like the samovar, the sturdy granary doors, enforced with wrought iron bolts are a mark of high status and wealth of the farm’s owners. Exhibited in the yard is a large horse-drawn treadwheel and caved log beehives. The gateway and the gate are covered with small, gabled, shingled roofs typical for Biłgoraj architecture.

    The Croft is a particularly friendly and recommended place to:
  • Cyclists – as the Director of the Croft says: “It sometimes happens that we greet cyclists who have travelled for a few thousand kilometers – how can you not entertain them?”;
  • Families with children – the farm is fenced, so there is no danger of the child wandering off and becoming lost; children can safely play in the yard;
  • Women – the sieve makers were a community in which women held an especially high position – during the half year long absence of men, they held public functions including that of protecting the villages by holding night watch. It is pleasant to visit a place with such strong feminist traditions…;
  • Filmmakers – the farm often served as the site of feature documentaries pertaining to, among others, the II World War; students of the National Film School in Łódź film their short films here and chef Robert Makłowicz taught TV viewers how to cook Biłgoraj cuisine.

To guests seeking additional attractions we recommend a visit during the cyclical events of leave-taking (the so-called MournfulŻałosne in Polish) and greeting (Joyful ­ - in Polish Radosne) of sieve makers who are leaving or returning from their merchant voyages. Mournful takes place around May or June, Joyful – usually in September, but the dates are flexible and weather – dependant. It is a time of celebration for the entire city – various reenactments, displays of traditional sieve-making, folk concerts (including recitals of sieve-makers’ songs), and performances of local youth artist groups take place. The city in enveloped in enlargements which envision its past appearance – for example, instead of the modern city hall we can see the old magistrate building. The issuing of special free bulletins is the event’s undeniable attraction. The bulletins contain regional recipes, puzzles and a dictionary of the secret sieve-makers’ language, called the okrętkowy language – for instance, a woman was called banduzos, while the drinking of vodka was expressed with one word: kirzyć.

During the Mornful and the Joyful one can also have a taste of the delicacies of the region’s cuisine. To those who visit Biłgoraj outside of those two events, we recommend the traditional and very tasty piróg Biłgorajski (the Biłgoraj pirog). The piróg, also spelled pieróg, is a dish based on 3 main ingredients – buckwheat groats, cheese and potatoes, which are ground and mixed together; next, butter and cream are added and everything is baked in doe – or without it (piróg baked without doe is called golas or goluch, a naked fellow). A piróg usually comes in its vegetarian version – without cracklings. Pirógs of the variety with doe can be bought in bakeries (they usually disappear as early as noon!) like the one near the Croft called the Sieve-maker’s Restaurant. Pirógs can also be enjoyed at the Croft itself. The kind without doe costs 3,50 złoty.

The Sieve-makers’ Croft conducts research and educational activity pertaining to sieve-making. The most interesting of its collections is the complete set of tools for the manufacture and transportation of sieves. The Museum of the Region of Biłgoraj, which the Sieve-maker’s Farm is a part of, also possesses a valuable archival collection of materials dealing with the sieve-making of Biłgoraj. First and foremost, these are the private collections of the regionalist Michal Pękalski, which constitute the core of the Museum’s assemblages. The Museum’s Archive contains ca. 10 interviews with Biłgoraj’s sieve-makers recorded by Pękalski in the 1960’s, as well as a collection of songs, tales, descriptions of customs and examples of the okrętkowy language all recorded by the same researcher. The Museum also possesses a collection of photography and old postcards documenting the process of sieve manufacture and the life of the sieve-makers of Biłgoraj.

    Publications (a selection; chronological order):
  • Michał Pękalski, „O sitarstwie i sitarzach Biłgorajskich”, Polskie Towarzystwo Ludoznawcze, Wrocław 1961.
  • Roman Sokal, „Zagroda sitarska w Biłgoraju”, Muzeum Okręgowe w Zamościu, Zamość 1978.
  • Jerzy Waszkiewicz, „Zagroda sitarska (informator)”, Muzeum Ziemi Biłgorajskiej w Biłgoraju, Biłgoraj 2003.

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