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Open Air Museum of the Lithuanian Centre in Puńsk

OPEN AIR MUSEUM OF THE LITHUANIAN FOLK CULTURE CENTRE IN PUŃSK

The Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre in Puńsk exhibits wooden architecture features collected mainly from the area of the Sejny poviat. However, the collection includes also some exhibits from outside of this region. There are four monuments in the museum: a house, a barn, a cowshed, a granary and a well with a sweep. Three of them have been relocated from neighbouring areas, while one (the barn) was built from scratch.

The idea of founding an open air museum in Puńsk dates back to 1986. However, before this museum was opened, the elements composing its current inventory had been sought for. The museum in its present form is open to visitors since 1992. It is supervised by the Director of the Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre, a function entrusted since 2009 to Robert Wiaktor. The objectives of the institution are the following: to foster Lithuanian traditions and rituals, to collect and exhibit the material and immaterial heritage of this region, and to support local folk bands.

The features presented in the open-air museum form a reconstructed Lithuanian homestead from the turn of the 19th and 20th century. It occupies a relatively small area, which, however, does not mean that this museum has little to show. Let us not be deceived by its size. For, although the museum in Puńsk may appear to be small from the outside, we will certainly find interesting exhibits indoors. This is especially true of the granary. We could even describe its interior as almost “overloaded” with interesting items.

Four wooden buildings can be found in the open-air museum: a peasant cottage, a granary, a building for livestock (cowshed) and a barn. The three first have a historical value and are registered as historical monuments, they are also used to organise exhibitions. The fourth building (the barn), built thanks to EU support, often hosts socio-cultural events. It is also a scene for the performances of the „barn theatres” famous in the whole neighbourhood and also in Lithuania, and a place where concerts of folk music or other special ceremonies are organised. On these occasions, pottery, wooden grain mortars and other furnishings are replaced by chairs, loudspeakers and microphones.

However, if we take a closer look, we will certainly notice small, although charming folkloric accents: after all, isn’t the devil in the detail? Among the presented features, the peasant cottage relocated from Wojtokiemie (from Lithuanian Vaitakiemis) occupies the central spot. It dates back to the 19th century and was certainly owned by a wealthy peasant. This conclusion can be drawn mainly from the dimensions of the house – it has as many as three rooms. Apart from the bread stove it is furnished with many weaving tools, e.g. a loom, a warping mill and a spinning wheel. In the chamber, a fully filled trunk, a prayer book and glasses left on the table, as well as a wall clock, catch our eye.

The cottage looks impressive also from the outside. One of the prominent features is the thatched pediment roof crowned with śparogi (i.e. elongated wind brace). The sheaves used to cover the roof were additionally secured by a horizontal band made of wooden poles/perches, and located just below the roof ridge. The small windows in the corner-notched log construction also have an interesting appearance with intricate sheer curtains cut out of white paper. On the right side, when exiting the peasant cottage, there is a livestock building. It has a gable roof with a high rafter framing (roof structure) and corner-notched log walls. What sets this building apart is the number of exits – there are three to choose from. Inside we can see among other things a wooden chest for storing grain made of a tree trunk, barrels, scythes, and even such surprising items as … a sleigh – unfortunately their poor condition won’t allow for a sleigh ride. Just like the peasant cottage and the granary, the livestock building was relocated from an open-air museum in the village of Wojtokiemie. It dates back to the same period.

The last building with a historical value in the small museum of Puńsk is the granary. The building with a gabled thatched roof holds, apart from the ticket desk, an almost magical room full of interesting items. Inside a granary you should not expect to have much place above your head or around you. There are many different exhibits to be found here, not always really matching each others – next to a weaving workshop with flax combs we find shoe moulds, chests, plaited baskets, barrels, a kerosene lamp and … a pre-war Serenada radio set. After having visited the lower floor of the building, you simply must pay a visit to the loft. Although there are hardly any exhibits there, this place is by all means worth seeing. The light seeping through the thatched roof gives an incredible charm to the stifling atmosphere of this room and perfectly matches its interior. You can come in through a low entrance concealed under a slightly protruding roof supported by two poles – calling this structure an arcade may seem exaggerated, however this association is not entirely out of place.

The open-air museum of the Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre in Puńsk was awarded in ... the second prize in the Competition for the Best Preserved Wooden Architecture Monument in the Podlaskie Voivodship. This competition, organized by the Office of the Marshal of the Voivodship of Podlasiem, was held under the patronage of the General Conservator of Monuments.

In the homestead, apart from the aforementioned buildings, there is also a wooden cross and a well with a sweep characteristic of the Podlasie region. Near the museum we can also find a „folk” Inn („Zajazd Puński”) which serves delicious Lithuanian cuisine}

Jakub Jankowski

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