I've only been to Hungary once—to the enchanting city of Budapest. It was here, at a Roma flea market, that I was first introduced to Tofej ceramics. Over the years I've collected (and ultimately sold) a handful of these pieces. Researching the pottery workshop has been a bit elusive and, during the process, one is confronted with Hungary's turbulent (and often cruel) political and ethnic history.
The Tofej ceramics workshop was located in the village of Bodrogkerestzúr in the Northeast corner of the country (some 24 miles from the Slovakian border). In the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the region had a sizable Orthodox Jewish population, many of whom were vintners, merchants and tradesmen. Alas, during World War II, Hungarian Jews were subject to draconian anti-Jewish measures; with the German occupation in 1944, most of the Jewish population was imprisoned and deported to Nazi concentration camps. The small number of surviving Jews emigrated, joining larger communities elsewhere.
Until the Soviet invasion in 1956, the area remained a mostly rural, agricultural plains. The Soviets decided to build the region into a center of industry and heavy manufacturing—which included ceramics production. It was during this period that the Tofej Keramiauzem ("Ceramics Factory") made the piece shown here (1960's-1970's). The late 1950's and 1960's saw an influx of laborers into the area to work in the new factories. The rural atmosphere of the region was much changed.
The collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union (1990-1991) dealt another blow to the village and surrounding region as factories were shuttered and unemployment skyrocketed. Today the region is remaking itself into a site for tourism, relying on its beauty, geographic diversity and natural resources to draw visitors to the area.
This history, while (at times) disturbing, reminds me that every aesthetic object has a history and was crafted in some particular societal milieu or personal circumstances. Discovering and understanding the crossroads of art and history is one of my greatest professional pleasures. Please click on the photo above to learn more about this piece.
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