The cultural life of the town has been influenced for centuries by the fact that the present Szilády Áron grammar school was once the property of the Reformed College of Debrecen. Áron Szilády (1837-1922), who was a Reformed (Calvinist) minister, an MP, a historian, a translator, and an academic, stamped his strong personality on the town. Through his organization the grammar school grew in status, a museum was founded and the school’s present building was erected. A protestant intellectualism defined cultural life, which influenced local teachers, too. Szilády and József Thury carried out academic work which is still highly valued today. Their works on Orientalism, the Ancient Hungarians and History are keystone references for the researchers of modern times. István Gyárfás, a historian who was also the town’s one-time notary, wrote his name into the annals of Hungarian historical research with his works on the Jazygians and Cumanians. The so-called ‘Peasant Poets’ (e.g.: István Gózon, László Bacsó, Imre Vas) were a remarkable feature of the town’s intellectual life. As well as their own works, their hand-written books of poetry preserved popular contemporary rhymes and songs.

The famous turn-of-the-century painter János Thorma was born in Kiskunhalas. His name was taken by the local museum, which has a Thorma Gallery containing many of his paintings. Here one can see Thorma’s two greatest historical canvases – Rise Up, Magyar! and The Blood Witnesses of Arad. The museum’s permanent exhibition entitled Kiskunhalas, the Lesser Cumanian Market Town introduces us to local history. The Halas Gallery is the town’s art collection. It can be viewed in several venues. The fairytale paintings of the town’s honorary citizen, Viola Berki, who died recently, can be viewed at the House of Collections. Munkácsy Prize-winning artist Balázs Diószegi’s exhibition is in the Végh House. The amateur and professional work of local, or locally connected, artists is significant. They enrich not only the cultural life of the town but often that of the whole country also in many and varied artistic spheres.

Temporary exhibition spaces also contribute to a flourishing cultural life. The General Cultural Centre and the Community Centre both regularly host the works of nationally famous and local artists and collectors. The Kiskunhalas Cultural Centre, a non-profit company which was founded in 2003, is responsible for the town cinema, the Community Centre and folk dance meetings. Its task is organizing and coordinating the town’s cultural events and can provide a venue for the programmes of many other organizations and institutions. The local observatory is part of the Rákóczi technical school, which also has a hunting exhibition and collection of hunting trophies.

The Town Library has a collection of 100,000 books. Its archives of journals, and audio and video material are also considerable. There is a European Information Point in the library and access to the Internet for every member of the public. The library organizes and hosts literary evenings and specialist lectures, too. Its archives and different clubs offer opportunities for unwinding, cultural enrichment and academic research.

Kiskunhalas has a local drama group. Theatre companies from other parts of Hungary often perform in the local cinema or in the Community Centre. A traditional event every summer is the series of performances known as the Museum Garden Evenings. Many local music groups and choirs perform during civic occasions. The traditional and ballroom dancers of Stúdió 2000 and the folk dancers of the Halas Dance Ensemble can be credited with many great national achievements and performances abroad.

There are almost one hundred civil organizations which serve to improve public life in the town. Culture, art and an academic lifestyle can only survive and develop with financial support. To realize such aims the Kiskunhalas town council established the Civil Basis Foundation, but local businesses and philanthropic individuals also sponsor cultural events. An example of this is the series of books about Kiskunhalas, which has been published thanks the generosity of all the above mentioned sources.

The traditional local events of greatest importance are the Halas Weeks and the Harvest Festival. The date of the Town Day (6th May) commemorates the 1745 ‘Redemption’, a crucial event in local history. These three series of programmes allow Kiskunhalas to display its cultural, intellectual, economic, sporting and other values.

Photographs: Károly Szűcs, János Ferincz, Ákos Pozsgai

Architecture, Historic Buildings

The Turkish invasion and occupation of Hungary (1526-1699) destroyed the buildings of the previous centuries. Also older houses made of earth and clay do not withstand the ravages of time. This is why the oldest elements of our architectural heritage date only from the 18th century.

The present day Reformed church was built in Classicist and Late Baroque style on the site of former churches. It was begun in 1772 and extended between 1804 and 1823. The latter construction was planned by János Schwörtz and his son, Frigyes. The Empire style pulpit and minister’s chair are worthy of note. The ‘Sinners’ Stone’ outside the church is also interesting. The Baroque Roman Catholic church was completed in 1770, following the resettlement of Catholics in the area. It was designed by Jakab Gföller. The church was extended to be able to accommodate three thousand worshippers in 1940. The Calvary statues in the churchyard are worth dwelling on – those of the two thieves are in a Peasant-Baroque style from the beginning of the 19th century. The local synagogue was built between 1857 and 1860 in Classicist-Romantic style.

The Classicist town hall was constructed in 1833 and 1834 according to the plans of Ágoston Fischer. The six-wing Secession town hall is the work of Rezső Hikisch. It was completed in 1906. Among buildings with cultural and educational purposes, the most important are the 1892 grammar school, which was named after Áron Szilády, and the home of Halas Lace, the Lace House, which originally dates from 1935 and was built in the style of a traditional peasant house with a veranda.

It is hard to find any traditional private houses nowadays. In the Tabán area of town we can still see a few peasant houses which are interesting to ethnographers. Apart from these the so-called ‘Country House’ (Tájház, Marx tér 1.), the inn by the Sóstó Lake (Sóstói Csárda) and the Végh House (Végh-kúria, Bajcsy-Zs. u. 5.) with its arched-portico all deserve attention. The surviving bourgeois houses are all protected. The ‘Sáfrik’ windmill is a protected monument of industrial heritage. It originates from the second half of the 19th century and thanks to its 1966 refurbishment it is a tourist attraction which is still in working order today. It is worth taking a stroll in the old Reformed cemetery, which is a protected historical area where we can find the tombs of many famous sons of the town as well as a garden-like area featuring nearly one hundred ancient gravestones. The modern architecture of the town suggests harmonious development. This conscious town planning was rewarded in 1988 by the Hungarian Society of Urban Studies with the presentation of its ‘Hild Medal.

There are numerous statues and memorial tablets around the town, for example the ‘Sorrowful Kuruc’, sculpted by József Damkó, which commemorates the 1703 Battle of Halas between the rebel Hungarian Kuruc forces and the occupying Labanc soldiers of the Habsburgs. The fallen of the two world wars are honoured with separate statues. Between the two we can find a bust of Áron Szilády. It has now become a tradition that new works of art appear in the town every year. The ‘Lacemaker’ statue, the bust of János Thorma and the ‘Well of the Ravens’ are all the work of locally-born Ilona Mozer and her husband Károly Barth. A present plan is for a public statue commemorating Halas Lace.

Source: Aurél Szakál “Kiskunhalas rövid bemutatása” Kiskunhalas Almanach, 2002
Photographs: Károly Szűcs, János Ferincz

Kiskunhalas, the Town of Lace

Halas Lace, the world famous jewel in the crown of Kiskunhalas celebrated its centenary in 2002, no mean feat considering the storms of history it has had to withstand. The Lace House is one of very few such workshops still functioning today.

The ‘Queen of Laces’, as it is also known, was first sewn in 1902 since when it has been an important part of the Hungarian applied arts. Árpád Dékáni (1861-1931) applied artist and lace designer, and Mária Markovits (1875-1954) applied artist and lacemaker created a unique technique of sewing needlepoint lace and brought the first ever Halas Lace to life. Dékáni designed the laces and Markovits’s nimble fingers and ingenuity made his dreams real.

Halas laces are needlepoint laces. Mária Markovits introduced the new and unique technique behind their sewing. The distinction of Halas Lace is that the decorative motifs of the lace are surrounded by strong outlines to which contoured thread is tacked on. The inner part of the lace is filled with so-called ‘weaving stitches’ and ‘darning stitches’. The two phases of producing a Halas Lace are the contouring and after that the needlework. In the first years between ten and fifteen different kinds of linking stitches were used. This figure later grew to thirty. Today sixty different stitches are known. The stitches have atmospheric names to distinguish them: Cumanian veil, dewdrop, snowflake, rose garland, forget-me-not, triple branch, quadruple cell etc. The lace samples of differing fullness stand out in a white lace like colours on a canvas.

The motifs of Halas Lace are very varied. They are determined by the possibilities of the technique together with the personality and style of the designer. Secession-style, Hungarian-style and modern laces have all been made. There are laces featuring plants (flowers, leaves), animals (swans, peacocks, doves, deer, lions etc.) and human figures, as well as ones bearing abstract designs. The most common use for laces is as decorative cloths and mats. There have even been cloths sewn with a diameter of 100, 150 and 180 cm. There is a separate fashion for laces depicting coats of arms. Lace trimmings are popular and so are dress decorations (bridal head-dresses, collars, ruffs, cuffs, pinafores, brooches, handkerchiefs, fans, handbag covers etc.)

In the beginning (1902-1906) every lace was designed by Árpád Dékáni. After he left the town for Budapest he continued to plan laces to be sewn at the lace workshop in Kiskunhalas and at one in the capital where ‘lacegirls’ of Halas also worked. In the years following Dékáni’s departure there were many designers with local connections, for example Ernő Stepanek (1881-1934), Antal Tar (1891-?), Tibor Csorba (1906-1985), Béla Tóth (1910-1996), József Vorák (1915-1984), Lili Nagy Kálozi (1918-), Miklós Bodor (1925-) and Mária Bródi (1949-). Halas laces are also designed by those living elsewhere. Mrs Ilona Bazala-Gábris, Margit Pongrácz, Eszter Kelety, Ilona Országh, Anna Rucsinszky, Júlia Demjén, Béla Molnár are all deserving of mention.

The realization of the designs for the lace could not happen without the lacemakers’ patience and close attention to their work. From the last one hundred years, approximately two hundred lacemakers are known by name. Today 15 women are active in sewing different laces. The technique takes years to perfect. After six months of learning, another four to five years of practice are needed for complete mastery of making Halas Lace. To make a Halas Lace is extremely time-consuming. Working eight hours a day, the fifteen lacemakers produce maybe 400 grams of material in a whole year. This is one of the reasons why they say that Halas Lace is worth more than gold.

Because of the amount of effort demanded, there has nearly always been a workshop for the lacemakers. In one hundred years there have been ten different locations for this. A base for the lace is needed from which to solve the complicated tasks involved in producing lace (design, teaching, securing raw materials, valuation of finished work, quality control) and also organize ever-essential financial support (both local and national). Markovits Mária provided the first workshop; later the Lace House was built to accommodate the lacemakers of Kiskunhalas.

Halas Lace has won the recognition of the public of Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Rome, Washington DC and St. Louis, as well as that of the Pope and the reigning houses in England, Holland, Italy and Japan. Amongst the many prizes awarded to Halas Lace over the years, some of the most important are Grands Prix at the St Louis World Fair (1904), the Milan International Exposition (1906), the Paris International Craft Exposition (1937), and the Berlin International Craft Exposition (1938). Silver and bronze medals were won at the International Applied Arts Exposition in Milan (1940). A Grand Prix was presented at the Brussels World Fair (1958). Halas Lace gained first prize at the Budapest International Fair (1965) and the Grand Prix of the Kiskunhalas World Lace Exhibition (1998). The lace has also been exhibited in many different cities and countries.

The 100-year history of Halas Lace can be divided into five periods. The time from the beginning until the end of the First World War (1902-1918) was characterized by initial successes but was brought to an end by the global catastrophe. There were almost two decades of quiet waiting between the end of the Great War and the building of the Lace House (1918-1935). It was the talented mayor of Kiskunhalas, Imre Fekete, who brought significant changes in the 1930s. The period between the inauguration of the Lace House and the end of the Second World War (1935-1945) was initially marked by an upswing in the fortunes of Halas Lace, though war once again destroyed this. The period of socialism between 1945 and 1990 did not favour aristocratic laces. Although in those decades there were some reassuring signs, events and individuals, this was when the survival of Halas Lace had virtually always to be fought for.

Recent years (from 1990) have been marked by a renaissance.

At the start of the 1990s the association dealing with the sewing of Halas Lace was dissolved and this meant a threat to the continued existence of the Lace House. After this, however, the lace began to rise again:

1992: Kiskunhalas Town Council formed the Halas Lace Foundation, declaring its purpose to be the popularization of Halas Lace both at home and abroad.

1993: Appearance at the World Travel Expo, the largest event of its kind.

1994: Unveiling of Károly Barth’s ‘Lacemaker’ statue at the entrance to the Lace House, in memory of Árpád Dékáni and Mária Markovits.

1995: International Lace Exhibition marking the 120th anniversary of the birth of Mária Markovits.

1996: Publishing of the Halas Lace Album.

1997: Inauguration of the extended and renewed Lace House; Grand Prix at the Budapest Handicrafts Fair.

1998: World Lace Exhibition; Grand Prix at the Budapest Hungarian Products Fair.

1999: ‘Flowers of Hunnia’ – exhibition of Hungarian laces (with 270 entries from 108 lacemakers).

2000: 1st International Lace Exhibition; honorary guest of the 10th International Handicrafts Exhibition in Chatillon-sur-Seine, France.

2001: 2nd International Lace Exhibition (with 295 entries from 12 countries); September 14th to 20th – ‘Cloths and Kerchiefs’ exhibition; from this time all honorary citizens and winners of the Pro Urbe award receive a Halas Lace designed by Mária Bródi; preparation of a collection of twenty-two Halas laces by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry to be sent for exhibition at Hungarian Embassies and Consulates throughout the world.

Halas Lace at Foreign Exhibitions:

January 2002: Madrid – FITUR International Tourism Expo

February 2002: Prague – International Tourism Expo

February 2002: Michelstadt, Germany – one-month solo exhibition in city museum

March 2002: Sfântu Georghe, Romania – exhibition at Saint George’s day celebrations

May 2002: Kronach, Germany – exhibition and lace making demonstrations at twin towns expo

May 2002: Prague – handicrafts exhibition

September 2002: Alicante, Spain – the wife of the Consul General of Barcelona introduces Halas Lace

October 2002: Cleveland, Canada – guest at the exhibition of the Hungarian Heritage Society

October 2002: Sansepolsro, Italy – many laces appear at the International Lace Biennial

October 2002: Paris – MIT International Tourism Expo

October 2002: Chatillon-sur-Seine, France – honorary guest of the 12th International Handicrafts Exhibition

The Cultural and Scientific Department of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry sends a collection of laces around the world. In 2002, Halas Lace was to be seen at many important diplomatic occasions in Europe’s biggest cities.

In 2003 the collection visited Cairo, Sarajevo and Athens.

April 2003: Volencienner, France – International Lace Exhibition

April 2003: Venice

June 2003: Luxeuil, France – International Lace Exhibition (2nd prize in needlepoint category)

July 2003: Munich airport – MALÉV Hungarian Airlines introduces Hungary

July 2003: Nordhal, Norway – International Lace Exhibition

October 2003: Novi Sad, Serbia

November 2003: Paris – Hungarian Institute

Planned Exhibitions:

January 2004: London – as part of the Hungarian Year

February 2004: Lebanon – Al-Bustani Festival

March 2004: Sárospatak, Hungary

May 2004: Kiskunhalas – at the 5th International Lace Exhibition

Lace Media

Aside from introductions and appreciations in various media, many films have been made about Halas Lace. The Hungarian Post Office has three times issued series of postage stamps depicting Halas Lace, a silver commemorative coin has been minted, and the Matáv telecommunications company recommends it to tourists as an unmissable cultural treasure.

The work of the local designers and lacemakers embodied in Halas Lace is the hymn of this town at the altar of human culture. Our hopes are that it will long be sewn in Kiskunhalas, this lace that was once called “the splendid handiwork of simple womenfolk from the Hungarian Brussels”.

Sources: Aurél Szakál “Kiskunhalas a csipke városa-100 éves a halasi csipke (1902-2002)” Kiskunhalas Almanach, 2002 and Zsuzsanna Kiliti, manager of the Lace House
Photographs: Károly Szűcs, archive of the Halas Lace Foundation