At the southern end of Bermondsey Street on the other side of Bermondsey Square, the shops, bars and restaurants are knitting a cultural scene of its own adding to the established creative vibe of the neighbourhood.
Opposite the memorial of Bermondsey young war hero Albert McKenzie is a relatively recent addition to the community; Modern Folk, a fascinating space with a mix of retail and folk art. Curated by Kitty Walsh, the exhibition ‘Transylvanian Families’ runs from 13 to 30 September and explores the folk culture of Transylvania, a region in Romania with a rich heritage that goes far beyond its infamous fictional vampires!
It celebrates the different communities that occupied the area – Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons, Roma and Russians. Each of these ‘families’ had a distinct culture, but in Transylvania they lived side-by-side, drawing inspiration from each other to create one of the most diverse areas of folk tradition in the world.
Transylvania’s extraordinary variety can be seen in the eye-catching antique furniture on show at Modern Folk. Teeming with vibrant details, painted furniture from Tara Călatei demonstrates why this area of Hungarian heritage was known as ‘fancy country’. These unusual, exquisite pieces add colour and individuality to any home interior. If, after browsing the collection in the intimate retail space, you would like to take something home with you, these folk art pieces with practical uses are available to buy.
For example the elegant wardrobe painted with garlands of carnations and roses is priced at £1,150 while a dresser embellished with colourful wooden tassels is available for £1,400. Or indulge your romantic side with one of the wedding chests – a rustic carved pine ark from the Saxon community (£850) or a chest painted to mark a wedding in 1891 (£950). While they may look very different, each chest is covered in the same ancient symbols of protection, an important feature of Romanian folk art.
Transylvania’s folk textiles are just as spectacular as its furniture. A group of hand-made jackets (£180 each) illustrate the diversity of the region, ranging from ostentatious Roma examples to a smart navy velvet piece worn by the Russian community. Quirky and stylish, these vintage jackets are an exciting opportunity to add a unique piece of wearable folk art into your wardrobe. Or for a bold statement, an exquisite Hungarian horsewoman’s outfit, circa 1900 (£425). The sweeping skirt was designed to be tucked in at the waistband, allowing the rider to move freely.
‘Transylvanian Families’ will also include decorative art works from the early 20th century to the present day. A group of reverse glass paintings will be offered with prices starting at just £65. Brightly coloured and delightfully naïve, these icons are fast acquiring a cult status with art collectors and interior decorators alike. Terracotta pots shaped like strange animals, and carved wooden musicians illustrate the vivid folk imagination of the region (from £45). These sculptural pieces would add a touch of character to any house or garden, and would look great nestled amongst your plants.
Together these pieces reveal Transylvania’s rich folk heritage, on display in the UK for the first time. Modern Folk founder Kitty Walsh says ‘I’m delighted to bring a slice of Transylvania to London. Transylvanian art is so vibrant and joyful, and it’s barely known outside Romania. This is a great opportunity to snap up some spectacular pieces before the international collectors catch on.’
‘Transylvanian Families’ from 13 to 30 September