The first state-owned textile factory in Vojvodina, North province of Serbia, which was established in 1770, has continued its production – in the last three years it has been producing creative ideas and various cultural contents.
The Cultural Station ‘Svilara’ is forming a network of eight cultural stations throughout Novi Sad, which has been launched as part of the project "Novi Sad - European Capital of Culture". These spaces (former factories, sports heritage, local communities and cultural centers), among which ‘Svilara’ was the first to open as a cultural station, have not only been physically renovated but have been made available to cultural facilities, including citizens, artisans and artists in creating new city toponyms. Cultural Station ‘Svilara’ is the station with the main topic — cultural heritage.
Silkworm breeding was a strategically designed social project that is still worth studying today. There have been many places with silk production in Vojvodina, not only this one in Novi Sad.
The land of Vojvodina is very suitable for raising white and black mulberries. These trees have many purposes: they extract excessive moisture from the ground and thus protect houses made of earth and clay, dense canopies provide thick shade in the yards and in front of houses, trees planted along the roads between the villages formed a windbreak and a kind of landmark, necessary during lowland winds. Their fruit is edible, so it was used to make jams and juices, to feed pigs and to produce mulberry brandy; wood is resistant and was used in carpentry, and the most important thing for our story is that the leaves of white mulberry tree are food for silkworm caterpillars. Since Vojvodina had been a part of the Habsburg monarchy, the idea of silkworm breeding in Vojvodina was established in Vienna in 18th c.
And so, already in the first half of the 18th century, as a strategic state project, silkworm breeding came to life - a kind of guardian of social peace because the poor layer of the population was engaged in silkworm breeding. No special conditions were required for cultivation. It was enough to have one dry room and the will to work, and the state took care of all other phases of the entire process, providing silkworm eggs and free food for caterpillars by mass planting of mulberries. The authorities made lists of households in front of which mulberries were planted, and the police or special controllers took special care of mulberry plantations. At the end of the process, the state also guaranteed the purchase of silk.
The first silk factory was founded in Pancevo in 1733, and by the end of the 18th century, silk production had become an important economic branch. The silk factory in Novi Sad was founded 37 years later, when silkworm breeding had already taken off by then, which thousands of planted blueberries in Novi Sad and surroundings clearly shows.
The 19th century brought the industrialization of the sericulture in Vojvodina, so in Novi Sad, not only cocoons were collected and unwound, but also spun on 120 spindles. At the end of the 80's, steam spinning machines were bought, and then the silk factory produced from up to 18 tons of partially processed silk, which were taken to Vienna and Budapest. Up to 500 workers were hired during the season. Silkworm breeding, as a compulsory subject, was then introduced in Vojvodina's primary schools, instructions on silkworm breeding were printed in Serbian, Hungarian and German, and controllers were trained to check the quality of the cocoons during purchase.
Yugoslavia - the fifth silk producer in the world
Ten years after the end of the First World War, Yugoslavia was the third silk producer in Europe. Factories in Novi Sad, Pancevo and Nova Kanjiža produced about 40 tons of raw silk a year, employed nearly 1,000 people, and there was not a single place in Vojvodina where silkworms were not bred. At that time, Novi Sad also had an Institute for the production and testing of silkworm cocoon with the then most modern laboratory. Before the Second World War, Yugoslavia was the fifth largest power in the world in sericulture, with two and a half million mulberry trees planted.
In the years immediately after the end of the Second World War, silk production experienced a complete collapse. On the one hand, the war-torn world turned to the production of artificial materials that were far cheaper and thus more affordable; on the other hand, in the 1950s, a disease caused by the mulberry pest appeared in Vojvodina, and the Yugoslavia state proclaimed a law on the destruction of all mulberry trees.
However, not all mulberry trees were destroyed. Thanks to the research made especially for the exhibition “About the Mulberry Tree and Sericulture” organised by National Museum in Zrenjanin, we know that a mulberry tree has been preserved in Orlovat in the yard of the house where well-known painter Uroš Predić grew up, and painted famous work "Children under the mulberry tree". There are many others all around Vojvodina, Survivors, wonderful and gigantic, keep the memory of silkworm breeding in this region.
The building of the Novi Sad silk factory also preserves the memory of the time when silk production was the initiator of the industrial development of Novi Sad and Vojvodina. In 2018, Cultural Station ‘Svilara’ was revitalized within the project "Novi Sad 2021 - European Capital of Culture" and is now living its second life, again based on creativity and social projects.
Various artistic contents and programs are held in this building. The two-year anniversary of the Cultural Station ‘Svilara’ was marked by the project "In the Land of Mulberries" by architect Dragana Kojičić*, which connected Svilara, the region of one part of Novi Sad and the earth as a construction and material suitable for artistic expression through the story of mulberries. At five workshops in which both children and adults took part, silk motifs were painted in earth colors, silkworms were made of earth and straw, three large panels of mud mortar were decorated with a graffiti technique with mulberry leaf motifs, silkworms and silk threads, lectures were given on earth architecture in Vojvodina - the land of mulberries and creative hardworking people.
author: Gordana Momčilović
original text taken from: AL JAZEERA,
*Dragana Kojičić is the founder of the Earth&Craft organisation, a member of the SEE Heritage Network