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History of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane


This troubled period ended after a few years, when activities developed in two directions; one aimed at the raising of funds for the erection of a new building as a result of donations and bequests, the other the increase of collections. The influx of funds was quite substantial thanks to the generosity of a number of people including the Society’s President, Zygmunt Gnatowski and Kazimierz and Bronisława Dłuski. Parallel efforts to prepare a design for the museum building continued. In 1911 the Society accepted the design provided by professional architect Franciszek Mączyński. It was severely criticized by Stanisław Witkiewicz, the creator of the Zakopane style, whose opinion the Society had sought. Eventually Franciszek Mączyński was asked to provide a technical design for a building in the Zakopane style based on Stanisław Witkiewicz's concept. The construction of the new building, started in 1913, was suspended after the outbreak of World War I and resumed by the Society when the war ended despite the country's difficult economic condition. In 1920 the building was ready to house the collection.

In the same year, Juliusz Zborowski, a linguist and grammar school master in Nowy Targ and also an expert in the folk culture of the Podhale region, became President of the Tatra Museum Society. In 1921 he was appointed manager of the Museum and custodian of the ethnographic department. In 1922 Maria Dembowska donated a large ethnographic collection of about four hundred items to the Museum. The donors wished the collection to be displayed in a typical Tatra Highlander’s cottage, which was only partly carried into effect for lack of resources: a life-sized cottage model, giving the visitor an insight into two rooms, the 'black' and 'white' chambers, separated by a vestibule, was installed in an exhibition room on the ground floor. The collection was displayed in this novel manner. The Tatra Museum was inaugurated in summer 1922. Two permanent exhibitions were opened to the public in the new building: an ethnographic exhibition on the ground floor and a natural history exhibition on the first floor. Organizational changes were introduced at the time, as a result of which the Society Board, until then the only body responsible for the Museum, conferred some of its functions on the management. A board of curators was appointed to supervise the activities of the Museum from a scholarly point of view. A period of financial stability followed - though the Museum was not nationalized after Poland regained independence, it could rely for support on the Department of Science and state subsidies. According to pre-war plans, a centre of multidisciplinary research on the Tatra Mountains and Podhale region was to be launched in the Museum. However, the concept was basically revised after the war: research of this kind was conducted at other centres while the Museum's contribution consisted in providing accommodation for visiting scholars. Thanks to the operation of the 'Tatra Museum Grand Hotel', as the guest rooms were jocularly called, the Museum became a peculiar centre of research on the Tatra Mountains and the region of Podhale.

During the interwar period the Museum operated with much impetus under the direction of Juliusz Zborowski and its holdings were considerably increased despite financial difficulties. In the late 1920s Juliusz Zborowski planned to open three new departments: of contemporary art, handicrafts and the history of the region. However, his plans were thwarted due to the outbreak of World War II, during which the museum remained open but its activities were suspended. Despite the war's destruction elsewhere, the Museum was fortunate enough to survive World War II unimpaired.


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Translated & edited by: Joanna Holzman, Adrian Smith, Anna Wende-Surmiak