The Ethnographic Department, the Tatra Museum’s oldest collection department besides the Natural History Department, embraces about 10 750 items. The first to reach the museum was the set of fifty-two items with the now priceless examples of female costume of the environs of Czorsztyn donated in 1889 by Count Stanisław Drohojowski who owned the Czorsztyn estate. As time went on, the Tatra Museum came into possession of other items assembled by enthusiasts of the culture of the region of Podhale, including Countess Róża Krasińska, Bronisław and Maria Dembowski, and Zygmunt Gnatowski. The first collectors, as well as later ones, members of the Ethnographic Section of the Tatra Society, mostly purchased rare items, distinct for their artistic value. They willingly bought shepherding and household utensils with wood-carved decoration, paintings on glass, elements of popular costume, and pottery. Exploring the area late in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they acquired articles described as ‘very old’ even at that time. Their collections and others were gradually donated to the Tatra Museum: that of Countess Róża Krasińska in 1896, that of Zygmunt Gnatowski in 1906, and that of the Dembowskis in 1922. Between 1912 and 1914, members of the Tatra Society’s Ethnographic Section enriched the museum’s ethnographic collection with numerous valuable items. In 1913 Bronisław Piłsudski donated fifty-four items, Józef Lesiecki bequeathed to the museum one hundred and eighty-three self-collected items, and Franciszek Prauss donated one hundred and one specimens. Thanks to them, the Museum now boasts a collection of great value, priceless to ethnologists and researchers on folk art in the region of Podhale.
After the Museum was nationalized in 1949 and professional ethnographers were employed, systematic purchases began with a view to complementing the ethnographic collection. In the post-war period, the main stress was on the purchase of contemporary painting on glass, folk sculpture and crafts, especially metal and leather articles, and contemporary Podhale costume. Other purchases were to enrich the farming and transport section. Though often devoid of artistic value, these items are indispensable as an illustration of the overall material culture of the Tatra people.
Only part of the ethnographic collection is accessible to the public. The main building houses a permanent ethnographic display highlighting folk culture in the region of Podhale between the second half of the 19th century and the present. Ethnographic exhibitions are accessible to the public in the filial branches at Łopuszna, Chochołów, Jurgów and Czarna Góra, arranged as they are in the late 19th-century/early 20th-century cottage interiors and farm buildings.