Erzgebirge Wooden Folk Art
The Erzgebirge and Its Traditions
The Erzgebirge (literally "Ore Mountain") region lies between Dresden and the Czech border in the former East Germany. It is a beautiful, low mountain range, once densely wooded and rich in metals. Silver was discovered there in the 12th century, and tin two centuries later. Each discovery brought a great influx of settlers to the region, and for hundreds of years it was mining and its relative industries that supported the area's economy.
By the 18th century, however, it had become obvious that the supply of ore was dwindling. It is natural that, in seeking to supplement their incomes, the miners and their families looked to the Erzgebirge's other main resource: wood. The abundant forests that had supplied timber for the mineshafts now supplied the materials for Holzhandwerk, or woodworking. Plates, utensils, spindles, and buttons were among the first items to be manufactured, but it was toys that proved most successful.
The Erzgebirge region, and especially the town of Seiffen, soon became known as "Toyland" for the crafts that were produced But although mining was no longer central to the Erzgebirge's economy, it continued to inform the newer industry. To build and run the mines, some craftsmanship in wood was necessary, and therefore the change in professions was less drastic than one might think. Sources of energy employed in the mines were adapted to power the machines that the woodworkers developed for production. And artistically, the mining life came to be a significant and recurring motif in many of their creations, especially in the Christmas decorations.