Back to the Sources – the Founders and the Founded

Moderated by Marianna Berényi and Zsolt Sári

Open-air museums are not only interesting elements of Hungarian museology, they are also extremely popular with the public. In 2015 the Hungarian Open-Air Museum in Szentendre, the open-air museum in Szenna, the Sóstó, Göcsej and Vas village museums and the National Heritage Park in Ópusztaszer attracted close to half a million visitors. The various collections were established during the course of the 1960s and 1970s, within relatively precise limits. Scholarly based ethnographic collections were established in which the transferred buildings, buildings preserved in situ, sometimes reconstructed or rebuilt, simultaneously presented vernacular architecture, lifestyles, interiors, different methods of husbandry and the related forms of settlement. What antecedents were these and their success based on? How were these institutes established? What kind of debates have they subsequently generated? Iván M. Balassa (Szentendre), Judit Knézy (Szenna), József Németh (Göcsej) and István Páll (Sóstó) have been involved with them for all or a large part of their careers. The discussion with the now retired ethnographers-museologists and museum directors involved an overview of a period as well as some museum history, in which the issues raised are still currently relevant.

In 1959 Gyula Ortutay and his associates organised a conference in which the entire profession presented its standpoint and the views expressed there later became basic points of reference. Thus there was a recurring notion that an open-air museum should be established to present Hungarian vernacular architecture. However, selecting a location gave rise to many problems. Before World War II there was a plan involving the People’s Park in Budapest, but that had become outdated. A fine area by Arany Hill in Aquincum was suggested, but in the end Szentendre proposed an open space where the landscape offered both flat and hilly sections. In preparation for the selection of buildings, there was a so-called Black Book, essentially a wish-list concerning what kind of units could be established and within those what kind of buildings. When the decision was made to establish the museum, the collecting began. As many people as possible were involved, including those in the provincial areas. The Black Book contained some ideas which very quickly proved to be clearly impractical, or were unsuitable from the historical perspective. The list contained 18-20 regional units, which were reduced to 14 on the basis of a tender for plans. Then a two-round competition was launched in connection with developing the transfer plans. The first round involved many participants, but by the second round it was possible to choose between 2-3 projects. That period of the competition was fortunate in that it allowed for the involvement not only of architects but also ethnographers. Thus was born the Hungarian Open-Air Museum.