The Tyrolean Folk Museum… some reflections (this article will also appear in Aesthetip magazine… but possibly with different pictures)

The Tyrolean Folk Museum is situated in the centre of Innsbruck, in the old town, very near the Dom, or Cathedral. Created in 1888 and recently re-furbished, it is a fantastic and fascinating place to spend a few hours.

 I visited in February on my free day in Innsbruck whilst presenting at the university. Spread over several floors, with a light installation reminiscent of something I saw recently at the Venice Biennale, it’s an amazing collection of different aspects of hand-made vernacular culture, much of it extraordinary, full of heart, earth, animal, working-by-fires-feelings, and very touching. On the ground floor alongside the excellent café there is a beautiful collection of nativity miniatures.There are actually quite large tableaux, in some cases 3 m wide, and they are varied, intricate, beautiful and lit in such a way that they seem to come to life. You can see the continuity of this tradition in certain shop window displays in the town as well.

Detail of Nativity tableau
Detail of Nativity tableau
Shop window display, Innsbruck
Shop window display, Innsbruck


On the first floor there is a wide range of decorated farm implements, ranging from stunningly beautiful hand-embroidered animal bell necklaces or collars, to sculptures of Christ carried by a donkey, religious paintings, huge flowery head-dresses, costumes for festivals, cooking tools and ceramics. Every item is hand-made, and either refers lovingly to a strong connection to Nature, tradition, faith, or all three.

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local headdress, shepherd statue, folk museum KW                       2014-02-10 09.48.03                  2014-02-10 10.12.14

 The second floor focuses on the life events of the-only-just pre-modern local people, where death and life were daily closely interwoven. Child-birth in remote mountainous regions was sometimes a risky matter, and there are many little magical paintings depicting the prayers and agonies of the people. Children were often lost during birth, and there are paintings and dolls depicting these little souls. The after-life was also a pre-occupation, and there are many references to local beliefs, lovingly depicted as if to ward off that which is feared, yet also attempting to appease.

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Statue, Folk Museum

 There were also life-size reconstructions of actual rooms: furnished entirely in wood, with leaded light windows and enormous decorated ceramic stoves, perhaps one decorative/religious item per room, and hard wooden furniture, these rooms were spartan but beautiful and lovingly re-created.

 There were hundreds of examples of hand-embroidered ribbons, tiny boxes made of bone or horn, finely decorated with beautiful animal forms; hand-woven rugs and textiles, and hand-carved wooden tools for all manner of culinary and domestic tasks.

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Bell with hand embroidered neck-lace Folk Museum                      ribbons, Folk Museum

Decorated bone jewellery box folk museum

I came away with a strong sense of a time and place that felt both near and remote in the context of our modern lives, but that there is also an enduring pulse in the desire to create beauty in the everyday as well as celebrating significant events in the passage of lives where living could sometimes be very hard.

I was hoping there would be a great big catalogue, given the exhibition was so rich, but there was nothing! I was glad I had taken so many photos.

March issue link: