Searching for the Šlapanice Faith

SEARCHING FOR THE ŠLAPANICE FAITH

with Barbora Lungová, Nina Grúňová and Lucie Králíková

Inspired by an eponymous Chrysanthemum variety The Faith of Šlapanice, the exhibition and the research project documents and reconstruct a lifetime work of Jan Dvořák (1924—2006) which has been almost completely lost. J.D. was a popular garden chrysanthemum breeder who lived and worked in the town of Šlapanice in the proximity of Brno. During his lifetime, J.D. bred over 400 varieties of garden Chrysanthemums, aiming to attract amateur gardeners. In his breeding program, he wanted to achieve greater hardiness, pest and disease resistance and lesser light sensitivity of the plants. Although he started breeding indoor flowering decorative mums for the cut flower market in the late 1940s, he switched to single and Korean­-type chrysanthemums which he saw a greater aesthetic potential for average gardeners. From the 1960s on, he started giving his new varieties of female names, accompanied by the adjective “Šlapanická” (“of Šlapanice”).

Jan Dvořák inherited his nursery from his father, a notable and commercially successful gardener whose business was, however, nationalized at the beginning of the Communist era. J. D. worked in the same nursery for his whole life, although from a legal point of view, the business was run by the local Cooperative and later by the Communal Services, so J.D. was not the owner, but one of the employees. J.D. retired from the larger­-scale business in the 1990s, but still kept his breeding program which he practices in a small garden next to his house and exhibited his new cultivars at the local branch of the Czech Union of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners shows. After his death in 2006, all plants from his garden and most of the docu­mentation was lost. It is only thanks to Ms Marta Fišerová, a chair of the Šlapanice branch of the Czech Union of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, that 18 varieties have been retrieved over the 15 years from different colleague gardeners and are now kept and distributed within circles of friends and connoisseurs.

Today, the commercial gardening sector in the Czech Republic focuses predominantly on the Multiflora chrysanthe­mums which are generally not very hardy and are grown in greenhouses. Unlike the United Kingdom, for instance, where there exist several chrysanthemum nurseries providing an astonishingly wide array of Chrysanthemum types (differing not only in shapes and sizes of flowers/and petal leaves, flowering period, glasshouse or garden flowering but also by shapes and hardiness of the plants), some nurseries and small­-scale garden centres in the Czech Republic have started to provide the “old-­fashioned,” hardy, spray chrysanthemums only recently. The choice is usually limited to a few varieties which are not domestic. The only exception is a nursery near Prague which had obtained few of Dvořák’s mums from Ms Fišerová and thus offers a handful of hardy Czech heritage varieties as well. Prague Botanical Garden is the only institution that keeps several Dvořák’s varieties donated by the Šlapanice section of the Czech Union of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners in 2007.

Our exhibition in The Brno House of the Arts is a prequel to a book that will be documenting the retrieved visual material and new illustrations of the 18 varieties preserved. During his life, Jan Dvořák provi­ded his cut flowers to ikebana masters visiting Brno on two oc­casions. In 1962, Sōfū Teshigahara, an avant­guarde Japanese sculptor working with the art informel aesthetic paradigm and a founder of the Sogetsu ikebana school visited Brno and demonstrated the principles of ikebana in the Brno House of the Arts where our show was presented. He was allegedly excited by J.D.’s mums. In our conception of the exhibition, we got openly inspired by the event while reinterpreting and de­constructing the aesthetic principles of ikebana. Our installation used the flowers of the preserved Šlapanice varieties only but combines them with other plants gathered in the “new wild” around Brno brownfields. We also hope to inspire the viewers to communicate intimately with the plants in the show in an act of bowing down before their individual personalities.

Searching the Faith of Šlapanice epitomizes not only the quest for one particular lost chrysanthemum variety but the quest for much more. We hope that by this project, we might sparkle interest in amateur and possibly even professional gardeners to search for more Šlapanice chrysanthemums, to include them in an institutional gene bank, to distribute them among a greater number of enthusiastic gardeners and to revive the memory of these once-famous but nearly lost plants.

Research collective: Bára Lungová, Nina Grúňová and Lucie Králíková

Exhibition realized in The Brno House of Arts, Czech Republic, 2021  

Exhibition view by: Polina Davydenko