Monday, April 11, 2016

Romani Caravans

Romani Caravan as Folk Art

Horse drawn wagons have been around for as long as … well, horses and wagons! 

Among the more fascinating types is the living wagon, also known as a caravan or vardo. 

It is still in use today by the Romani people, a traditionally nomadic group with Indian subcontinent roots who live mostly in Europe, the United Kingdom and the Americas. 

Caravans, old world travel trailers, are often intricately carved and richly decorated. In some instances they are wooden canvases for master folk artists. Many designs became associated with individual carvers. 

These homes on wheels, once a year ‘round mainstay, are now more often designed for better weather use. 

Historically, they have ties to the wagons were used in the early 19th century by non-Romani circus troupes. The Romani adapted them to provide the comforts of home, including chimneys. Fortunately, the modification also meant that it took fewer horses to pull them. And, as horses were a highly valued resource, the Romani found that cast off horses and mules, which were much more affordable, would do an adequate job.

The Gypsy Horse

A creative, vibrant culture, the Romani in Britain actually developed the small, solidly built Gypsy Horse breed following World War II to suit their caravan needs.

It is interesting to note that most of the caravan’s treasure is found in the carvings. These hand-carved wagons were painted with traditional Romani symbols, such as horses, birds, lions and elaborate scrollwork. The more expensive wagons were also adorned with gold leaf.

An example of contemporary caravan art can be found in the work of Australia’s Basil Smith. 

A lifelong caravan traveler he and his wife have set-up shop. Woodworking talents involve the use of only handmade tools. Other skills involve the ability to make lead stained glass windows. 

To learn more about Basil Smith, click here.  

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