Straw painting

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Straw paintings are craft objects made by shaping straw into patterns and representational images.

By modeling and playing with straw, people, especially women, started weaving straw into artistic objects. As time passed, they acquired more skill in working with straw and a century ago, created a very specific art, the art of weaving straw into pictures by using and combining the natural colours and shades of oats, barley, rye, wheat, and other grasses. These "paintings" have become a speciality of China, Mexico, and Subotica in Serbia and its vicinity.


Straw patchwork art is a Chinese folk art that dates back to the Han Dynasty (250—230 CE) and developed during Sui Dynasty of 581—618 CE. During the Song Dynasty (960—1127 CE), straw patchwork was enjoyed by royalty. Wheat straw is smoked, steams, whitening, dyed, cut, and altered in a myriad of procedures to fashion delicate representational works.[1] Today wheat straw patchwork is a decorative art and popular item for tourists to China.

Mexico and southern California[edit]

In Mexico, straw mosaics are known as "popotillo art," from the Spanish name for sacaton grass, Sporobolus, or popote de cambray. The art form has Precolumbian roots.[2]

The grass grows in states of Mexico, Morelos, Hidalgo, and Puebla. Mexico City is the center of popotillo art, and several award-winning artists have formed a workshop, "Popotillo y Color," there.[2] While common in the 19th century, popotillo art enjoyed the most popularity in the 1930s and 1940s in Mexico City. Popotillo workshops have been offered in Los Angeles, California.[3]

The grass is first hand-dyed. Before European contact, exclusively natural dyes were used and the straw was soaked in aguamiel or agave juice.[3] Then the artist draws a design, which is then covered by a fine layer of "cera de Campeche," a special type of beeswax. The straw is then cut down to workable sizes, sometimes as fine as a single millimeter in length. The artist then carefully presses the pieces of straw into the beeswax. When the design is finished, a fixative is applied to protect the finished work.[2]

Eastern Europe[edit]

Marcela Brčić Kostić, born in Subotica. She has been modeling straw for 10 years, using the traditional way of making straw pictures, miniature pictures, greeting cards, Easter eggs and different souvenirs. She is a member of "LUSA" society of amateur artists who model and work with straw.

Ljiljana Letić, born in Subotica (Serbia and Montenegro). Following her mother Marcela's suggestion, she also started modelling straw ten years ago. Her dedication to creating a work of art out of straw is the result of her growing interest towards uniting the old with the modern. She is also a member of "LUSA" society in Subotica.

The historical and everyday rich traditional culture gave rise to the Croatian Cultural and Performing Society "Matija Gubec", founded in 1946, at the time when the village did not yet have electricity, and the Art section within the framework of the Croatian Cultural and Performing Society is active since 1961 within which the gathering and stimulation of women painters - naive artists named "slamarke" (strawgirls) was initiated. In the various artistic expressions using that simple, supple, and fragile material - straw, besides the women of Tavankut, also increasingly engaged are the Bunjevci women of Djurdjin, Zednik, Bikovo and Subotica who originate from this area. Thanks to the great engagement of a man from Tavankut, a promoter of the Bunjevci traditional culture Naco Zelic, as well as other admirers and lovers of the Bunjevci culture, in the summer of 1970, a documentary named "Straw-girls" was filmed according to the script and direction by a Croatian film expert Ivo Skrabalo from Zagreb. This documentary was in the curriculum of the film culture when this subject was taught in Croatian schools, and it was presented many times at the exhibitions of the art of slamarke.

Writing about Bunjevci slamarke (strawgirls), a famous Tavankut and Croatian historian Ante Sekulic wrote that slamarke (strawgirls) "... have the need to artistically express their experience of the world around them, to make their hard life of fields, sun, dust, constantly bent back, and sweet more beautiful, that life of the black soil that is so crucial for their existence. They paint everyday life, but they always manage to give their experience a poetic touch... The work with straw makes them exceptional. Working with filigree precision... with brittle golden material, they achieve completely surprising atmosphere and effects..." Just like for the Sokci in Slavonia, Baranja, Srijem in Croatia or Backa in Vojvodina, for the Croats minority - Bunjevci in Serbia and Vojvodina everything begins with hard, toilsome work and self-sacrifice and where there is a lot "sweat and tears" there is the beginning of creativity: a rich and diverse traditional culture, indestructible, the peculiar and recognizable Croatian dialect called "ikavica", the customs, songs, dance, music, fine arts... Duzijanca - a working family holiday celebrating the end of the wheat harvest - when the new bread is born, is a recognizable symbol of the Croatian Bunjevci customs. Every house and family of Bunjevci had its own duzijanca in the past, and with it a common gathering, socializing and fun. For weeks the reapers and the women gatherers - risari i risaruse, reaped the seas of yellow wheat - the vast grain bearing fields, ensuring their future in the upcoming period. At the end of this toilsome work, the skilled women who make wreaths and various straw ornaments, would make wreaths out of wheat ears for the hat of the bandas (the leader of the reapers), and for all the other participants, they would make beads, rings and other jewelry...

From Grain to Pinting (Od zrna do slike) is a documentary directed by Branko Istvancic about a neglected, marginalized minority in Serbia, forgotten by their country. The “straw girls” are anonymous Croatian artists of Bunjevci ethnicity who live in the north of the independent province of Vojvodina. They found straw to be the “green” medium of choice for creating paintings, sculptures and applied art objects as an antidote to their difficult life on the vast Pannonian plain. With commentary by artists Ana Milodanovic and Jozefa Skenderovic, art historian Bela Duranci, priest Andrija Kopilovic and writer Naco Zelic, the film encourages the revival of an endangered art form.


  1. ^ "Runchuan Arts and Crafts Co., Ltd." CCTV Directory. (retrieved 9 Jan 2010)
  2. ^ a b c "Papel Picado, Papel Amate, and Popotillo." Festival of Mexico. (retrieved 9 Jan 2010)
  3. ^ a b "Popotillo art." Popular Arts Foundation. (retrieved 9 Jan 2011)

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