“Every job from the heart is, ultimately, of equal value. The nurse injects the syringe; the writer slides the pen; the farmer plows the dirt; the comedian draws the laughter. Monetary income is the perfect deceiver of a man’s true worth.” – Criss Jami
Cieszyn is a town on the Polish-Czech border. It attracts tourists for its picturesque old town and its proximity to the mountains. Winter sports are very popular in Cieszyn, therefore, there is a need for sport equipment maintenance. Although large sport stores offer such services, local people in Cieszyn may direct you to a small room knocked into a covered walkway in one of Cieszyn’s sumptuous town houses.
As the main door has no sign, it is difficult to find this place. It is to right of the lottery kiosk so if a lady working in the kiosk feels like helping, she may point to the correct door. The first things that can be seen after entering the room are wooden sticks and a large corner desk with a lamp with thousands of small objects cluttered on it. And then the presence of a man in his fifties or sixties becomes noticeable as he hunches against this messy looking desk scrabbling something in a wooden piece. For a second one may doubt that this is sport equipment maintenance. And this doubt is justified.
The man’s name is Jerzy Wałga. He fixes winter sport equipment, indeed. But this is his additional occupation that lets him earn extra money during winter time. His most prominent occupation is gunmaking of Teschen school. The type of gun that he makes is called cieszynka.
Cieszynka was first made in the 1st half of the seventeenth century, probably by John Kałuża in Cieszyn. It was used for hunting sitting birds, hence the name ptaszniczka (birdgun). The rich inlay is made of metal, pearl and bone mass shows a deer, dogs chasing a hare, a lion with the hare and the fight of Samson with the lion. The whole picture is decorated with a twig.
The wheel-lock is decorated with an engraved representation of a fantastic bird, sea monster, flowers and leaves represented a novelty in those days . Cieszynka‘s caliber equals 8,10 mm.
The oldest mention of gunmaking in Cieszyn is from the sixteenth century , but its golden age was in the seventeenth century and it lasted until the thirties of the eighteenth century. They became a very popular commodity due to the very modern at that time the kurlandzki lock (named after the gunsmith George Kurland who settled in Cieszyn in the nineteenth century) and beautiful decorations. It managed to gain a secure position in the market in Europe. Currently they decorate the major museums around the world.
The last one…
Jerzy Wałga admits that nobody is interested in learning the skill of making cieszynka nowadays. One of his sons passed away a few years ago, while the other one has a different occupation. ‘Nowadays people do not have time to continue time-consuming old crafts. I can do it because I have retired. Life was different in the past. People had more time’- he says.
Mr. Wałga has made guns by himself for over forty years and he has made forty of them. Making one gun takes about a year to finish and the price ranges between 10-15 thousand zloty ( $3200-$4900). The requests for cieszynka came even from USA, but the most unique order was from the Chancellery of the President of Poland. “President Bronislaw Komorowski was interested in the gun as he is a hunter, too. From what I know, he was told that there is one person who still makes cieszynka“. Working on this order took him a total of 2.5 months. Mr. Wałga took the shotgun to Warsaw to personally give it to the head of country. Mr. Wałga says: “Each element of cieszynka is made by hand. The one for the President is the most prestigious and exhibit copy that I have ever made. It is because this type of opportunity happens rarely.”
Another room is attached to the gunsmith’s workshop where traditional laces and embroidered dresses are displayed. This room used to serve as a workshop for Mr. Wałga’s wife when she was alive. Apart from her works one will find examples of local handicraft from other people of Cieszyn with whom Mr. Wałga was familiar.
Unfortunately, the masters of Cieszyn do not have successors, so soon one will need to speak about their line of work in the past tense.