At the end of the 10th century King Boleslaw Chrobry and his knights came to Krakow accompanied by the brewer Dzierbolek, who could brew a truly good beer for the locals.
During King Wladyslaw Jagiello's reign in 1409 cobblers took money from the treasury for producing pointy poulaine shoes for the Grunwald expedition. They didn't actually make the shoes, drunk away the money, and the King had them disgraced by ordering that their mustaches be clipped in half.
Maciej Danilkiewicz, a member of the barber's guild who squatted every day in the shadow of St. Mary's church extracted teeth so well and painlessly that he was summoned to St. Petersburg to Tsar Peter the Great.
In 1768, Marcin Oracewicz, one of the strap makers defending the city against the Russians, killed a Tsarist general with a rifle shot by using a makeshift bullet made from a coat button.
The earliest Polish surgical tools from the first ever Krakow surgical ward back in the 18th century didn't have to be sent to Vienna for sharpening. Krakow grinders sharpened them successfully in their debut in this new field.
Polish football was born in the 1890's solely thanks to the artistry of a leather worker from ul. Szewska.
The bed for President Moscicki in the Wawel Castle was prepared by an upholsterer from ul. Golebia.
During de Gaulle's 1967 visit all of Krakow paraded around with pretty kepis (French Army caps) that were produced by the last of the Krakow hatters.
So it was. Such is life: it goes on. The winds of time blow down the main streets, and then the alleys and darker passageways and backyards, effacing the noble shop-signs of old firms that guaranteed quality work in the days of yore. The heirs of such traditions: piano tuners, corset makers and milliners, bakers and upholsterers, armed with experience or a renowned old surname, battle today to endure with a persistence that doesn't have any logical motivation. Neither financial nor long-term. What makes them continue to repair umbrellas, sew corsets and stuff dilapidated couches is most probably an awareness encoded in their genes that that's how it should be. And even if they so desired, they couldn't act any differently. They can't. As heirs of Dzierbolek, Oracewicz and Danilkiewicz, they firmly believe that their professional lives have meaning, because they are entitled to, as it were, by definition, the respect of generations.
That's how the author of this book feels and this is how he depicts his subjects. Gregory Michenaud, enchanted with old Krakow, surely observed similar trends in his home country of France.
What sustains Krakow's craftspeople today is the often heard opinion that "you're surely the last". "Surely" my darlings is not a death sentence. Just the opposite, it inspires hope. After all, so repeat the owners of the moth eaten shops, such dire things were once said about the rhymer's guild, that it was doomed to extinction. And as everybody knows, the most beautiful poems were written and are still being written in Krakow. Craftworks, inflamed by a divine spark of talent, are art. And that will never die out.
"The Last of the Mohicans" is a story of fading away, parting, and also of the allure of work done by hand, when practically everything is dominated by machines. This is a story of people, immersed and most often alone in their work and of the passion which has left a stamp on their faces and thus given them all something in common. Follow the 12 profiles of contemporary Krakow craftsmen and their work in words and pictures.