Gyergyószárhegy, Transylvania

The Summer Creative Colony established in 1974, in the most beautiful part of the Gheorgheni basin. Every August, about twenty-five to thirty painters, sculptors and graphic artists are provided with accommodation and undisturbed work opportunities in the partially restored Renaissance castle of Szárhegy and the former Franciscan monastery. Lajos Zöld, a Csíki newspaper editor from Szárhegy, initiated the restoration and worthy utilization of the castle. András Gaál and Márton Árpád encouraged the painters from Miercurea Ciuc to revive the summer camp called Friendship. A significant collection of paintings and graphics was created from the participants’ offers, from which a permanent basic exhibition and temporary exhibitions closing the summer camp were organized. Artists, regularly attending artist colony considered works created during their time there to be separate creative eras, including Aurel Ciupe, József Balla, Árpád Márton, József Macskássy, Endre Simon. A growing sculpture park has been created in the vicinity of the castle over the last twenty years. Many came to Szárhegy, especially from Transylvania, but also from parts beyond the Carpathians. Among them are József Balla, Gábor Tőrös, Ferenc Deák, Gusztáv Cseh, Aurel Ciupe, Sándor Puskás, Endre Adorjáni, András Gaál, Árpád Márton, Imre Égerházi Lajos Bardócz, Gheorghe Adoc, Endre Kusztos, Frentiu Sever, Coriolan Hora, Imre Balázs.


This year we received an invitation – the painter Gyula Madarász and I – from the Hargita County Cultural Inspectorate, the Miercurea Ciuc branch of the Association of Romanian Artists and the management of the Gheorgheni Creative Camp to take part in this year’s 16th event. For the first time, Hungarian painters were invited to the Szárhegy creative camp called Friendship.
Szárhegy is a prestigious larger village of Gyergyószék located in the middle of the north-south axis of the basin, at the foot of the north-eastern mountain range. The village is on a flat plateau, the Franciscan monastery housing the artists’ colony was on a semicircular elevation of the mountain crowned by a forest.
The construction of the monastery was started in 1665 based on the donation of István Lázár. From the 15th century onwards, the Lázárs were magistrates in Csík, but they also played a significant role in public life nationwide. The Franciscan monks were settled in the area in 1642 by the chief judges of Gyergyó, Csík and Kászon. In 1951, the monks of the monastery were taken away and convicted, and the monastery, along with the Lázár Castle, began to decay. About 25 years ago, I saw the buildings in their deplorable ruins. 16 years ago, Lajos Zöld and many other well-known Hungarian painters, public figures and local patriots decided to establish an artist colony in Gyergyószárhegy called Friendship, and to restore the castle, where Hungarians, and later, Romanian and other artists paint together. The Székelys of the area unitedly restored part of the monastery with social work, very little money, but with greater faith and will and endless zeal, and later the two-story manor built in 1532 was restored and the paintings donated by the artists were exhibited here, in the knight’s hall and in the attic above it. Hundreds of visitors enjoy these paintings daily and admire the reborn Lázár Castle. Recovery is still going on, with increasing difficulties.

When Lajos Zöld invited the folk artists of Transylvania to work, they applied united, and thus a social group of woodworkers was formed, making chairs, tables, cabinets. The fabric painters’ group did the same. The bed linen, tablecloths and curtains were made by the sewing group, the blankets and carpets were made by the weavers from Csíkdámfalva. The crafting group did the chandeliers, the ironwork on the doors and chests. Corinthian potters added plates, mugs, stove tiles and other ornaments to decorate the rooms. This enormous beautification work was done from 1978 to 1981. The result of this unprecedented collaboration of the Székelys is that the Hungarians of Transylvania created a creative camp in Gyergyó unique in the world, because it shows the creative treasures of an entire people.
Thirty artists took part in the creative camp this year. Most of them are Romanian painters and sculptors, as well as Hungarian artists living in Romania. In addition to roaming the “Holy Mountain” and its surroundings to collect motifs, members of the camp were also taken to more distant landscapes. Such were the excursions in Korond, Csíkszereda and Békás. The 13th Ceramics Fair in Korond lasted for two days. We were the guests of the organizers of the fair on the first day. The best potters unpacked their work in Árcsó, so there was a great choice. I especially liked the preparations of the Pál and Tófalvi family. Unfortunately, the discarded taste is unfortunately served by many, so they left the ancient world of form and color. I also made this a point for some masters. The answer was: we know. Such is the need, it sells, we have to make a living, so we have to give up our principles. Something should be done about it…

Participants of the creative camp

There are so many picturesque themes in this region that it would be possible to work through them for years. Anyway, Transylvania is characterized by a wealth of picturesque motifs. The problem here was not what to paint, draw, but what not to. After the mass, two older women dressed in black came to me. One of them asked where are we from, and when she found out we are of Debrecen, she asked us to tell Rozália Sztráti, her daughter, she wishes her good health and to take care of herself. With tears in her eyes, she sighed, “God, how many young people leave this place.” And she asked either herself or us – I don’t know – “why do they have to go?”
During the creative camp, we attended indulgences in local or surrounding villages on several occasions. The first indulgence was in front of the Szárhegy (Szármányhegy) chapel. It was built before 1400, with no written record of an earlier time. The mountain is called Holy Mountain. The altar in front of the chapel was surrounded by the people. They listened to the Hungarian mass. The song went to Gyergyó and Ditro. “You are standing here on the hilltop, in the presence of the Lord,” said Franciscan Father István, “it is up to you to keep these six-century-old walls here in the future. Let them see Hungarians, and let the wind spread Hungarian songs in the mountains.”
At an indulgence, Danish painter Anne Christel Bieling asked why priests and people are crying now? This is our national anthem, I replied. After the speeches and recitations, we sang Szózat (Summons by Mihály Vörösmarty). Then he asked the same thing. Since I couldn’t translate it into German, I said it was our second anthem. When we sang the Székely anthem, he asked again. And this belongs to the Hungarians living here, I replied. But why do they cry when they already have so many anthems? – asked.
How hard is this to explain!
On August 20, on the occasion of the St. Stephen’s Day celebration, a monument to the heroic dead was consecrated on Szárhegy. Some of my Romanian colleagues were there and, to my delight, watched the colorful commemoration and ceremony with understanding. Our meeting with the poet Sándor Kányádi was also a great experience. During our conversation, he fondly remembered Debrecen, the writers and acquaintances of Debrecen, especially Béla Márkus, András Görömbei, and, as he said, he left Debrecen with beautiful memories.

On the performance of Kinga Illyés, there was no empty chair left in the knight’s hall of the castle. The music accompanist of the two-hour program was József Hencz, a music teacher from Marosvásárhely. We had an experience that cannot be forgotten for a lifetime. Kinga Illyés whispered into the room “ever sleep on knifes?!?” and after the silent, shocked silence, Timisoara, Bucharest, revolution, promises, police records, proclamations, radio texts, songs, poems, and always wonderful background music, and a unique product of a great artist about what it means to be Hungarian today what it means to stay and not leave. To believe and trust, to do for the future, for human freedom.
And at the end of the great celebration, as so many times before, now the Romanian colleagues present could hear and see the tearful Hungarians crying not only under the anthems, but also when they sing, “Oh, my sweet good God, my protector, my savior…” “Wandering Székely hope! … Jesus, bless the land of Transylvania.”
After the ceremony, I asked a Romanian painter colleague who does not know Hungarian how he found the performance – and he was quite touched. He said it was great, a high-level performance by European standards, and he was glad to have seen such a show and feels that he understood everything…
One of each of the paintings of contributing artists attending the creative camp was exhibited in the dining room and in the corridor of the monastery. At the closing ceremony, we were pleased to hear the professional recognition of our Romanian colleagues and at the farewell dinner we wondered with a sore heart whether we would meet again. Because the sincere desire of both Hungarian and Romanian colleagues is to meet again…

Imre Égerházi
painting artist
Hajdú-Bihari Napló, Saturday, 13 October, 1990


Ladies and gentlemen, my dear friends, my dear colleagues!
I’m a little bit touched here. I want to share a personal experience first because it relates to and you certainly are, whatever your nationality, sad to see national values in ruins. I’m sorry for the French when I see a church in St. Michel that was demolished during the French Revolution, but it’s a different pain, and it’s different when I see the castle of Szárhegy here and the monastery in ruins. At the time, I didn’t even think that someday I could say a few words to those who came for this very solemn occasion, the 20th anniversary of the creative camp, at the top of the ruins, in the place of the ruins, here in the knight’s hall.

In the studio in Debrecen, when painting a picture of Transylvania, 1990

It was a pleasure for me that in 1990, with Gyula Madarász from Hungary, we were two of the first, at least among the members of the Hortobágy Artists’ Colony, to be able to attend the course of this creative camp. As I mentioned, I have been here several times before, I also met Lajos Zöld and told him how much I would like to draw and paint here. He also saw the folder I had with me, he knew I worked here. Then when I went home to Hungary, what I drew and painted here, I published in the local newspapers. That was a big deal at the time, as we couldn’t talk about Transylvania. Transylvanian landscape, Gyergyóremete, Gyergyószárhegy landscape, these things you couldn’t talk about, as it was not allowed.

Yet I did this with a holy obsession, taking on the consequences as well, not caring that I could get in trouble. I don’t want to glorify myself now, please don’t get me wrong! But I want to prove my loyalty to and love for this land.
Going back to 1990, it was an infinite pleasure for us to be able to take part in the work here at the time. And then I realized the Hortobágy Creative Camp is also known around Europe, although to a much lesser extent then in Hungary. Yet this creative colony is much bigger, have much more results, and yet it is not known at all.

Painting in Gyimes in 1973

We will change that! I will try my best to help this camp. Get help, open the window to the west as well. I have already managed to organize a very nice exhibition in Debrecen, and many other small things: catalogs for colleagues, a calendar, I’ll not going to list everything. I promise you here, quite a lot of people will hear, you can hold me accountable that we will continue to help in our own way. At the moment, I can’t say exactly how, because I earn that particular forint just as hard as it is to earn the lei here, but we’ll come up with it somehow and we’ll definitely help this creative colony.

András Gaál, Vince Kémenes and Árpád Márton with Imre Égerházi

Our relationship developed very nicely. The Transylvanian painters first appeared at the Hortobágy Creative Camp, and I am pleased to tell you that this year, in February, there were 18 painters of Hungarian nationality from the Transylvanian parts. 18, an artist colony in itself! This, I think, is a great help in itself, if we have not mentioned it so far. (sudden applause)

With András Gaál in the creative camp in Gheorgheni

We call not only Hungarian painters, but also painters of Ukrainian, Romanian and other nationalities. Artists from nearly twenty countries were present, so the west was also present. I emphasize this because you have to see, you have to make sure what your colleagues in the west are doing. We also need to familiarize with their work so that our creative behavior can be more complete.
Nagybánya… when a cultured man hears this word, Baia Mare, you mainly remember that there was an artists’ colony where a lot of people worked. So the cultured man has its mind firstly on the artists’ colony. I’m not a fortune teller, but I predict, and our grandchildren will prove it, that once it comes to Gyergyószárhegy, they will say the same, they will feel and think like they did at Nagybánya. Believe me, this is as certain as I am here now. And I would like to thank Lajos Zöld, András Gaál and everyone else who worked on this for believing that it could happen, and I am a little proud. I am proud that this is what we Hungarians and, of course, Romanians knew, we were able to create, to bring together so beautifully the folk decorative art and the other great branch of culture, the creative art that you can see here on the wall. May the Good God make this colony of artists worth not 20, but much more, as mentioned, to be celebrated and remembered in a 100 years. I’m sure that will be the case if this camp gets into the right hands.
We know that it was very important to have a Simon Hollósi at the time, to be an András Gaál. And it’s important for someone else to come who will stand there and not regret their time and money, as nothing to regret, if you have to face your family, if you have to face half the world, take it forward, do it, don’t care about nothing because there is a goal in front that needs to be completed.
I would like András Gaál and Lajos Zöld to take this thing on, but look around, as I try, I look at the youth who will take over from me. Unfortunately, I’m starting to find this harder and harder because younger people are more rational today, older ones maybe not so much. They say: and who pays for the petrol, the thousand forint phone? And the amount of time you spend doing this, does anyone pay for it? Who paid András Gaál and Lajos Zöld, and who paid me? It can only be done with enthusiasm, and that is the only way to keep going. For my part, I can’t stop anyway.
As long as I can do it, helping each other for our common values, this is crucial, helping each other! We hope you will continue to live in the colony and live the way our descendants will be proud!
Thank you.

Gyergyószárhegy, 1994