I received wonderful news last week. The Saskatchewan Arts Board awarded me a literary research grant to begin a 2-year journey which will culminate in my next book. The grant covers the initial stage of my research with a 3-week trip to northern Italy and Austria this August. Its where, 500 years ago, the Hutterite story caught fire.
I have had the great good fortune to write 2 national best-selling books; I Am Hutterite, and Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen. I didn’t realize I had another story to tell until 2010 when I traveled to the Hutterite homeland of Moravia (present day Czech Republic).
The Hutterite saga is bloody and complex. Hutterites endured hundreds of years of diaspora in 8 countries before finding safety in North America. Over a period of 300 years Hutterites fled from Italy, Austria, to Moravia, Slovakia, Hungary and Transylvania. Our relics and artifacts are literally strewn across these territories, each with one mesmerizing story after another. By the time our forefathers crawled over the Carpathian Mountains into the Russian Ukraine only 69 of an estimated 40,000 Hutterites survived. One of the survivors was my great, great, great, great, great, grandfather, Paulus Mandelik.
From the moment, I stepped off the plane in Prague in 2015 I was besieged by archaeologists, historians, university professors and museum curators who specialize in Haban culture. (Europeans still refer to Hutterites as Haban or Habansky from the German word, Haushaben, “having house together” a reference to our communal way of life.) These experts collectively represent a wealth of economic, social and cultural details about early Hutterite life. I was astonished not only by the sheer volume of information but by their dept of affection for our forefathers. In North America, Hutterites are often maligned and misunderstood but in Moravia our forefathers are referred to as “iconic” and “the most beautiful people that ever lived.” It was a revelation.
Early Hutterites were among the most educated society in all of Europe. Hutterite doctors served Emperors and Nobility sent their children to Hutterite schools because they had the most advanced curriculum. They were known for their excellent craftsmanship whether its was clocks, carriages, cutlery or hats. But they were most famous for their luxury pottery called Haban Faience. It was the dishware of choice for royal houses and remains the pièce de résistance for private collectors and museums.
I left Moravia with a promise. A promise to return and spend time at the knees of the Haban experts I was blessed to meet. I hope to give wings to their research by gleaning the human story from their scholarly narratives. The question of how we became a people and why we think and feel the way we do has many twists and turns. The goal of my journey is not only to discover necessary historical data but to cultivate an emotional bond with the people and places of the region. To breath the air, see the landscape and visit the homelands of the Haban people so I can bring our forgotten stories to life.
By far, the question I get asked most often is; when’s your next book coming out? I’m grateful to my readers for their encouragement and I invite all of you on the journey with me. This will be an archaeological dig of sorts. Together we will uncover an extraordinary story. A BIG thank you to the Saskatchewan Arts Board for making it possible!
For books and speaking engagements visit Mary-Ann Kirkby’s website www.polkadotpress.ca or www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!