Open air museum


Under the title Branded by Bokrijk (BKRK), the Open-Air Museum is about to begin a major renovation project. For many years, we have supported the development of skills related to handicrafts, techniques and their applications in the museum. BKRK is our way of demonstrating and supporting the contemporary relevance of all this expertise.

A historical as well as futuristic perspective on craftsmanship

What can the craftsmanship of yore tell us about our modern world? How are contemporary craftsmen inspired by traditional crafts and techniques? And, how is this craftsmanship transformed by new technologies?

All these questions are central to the 'Branded by Bokrijk’ project. Using skills from the past, we are throwing an entirely new light on current and future of craftsmanship.

Together with a group of enthusiastic professionals, we have been engaged for many years in developing understanding and discovering and rediscovering the history of handicrafts. BKRK is taking this process a step further, as we make all this knowledge and expertise relevant to the 21st century. Our aim is to demonstrate and deepen the contemporary relevance of authentic craftsmanship.

Why the name ‘Branded by Bokrijk’? Originally, branding meant placing a brand somewhere as proof of ownership, authenticity or quality. In addition, it also has the figurative meaning of placing a claim on something. Branding is a testimony to the pride of the artisan. Moreover, Bokrijk is a strong 'brand' in in itself.

Professional framework

Architect Bart Lens has been appointed curator of BKRK, and his vision on the direction that should be taken is completely in line with Bokrijk’s. "Bokrijk is very important for the Flemish heritage. Numerous contemporary designs, whether in terms of architecture, furniture design or ceramics, are based on ancient handicrafts and techniques that are commonplace in Bokrijk,” according to Bart Lens. "The future of Bokrijk lies in getting visitors to understand the links between the modern world and the past, rather than a mere nostalgic look back to how things used to be. It’s all about writing history, rather than showing it." Bart Lens has been exploiting his rich professional experience while working on this project as advisor and creative sounding board.

A curator will also be appointed for each craftsmanship category, and each one will use his or her own personal style to shape and elaborate the area concerned. In this way, handicraft-specific knowledge and skills will be placed in a contemporary light.

10 categories of craftsmanship

Craftsmanship is a combination of extensive expertise and the potential to use practical skills to transform this expertise into a high-quality product. Using this definition as a basis, Bokrijk and Geheugen Collectief selected 10 categories of craftsmanship which will be enclosed in 2016-18, which cover bread making, leatherworking, blacksmithing, beer, pottery, textiles, grocery retailing, beekeeping, woodworking and, to conclude, trading.

These 10 categories of craftsmanship are all taken from everyday life. In the pre-industrial period, they were clearly part of the basic economy of each village community. On the one hand, Bokrijk wants to allow visitors to experience things in their historical context, using the existing collection of buildings, objects, fauna and flora and the expertise that our employees have built up over the years. On the other hand, craftsmanship curators will show the relevance of the 10 categories in both the current and future world.

We selected the word craftsmanship very deliberately. Terms such as ‘handicraft' or 'traditional techniques’ do not fully describe the process. Craftsmanship goes beyond being a professional specialisation, it also involves the transfer of knowledge and skills between people in a certain social context. This is true whether it concerns churning milk, doing the laundry, forging iron or brewing beer. Everything comes down to the unique fusion of intellectual and manual activity.

Expertise and training centre

Shortly, visitors will be able to experience the 10 categories of craftsmanship with all their senses. In addition, they will also be able to try them out for themselves, either alone, in classes or in groups.

In the longer term, we hope to be able to fulfil our role as a centre of expertise for craftsmanship. In cooperation with higher-education colleges and training centres, we are striving to provide quality training in Bokrijk for young and old alike. We hope this approach will appeal to a broad audience and, at the same time, make a difference.

Leather contest

In line with its BKRK vision, Bokrijk launched a leather contest for young designers as well as established artists in the autumn of 2014. The other craftsmanship categories will also be the subject of contests over the coming years. The challenge in the first contest was to develop a day-to-day object, thereby demonstrating craftsmanship in all its facets. Important aspects included a contemporary approach, appropriate design, economic viability, sustainability and a reference to traditional production methods. Entries were assessed by a jury of professionals from various fields, including Peter Vavedin (Ambiorix Shoes), Michael Verheyden (designer) and Veerle Windels (fashion journalist), with each jury member drawing on his or her own specialist expertise.

The three winners of the competition were:

  • 1st prize: O-binder - Margot Declerck (b. 1993, from Herne)
    A leather strap, designed for binding all kinds of cables. This simple design incorporates an ingenious mix of handicraft and technology. Sustainability is a central part of this design, which was created as a new way of using waste pieces of leather.
  •  2nd prize: Frisbee - Filip Cappoen and Paul Devriendt (resp. b. 1971, from Dendermonde and b. 1984, from Asse)
    This Frisbee is crafted completely from leather, which is an unusual use of leatherwork and makes it a potential BKRK high-flyer. This Frisbee elevates a banal toy into a luxurious refined object. Even though it is still a toy, it is now an exclusive toy for hipsters.
  •  3rd prize: Toy car - Caroline Gielen (b. 1979, from Hasselt)
    An archetype of a car, formed entirely of leather. The designer managed to capture the essence of three toy car models and create this kid-sized handicraft.

BKRK products for sale

Under the name BKRK, Bokrijk is aiming to elaborate a collection of contemporary design products which refer to a handicraft or authentic production process. BKRK products are available in the museum shop in the Open-Air Museum and in the e-Store. A leather cardholder by design duo Kuppers & Wuytens and two DIY variants of the purse are the first products to bear the BKRK label.