GABROVO (14thc.) "Once upon a time there was a Bulgarian hamlet in the folds of the Balkan Mountains where hammers and anvils echoed from dawn until late at night; harnessing the power of water, curriers, tailors, cutlers, shoemakers and braid-makers crafted the most wonderful items ever seen. Then they would harness their horses to the carts and set off for the plains and lowlands to trade their knives, axes, wooden bowls and salt cellars, homespun, pottery - all that was ever needed. But to be lucky in business, those mountain people had to strike their customers speechless cracking jokes, bargaining, asking and inquiring. People were poor and hard to sell, but once the Balkan Mountains craftsmen struck up a funny story, the people in the lowlands would open both their hearts and purses.Thus little by little, the Gabrovo mountain people made a name for themselves as adroit tradesmen selling their handcraft articles at a profit, but always with a smile and a funny anecdote to it. Gabrovians loved laughing at themselves; the people they did business with seemed to like it as well, so that is how amusing stories and humorous anecdotes started circulating in the 18-19th c.; the main character in them was the honest, but calculating and economizing mountain man from Gabrovo. Later on, the byword "Gabrovian" occurred as the quintessence of the Gabrovo personality: to be fast, inventive, sharp-witted and able to make something out of nothing in the harsh conditions of the Balkan Mountains. And while reputation worked to the benefit of all Gabrovians, they worked for the rise of their tiny town, so soon the small Gabrovo workshops grew into roaring factories and mills for textile, leather, shoes and knives. Already a thriving centre of crafts, Gabrovo became an important industrial hub. Some Gabrovians turned into well-off middle-class people, though they never gave up their old habits of saving money and making profit out of anything. So it was the clash between their old habit of being proverbial skinflints and their new social status that gave rise to the Gabrovo anecdotes. They spread not only from mouth to mouth, but conquered their own territory on the pages of Bulgarian newspapers and various other publications in the 1920-1930s. The Gabrovo anecdotes and jokes were turning into a national phenomenon. At the same time, the wealthier Gabrovians would board the train and set off for Europe to seek new markets and drink in foriegn culture and traditions. Among the gifts they brought back home was an odd carnival mask or accessory, but mostly a fresh idea or two of how to lend more variety to their festivals and feasts following the hectic weekdays. In the 1930s the more affluent Gabrovians would start giving fancy-dress parties whose music and fun reverberated well into the small hours of the day; dressed-up in old garments and some cinder on for make-up, representatives of the lower middle class would carouse along the streets of Gabrovo. Who would say "no" to the general fun and merriment in town? Soon the jovial Gabrovo masquerades and street processions grew into a cherished tradition ...that is still alive today."
THIS is the historical background of the cultural heritage - the local humour foklore and the joyful carnival processions in Gabrovo - that favoured the conception of the idea to open a HOUSE OF HUMOUR AND SATIRE. It became reality on April 1st, 1972. The "engine-driver" who actually brought this grand initiative to fruition was the House's first director STEFAN FURTUNOV (1926-2010), a legal adviser by vocation, but also a keen collector of Gabrovo jokes and anecdotes.
In the 1970s the town of Gabrovo was famed for hosting a National Festival of Humour and Satire that encompassed a carnival procession, national and international cartoon exhibitions, an International Biennial of Cartoon and Small Sculpture, a national joke-telling competititon, a national competititon for humour and satire in literature, a festival of film comedies and cartoons, etc. As soon as it opened doors, the House of Humour and Satire took upon the organization of all these events in the years to come.
It took THREE YEARS ro reconstruct and convert the old Bros. Kalpazanov's leather factory into the building of the House of Humour and Satire which opened in 1975.
The rapid development of a INIQUE AND MODERN CULTURAL INSTITUTE was about to begin under the motto "The World Lasts Because It Laughs" suggested by the eminent Bulgarian satirist Radoy Ralin. From 1979 to 1990 the House accumulated a sizeable art collection of humorous and satirical works from all over the world; started holding various international and national competititons like the International Biennial of Humour and Satire in the Arts (1973), Georgi Kirkov National Literature Competition (1975), Hitar Petar International Literature Competition (1977), an International Film Comedy Festival (1981) and BLAGOLAZH National Meeting of Story- and Joke-Tellers (1985); laid the foundations of the Park of Laughter (1981); published APROPOS almanac for humour and satire in 4 languages (1983), catalogues and albums, collections of humorous stories and jokes, etc.; opened the one and only in Bulgaria Experimental Satirical Variety Theatre (1985). The House of Humour and Satire built up a special library for humorous and satirical books, periodicals, catalogues and albums and a data-base storing addresses of thousands of artists and institutes in the world that worked in the field of humour. The "conveyor-belts" in the old leather factory were working at top steam.
But there blew the "wind of change" all of a sudden, and in 1989 the then political regime was brought down. The House faced financial and personnel problems made worse by the deluge in the building basement in 1991. The institution's team was forcefully reduced to 26 employees. The time necessiated the adoption of new strategies and plans aimed to re-design the entire work and activities of the cultural institute in the new economic circumstances. The new director, Research Associate TATYANA TSANKOVA was fully engaged in that. In the course of 12 years the House developed 30 projects and received grants under national and European programmes alike owing to which it slowly regained its fame as a touristy place. The additional funding facilitated the refurbishment of the 10 exhibition rooms covering an area of 8 000 sq.m.; the equipment of the sound-recording studio; the installation of a server and a network of work stations with a round-the-clock access to the Internet; the design of the first museum website in 1998. To attract more visitors, the House launched a vigorous information and publicity campaign; it incorporated more educational programmes and publishing projects in its activities. However, the major goal still focused on the preservation of the House's character as a MUSEUM of WORLD HUMOUR ART whose pricipal art collection already numbered 38 174 works of art.
These days the House of Humour and Satire continues carrying out its MISSION - "to encourage the creation of humorous art works by holding international and national competitions, exhibitions and other fora; to preserve and popularize the world humour heritage recognizing the identuty and humour traditions of each nation; to mediate through the power of universal humour and throw bridges between opposing sides in the name of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect amid the peoples in the world."
But Gabrovians and the House are unlikely to turn their backs on their ancestors - the hardworking mountain people - and their maxim "...when something becomes the talk of the world, in Gabrovo it is already in the work." Therefore, they have secured their future reserving a piece of land far beyond the planet Earth - just in case. It is the Minor Planet GABROVO No 2206 discovered on April 1st, 1976 and named after the town whose humour foklore and traditions have made it famous all over the world!