In Slovenia, the hayrack (kozolec) is a national icon. Slovenian emigrants are said to weep at the sight of them on postcards sent from their home country. These modest forms of vernacular architecture are scattered throughout Alpine central Europe and are wooden constructions that allow the mountain winds to dry harvested wheat and hay. They originated in the seventeenth century and are still used today, but are now more likely to be made of concrete rather than wood. In Slovenia, hayracks take many forms, from single standalone structures to toplargi, which are double hayracks joined together and roofed with a storage area on top.
How do such mundane structures become iconic in the national imagination? It has been argued that Slovenian hayracks are built according to the golden section – supposedly the ideal proportions in architecture – making them pleasing to the eye. Yet, in Slovenia, they only took on heightened significance after the nineteenth-century impressionist painter Ivan Grohar made them the subject of many of his paintings. It seems that for the mundane to become iconic, it needs to be invested with elevated ideas already present in other places.
This is what gives certain works of art their power. It is said that Henri Matisse looked at an object which he intended to paint for weeks, even months, until its spirit began to move him, to urge him, even to threaten him, to give it an expression. This intense discipline of study is a kind of meditation, a form of identification that enables the artist to feel the shared life that animates both him/her and the object. It is as if the object is making its own picture. And, as you travel in the Alpine meadows of Slovenia, it does indeed seem as if the hayracks have a life of their own, scattered over the hills like an extended family: here, a lone pioneer; there, gatherings of many; yet all joined together in a shared life.