About collections


From its inception, MEK’s collections were largely assembled thanks to our benefactors. The enthusiasm accompanying the founding of the Museum is reflected in the first collection inventories – dozens of pages carefully listing the names of the objects and those who donated them. Among the donors number teachers, doctors, collectors, travellers, students members of tourist societies... we received donations in the form of collections that had been assembled over many years, as well as individual pieces from both regions in Poland and elsewhere in the world. Helena Dąbczańska, Cecylia Śniegocka, Stefania Łagocka, Michał Siedlecki, Roman Stopa, Benedykt Dybowski, Józef Świstek, Wandalin Szukiewicz, among others, have all gifted their personal collections to the museum. When Second World War broke out, these collections already contained 30,000 objects.

The storage areas of the Museum have become a safe haven for deposits and transfer from other museums and institutions – for instance, from the liquidated Technical-Industrial Museum (which functioned from 1868-1920, and then functioned under other names until 1950) and the Society for Polish Applied Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków (1901–1914). In 1997, MEK took over the rich collection of archival materials from the Centre for the Study of Folk Art PAN, which was dissolved that year. In 2014, the museum acquired a supplement to this collection in the form of the personal archive of Roman Reinfuss, a long-time director of the Centre.

There is also no lack of colorful anecdotes. The involvement of MEK’s custodians in Andrzej Wajda’s "The Wedding" led to the acquisition of a number of props from the film’s production. MEK also holds 1,300 painted eggs, thanks to a 1969 country-wide contest. The unusual collection of over one thousand photographs from Spain and Morocco were gifted to the Museum by Marian Maurizio Abramowicz – a mountaineer, poet, traveller, agricultural engineer, and a personal friend of one of the curators...

The Museum has always systematically enriched its collections with purchases of items, including from regular dealers (for instance, Borys Malkin and Anna Zabierzewska). The Museum is constantly cooperating with researchers working in various parts of the world (this is how MEK obtained a collection of objects fashioned from palm leaves by the indigenous South American Asháninka people, assembled by Joanna Sosnowska between 2008–2011). An important part of these collections are the objects acquired during the course of ethnographic field research conducted by the Museum. Parts of the Museum’s collections on modernity have MEK’s long-standing research projects to thank; these objects include photographic, filmic and audio archives, private mementos, including examples of the natural world, products created by global companies and digital files – things straight from the 21st century.

The heart of the collection remains objects from pre-war and modern Poland. But the collections from other countries or parts of the world are no less important or valued (for instance, the oldest Siberian collection in the world). The shape of the Museum’s collections today are decided by changing ideas on collecting, social conditions, politics, and current trends that are changing the fields of both ethnography and museology. The personal choices of real people also had an effect on our collection: the creator, the visitor, and finally, those who brought the object to the Museum. From where? When? Why?

MEK’s collections are in constant circulation: exhibited, lent out, or opened to researchers, artists, or individuals. They are also subject to critical reflection. Traces of academic fascination, echoes of expeditions, intimate mementos – MEK’s collection is a point of departure for personal discovery by those who would like to investigate these resources, added to by each subsequent generation.