Opinion of conservator Saša Roškar on the renovation of the Šenk’s homestead in Jezersko

27. March 2020

Text prepared by: Saša Roškar, univ. dipl. etnol. in kult antrop., advisor and curator, employed at the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Kranj Regional Office (ZVKDS OE Kranj, sasa.roskar@zvkds.si

The Šenk’s homestead is a clustered mountain homestead in Zgornje Jezersko, which today comprises three accommodation facilities and a bunch of commercial premises - two stables, one converted stable, and other fixtures. The homestead is located in Ravne near St. Andrew's church under the road winding towards Jezersko pass. The most important building on the homestead is the old house - a dominant and ambitious building from the 16th century, which has retained its floor plan and many fine art details - late Gothic semicircular stone portals and window frames, stone portal into the black kitchen, a semicircular arch in the vestibule, and Renaissance and Baroque wooden ceiling, a vault in the basement supported by a stone pillar.  

The Šenk’s house has been protected as a cultural monument since 1949 and eminent men in the field of architecture and conservation wrote about it:

- Mušič, Marjan (1952): Influential Areas Between Stylish Architecture and Slovene Folk Architecture in the Middle Ages; Slovenski etnograf, 1952, p. 54-69.

- Sedej, Ivan (1975): Problems of Late Gothic Forms in Peasant Architecture in Jezersko, Kranjski zbornik 1975, p. 212-216.

- Sedej, Ivan (1989): One Hundred Most Beautiful Farm Houses in Slovenia, Prešernova družba in Ljubljana, p. 54-55.

- Fister, Peter – in several professional publications.

- Cevc, Tone (1988): Farmhouses in Karavanke: the building heritage of the hill farms below Kepa, Stol, Košuta, Obir, Pristovski Storžič and Peca, p. 196-201.
In 1958, the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum, within the Eagles' teams, made the first architectural photograph of the Šenk’s house. The Šenk’s house is one of the most described and documented farmhouses in our country.
ZVKDS OE Kranj, at that time the Institute for Monumental Protection of Kranj, first cooperated with the owners in the 1960s with research (probing) and facade restoration. In 2000, conservator Vladimir Knific prepared a study on the Zgornje Jezersko - Virnik homestead; Preliminary conservation and restoration program - where one of the options was to direct the homestead towards tourism. Collaborators and external associates of the ZVKDS OE Kranj have always been enabled to cooperation and research.  In recent years it has been carried out probing of internal and external walls and paintings, inventory of objects (596 objects were cataloged and photographed), dendrochronological research (cooperation with the Biotechnical Faculty), which showed that the old roof had wooden pieces, which were cut down in 1624, research statics and building materials (cooperation with the Faculty of Civil Engineering). By following some of the rebuildings of the residential house associated with the renovation, we can move the dating back to at least 100 years or more. Polona Zalokar has also done an outstanding job of researching archival material dating back to the 16th century. 

Marko Šenk has been working as an architect for decades with his family - in 1981 he designed a new residential house and in 2012 - 2019 he participated in:

- the renovation of the oxen stable, which has retained its appearance and today has a thoughtfully placed heat station, which supplies the entire homestead and sanitary facilities for camp accommodation;
- the new construction of a "usufruct" house - an accommodation facility on the the site of a 17th-century removed house, which in its image follows the volume and design of the building that replaced it;
- renovation of a cultural monument - an old 16th-century apartment building which after its renovation was given a new purpose - is now an accommodation facility for guests on the homestead. 
As a conservator, on the one hand, I had great respect for the homestead and its owners, and on the other, for the work of my predecessors. This is also true of their hypotheses about the building development. Since destructive research has also been enabled us to due to a thorough renovation, we have been able to test and refute their hypotheses. One of the most interesting discovery was the identification of the original floor plan and the perimeter of the building, which consisted of two cells on the present NE part of the house. Another striking finding was the Baroque wall and ceiling paintings in today's pantry. So far, we have not seen such paintings anywhere else. As they were badly damaged, they were preserved only in fragments, nevertheless they represent important documentation of the decoration of rural dwellings in the 19th century. Research has allowed us to open up the layers of former life over a span of five centuries. 

I believe that many years of work have been successful because we all have a deep respect for homestead. We exchanged views with each other, and we knew for each other what we meant by the notion of the exceptional value of both the old house and the entire homestead.  We also understood what the owners' desires and needs were, namely keeping their livelihoods from home-based activities. We were also ready to make compromises in our area of expertise. The whole homestead and the old house in particular today have a different image and a new life. After all these years, we know about the homestead much more than before the intervention. Research has also taught us that respective users each time adapted the old house to their individual needs - preserving what was useful and adding what they needed. That is why, as a conservator (otherwise with much pain of heart), I was able to make the decision that the old roofing (which was really in a very bad state) could be replaced by a new one. It was equally difficult to make the decision to replace the old usufruct house with a new one. And I admire how parts of the old "usufruct" house and the old roofing and roof found a new place in the renovated premises. An old ceiling and a door with a frame from the old "usufruct" house were installed in the new "usufruct” house, and old wood was used for the panelling. Panelling in the new accommodation units was made of the wooden roof of the old house, and the time-honored roofing was used to make furniture and equipment.

It should be emphasized that in this case it is a matter of preserving and renovating the extraordinary and valuable monument that now has the potential for a new life. But equally important is the fact that the Virnik Karničar family has tied their livelihoods to maintaining and establishing a homestead (farm). They filled the stables with livestock (they cultivate native Slovenian breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry), they cultivate the land, maintain two mountain pastures, preserve exceptional cultural landscapes, culinary heritage and local skills (eg wool processing ...). 3 generations are involved in the work on the homestead. In fact, it is about the complete and complete preservation of the heritage of all genres and names.

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