Metalworking is an ancient occupation and this craft is often associated with the Roma ethnicity. Nowadays, blacksmiths or boilermakers are increasingly rare, even in rural areas, because, for the younger generations, the practice of this job is no longer of interest. One of those who decided to take this craft further and raise it to the level of art is Lali Gabor.


Lajos Gabor, known to the public as Lali, was born on March 1, 1968, in the village of Haieu/Băile 1 Mai, in Bihor county, but later his parents moved to Crăciunești, Mureș county, the “Gypsy Jerusalem” as he calls it.

He is a gypsy boilermaker, tinsmith and blacksmith, but Lali’s talents do not stop at craftsmanship. Prompted by a university professor, he held, in an unconventional setting, a cafe, free Roma language courses for a semester.

He also starred in a reality TV show called “Fifty, Fifty”. The show followed the adventures of Lali and the actor Vasile Blaga, sent “in the field” to sell products at fairs, to survive in the Danube Delta, and even sent them to visit the prison.

He didn’t go to school much! He only graduated from middle school, but he is a good storyteller and a very good craftsman. Copper and brass craftsman. From his hands, true works of art come out: hats, hammers, cups, violins, a pair of shoes, a pyramid, etc.

The coppersmith artist Lali Gabor, from the Gabor craftsmen family, learned to shape copper from his father, who took him to the forge as soon as he came home from school. He would stay there until late in the evening, to learn the secrets of this art.

With fire, hammer and anvil, he created medieval lanterns for parks in Switzerland, where he was praised for the realization of these highly complicated engineering works. Engineers, who were specialized in metal processing, were not able to accurately reproduce, using high-performance techniques, the model of the medieval lanterns in the swiss parks. But alone, Lali Gabor managed to bend the copper as even the 3D printer could not do. With only fire, hammer and anvil, Lali demonstrated how valuable the gypsy craft can be, so appreciated in Western Europe.

However, in Romania, Lali thinks that he is not appreciated. He was often discriminated in his own country. The artist tells how he was refused by taxi drivers. Or how once he arrived at a hotel and he was told at the reception that there were no rooms available, but later, calling from his mobile phone, he found out that in fact, there were! Likewise, he once entered a pharmacy with his wife dressed in a gypsy outfit. Immediately a young pharmacist appeared to prevent them from stealing something from there. He goes through this trauma several times daily and says that he is sick of it!

Even if he is one of the few craftsmen gypsies left in Romania, his talent is more appreciated in countries like Norway or Sweden, where he is known as the “man with the hat” or the “fire tamer”.

He participated in countless traditional art festivals organized in these countries, where he learned that payment is not necessarily made in money, and people’s smiles of gratitude are much more valuable.

It was hard for him to get rid of the feeling of discrimination he lives with every day in Romania. It was not easy for him to understand the fact that the police team that followed him on the streets of Kwam (Norway) was actually doing it to protect him: “I was leaving at two o’clock at night and I was walking to my room when I just saw the police car behind me. I was wearing a big gabor hat, known in Transylvania. I remembered the habbit of militia from the time of Ceauşescu. Finally, I said to myself that they have nothing to do to me. But you know what happened? Those people knew about me and came behind me to protect me so that a car or a truck wouldn’t hit me. When I entered the courtyard of the guesthouse, they turned on the traffic light and greeted me. That’s what it’s about”, said Lali in an interview with Adevă

In our country, the craftsman had less appreciation of this kind. In 2019, Lajos Gabor participated in the Art Encounters biennial in Timișoara, where, together with Norwegian and Swedish artists, he was invited to restore the decorative metal elements in the Huniade castle park in the city along Bega river.

From the Romanian Peasant Museum to Calvin Klein

Another example of a boilermaker who works with metals is Victor Clopotar. The ethnic Roma artist was born in 1981, in Brateiu, a village near Mediaș, Sibiu County, in a family of boilermakers who have been involved in the processing of copper, brass and silver since ancient times.

He remained among the few alive ones who still practice this craft, however. As he himself remembers, in 1986, there were 200 families engaged in this occupation. Today there are only six left.

He learned the art of craft from childhood. After the age of 5, when his mother died, he used to spend more time with his father, in fear of losing him too. In just two years, three family members perished: his grandfather, grandmother and mother. It was not easy for his father who began drinking a lot of alcohol. Little Victor, scared that he might lose his father too, didn’t leave him alone at all. That’s how he was always around the hammer and anvil, slowly learning the trade of a boilermaker.

At just 9 years old, he made his first 10-liter brandy kettle by himself, without help from his father. At the age of adolescence, he already participated in craft fairs where he sold objects he had made. But he realized that the fee he was paying for a few days of fair was too high and the business was not profitable. So he started selling on the high road, where he owns a plot.

He also goes quite often to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, in Bucharest, where he has a stall, where he sells together with his wife. No one taught him “marketing”, “management”, or “business development”, but all thess are in his blood. He talks to everyone who passes by his particular stall, whether they buy something or not. Give explanations of how the objects were made or recommendations. Because he knows very well that it’s not enough to do something good, but it also has to have a story behind it.

Few people know that they can bring him any metal object that needs adjustment. That’s how he became a jeweler: Victor Clopotar started exhibiting his jewelry, but also the decorative objects created by him on the website Meșteshukar Butiq, a social enterprise that works to revalue traditional Roma craftsmanship. You can find the link here:

And the years went by and Victor Clopotar became well-known, not only in Romania, but also abroad. He is invited to the most important exhibitions in the world in New York, Vienna, London, or Venice. In 2012, it was selected by Calvin Klein designers for the millimetric precision he works with.

He is also presented by the Michelangelo Foundation, where his latest collection can be seen here:

But for him all these are not very important, as fame was not something he sought in life. More important was that whatever came out of his hands to be good, beautiful and useful. But the most important thing was, is and will be his family and someone to carry on the tradition.

Fortunately, he was lucky with this as well. Victor Clopotaru, has an 18-year-old son and two daughters. The son was named after him, Victor, and he is taking over his skills, being a craftsman in metal processing too.

Traian Căldărar ia another craftsman from Brateiu, Sibiu County. He learned this craft at the age of 4. As well as being a skilled craftsman, he has become a member of the local council and tries to support his community as much as he can. The cauldrons, the kettles he makes have made their way across the ocean, where the owner of a restaurant in Portland, USA, had a Traian-made kettle in the corner from which his customers are served. “Since I was a little kid I’ve been a coppersmith, it’s a job that is passed down from generation to generation, and as little kids we sit next to the older ones, already established in the business. I got my hands on the hammer when I was four or five years old, like our youngest, who also comes along. Already at the age of 13/14 he started to master the craft,” says Traian.

Another old craft is wicker weaving. These crafts are most common among the Rudar, a subgroup of the Roma ethnic group. The wickerwork (răchita) is a species of willow with narrow, long leaves, which craftsmen used to braid in various sizes and shapes. Among the most popular handmade wickerwork objects are baskets.

Wickerwork is harvested in autumn and stored in airy places to prevent mould. It is sorted according to size and thickness so that it meets the requirements of the products to be made.

Zoltan Bojody from Viișoara, Cluj county, is a third-generation wicker weaver. His parents and grandparents carried on the same craftship. Zoly has collaborated with Swedish designers Mattias Rask and Tor Palm for Vienna Design Week and Stockholm Design Week. He is also a member of Meșteshukar ButiQ.

After marriage, the need for a better living pushed Zoltan to start wicker picking and develop his skills to practice this craft. He weaved his first basket at the age of 22.


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