Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sokol, Slets and Postcards
Sokol, from the Czech word for Falcon, was a youth sport movement and gymnastics organisation that was founded in Czechoslovakia in the 1860s and flourished well into the early 20th Century. Its philosophy, over time, evolved into one which connected the healthy body with the health of mind and morals and it became connected to Czech nationalism and the Czech sense of national identity. The movement became a pan-slavic one and enormous gatherings called Slets were held where thousands of people from Sokols all over Eastern Europe and beyond gathered for mass gymnastic displays, lectures, and social joy. It was, in a way, a parallel phenomenon to the reinstitution of the modern Olympics.
Of course the movement produced its own mountain of paper ephemera and the style of much of it, by the time we enter the early 20th century has taken on that heroic, slightly 'soviet' looking approach to the handsome young men that all that gymnastics produced. There are, of course, photographs and photographic postcards of the Slets and the Sokols (which we may come back to on FFEP at some point) but the graphic art of the postcards that were produced to advertise and commemorate the Slets is very striking. By 1905 this somewhat naive and slightly propagandist 'look' was beginning to appear and all the images on this post are taken from the 1920s by which time the style had reached its height.
There is an exceptionally comprehensive website devoted to Slet postcards and it is well worth digging around in the archive there for some great images. Surprisingly perhaps these cards are still relatively affordable and begin at around the 5.00 GBP mark.
Since the 1990s there has been an attempt to revive the movement and, with a Slet in the year 2000 attracting 25,000 Sokols from around the world it could hardly be called a failure, but it it still a long way from the vast popular following it had in the pre-war period.