The mastery of woodcarving, which is perhaps the greatest Macedonian artistic pride, would have been completely lost if the Serbian academic sculptor Branislav Jovancevic (1885-1949) had not come to Macedonia.
The pearls of the Macedonian carving were created in the first half of the XIX century by the hands of the famous Mijacki masters from Debar: Lesnovo monastery (1814), the churches of st. Spas in Skopje (1824) and St. Nikola in Krushevo (1831), and in the Bigorski Monastery (1845).
The first two decades of the XXth century were devastating for Macedonia. After the fall of the Krushevo Republic, the Ottomans committed countless atrocities against the population, then the Balkan Wars began, and the Great War was intertwined with malaria and Spanish flu pandemics. The younger generations of woodcarvers began to emigrate from Macedonia. The tradition of “duborez” was slowly fading.
Branislav Jovancevic was born in Kragujevac on October 25, 1885. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, St. Petersburg, Rome and Munich (1913-14), lived and had his own studio in Paris. He spoke 12 different languages. During the Great War, he served as a volunteer in the Army of the Orient under the famous General Louis Franchet d’Espèrey. Directly from Paris he went to Kajmakchalan, Macedonia. In the whirlwind of the War, the road led him to Ohrid. In Ohrid, for the first time, he discovered woodcarving as a centuries-old experience of processing and decorating wood, and as a precious tradition that Jovancevic decided to take care of.
After the war, in 1925 Jovanovi came to Debar where he formed a carving school with 6 students. But the school struggled with finances and insufficient interest in woodcarving among young people. In an attempt to save the school, Jovancevic went to Ohrid in 1928 and met with the Bishop of Ohrid, Dr. Nikolaj Velimirović – a very powerful man and a personal friend of King Alexander. Bishop Velimirović was delighted with this idea, and in 1928 the so-called “State Men’s Craft School” was created to Ohrid.
The school was funded within the help of Yugoslav Ministry of Industry and Trade as a systemic support for the equitable development of the regions in the Royal Yugoslavia. There were two directions in the School: carving and iconography. The teaching lasted 4 years. The students studied Serbo-Croatian language, mathematics, art history, knowledge of technical materials, calculations and law. They celebrated Serbian holidays Vidovden and St. Sava and were making trips to St. Jovan Bigorski, Decani, Pech … Well known painters taught at the school, for example the Serbian Branko Shotra (1909-1960), the Bulgarian Marko Shivachev (1892-1946) and Kondmirov, the Croatian Miroslav Blazevic, the Macedonians Stefan Nestor, Ljupco Pop Stefanja Kodzoman, Andon Dukov, etc.
The carvers who graduated from the Ohrid school further trained at the Art Academy for Sculpture in Belgrade, Zagreb, etc. The students who attended the evening school for artistic carving can be divided into several generations:
The first generation of 1928 consisted of Dimche Pljakov who also worked as a carpenter in the carving studio in Belgrade (1912-1990), and also worked for the government, the National Hero Andon Dukov (born 1910, frozen in Kozuf in 1944); Slave Kocare (born 1912); Anastas (born 1910) and Ilija Koprovi (born 1908). Koprovci had their own workshop, in which they made furniture for Plovdiv (1943).
The second generation consisted of Boris Trimchev (born 1914); Gjore Bochev (born 1914) and Hadilj Pasho (born 1911). The third generation was educated by Gjorgji Karaca (born 1916); Pero Kalajdziev (born 1915); Naum Donev (born 1915); Slave Atanasov – Krstanche (born in 1915); Stefan Nestor (born 1920) and others.
The fourth-generation consisted of carvers Ljupчоo Pop – Stefanija (born 1920), Nuri Asan (born 1921), Kanevчеe Aparuh (born 1916), Stavrev Anastas (born 1916). The carpenter Dimitri Jankov belongs to the fourth generation.
On the morning of December 19, 1949, Branislav Jovancevic, or “BRANE” as the people of Ohrid called him, died tragically in a fire in the house where he lived in Ohrid. The man who saved the skill of Macedonian woodcarving from extinction, unfortunately, still have got even a small memorial plaque in Ohrid or Debar.