Jožefa Humar – Debevčeva Zefa, Shepherdess and Carver

Zaprice Castle Museum and administration
When: from 29.02.2024, 10:00 to 12.06.2024, 12:00

Jožefa Humar – Debevčeva Zefa was a shepherdess and carver on Gojška planina in the area of Velika planina above Kamnik for 50 years. She was an excellent carver and versatile artist. She was a woman of great talents. Modest, almost imperceptible, she hid enormous artistic potential within. She was born on April 19, 1904 in Vodice nad Kamnikom. She grew up in a large farming family, with relatives who valued their roots and family and folk traditions. From 1911 to 1915, she attended school in Mekinje. She was an excellent student.

Even as a little girl, she often set in a corner and drew. She watched her father make beehives, sprinklers or some kind of hand-made sundial out of pieces of wood. She discovered her carving talent when, at the age of twenty-one (in 1925), she went to pasture on Gojška planina. The decorated trniči, beautifully shaped cheeses, captured her admiration, but even more »fonts for trnič«, about 2.5 cm wide and 20 cm long carved boards, with which they were decorated.

Her main carving tool was a pocket knife. First, she carved fonts for trniči, then sprinklers for blessed water, candlesticks, handles – door clamps, household utensils and decorative and other objects. She also decorated Easter eggs, colored by cooking in onion peels, on which she scratched ornaments, leaves, flowers and religious motifs.

Her wild imagination came to life and she made a work of art out of every piece of wood that caught her attention.

She and her work was also appreciated by the great architect Jože Plečnik. In 1935, when Vlasto Kopač brought him Zefa’s »pisave za trniče« from Planina, he printed one in plasticine and said to his students: “Take a good look at what this shepherdess knows; when you know as much as she does, you will know a lot.” (Kopač, V., Iveri z Grintovcev, Ljubljana, 2006.)

She received several recognitions for her work and a mark of quality at exhibitions of Slovenian domestic and artificial crafts. In 1978 the Association of Crafts Associations of Slovenia also awarded her the title of master of domestic crafts and master of artificial crafts.

Jožefa Humar also wrote. Words and thoughts flowed from her, which she wrote mostly in free forms, without capital letters and punctuation marks. They expressed her rich spiritual world, her thoughts, feelings and visions of the world around her. She was thoughtful and curious and read a lot. People respected her greatly for her wisdom and loved to come to her for advice.

Jožefa Humar and her work have been featured in numerous articles in newspapers and magazines and in excerpts from books, and she has also been portrayed by some visual artists and film and television producers.

She died on January 19, 1982. She is buried in Mekinje.

The works of Jožefa Humar – Debevčev Zefe and memories of her personality live on, and her example encourages us and teaches us that personal growth and success are not the privilege of the chosen ones, but the hard work of the persistent.

Jožefa Humar’s legacy is kept by Marko Humar. Some »fonts for trnič«, and wooden handles (grips) of Debevčeva Zefa are from the legacy of Vlasta Kopač, which is kept by the Medobčinski muzej Kamnik. The items are exhibited at the exhibition Na planincah luštno biti … življenje na kamniških planinah.

Andreja Humar Gruden


Text: Andreja Humar Gruden, project coordinator: Janja Železnikar, proofreading: Ana Gruden, design: Maja Gruden, photos: archive of Marko Humar, Vlasto Kopač (legacy of Mojca Kopač), Tone Cevc (archive of ISN ZRC SAZU), archive of the Intermunicipal Museum Kamnik, Andreja Humar Gruden, Sabina Gruden, Tomaž Lauko.

The project was made possible by the Municipality of Kamnik.