History of the Museum

Kamilo Tončić noble of Sorinj - founder of the Museum

Tončić was born in Zadar on 28 October 1878, the son of Joseph, vice-governor of Dalmatia, and mother Aspazija who came of the distinguished family Koludrović. He attended elementary school in Hvar. In 1895 he graduated with excellent marks from high school in Split and five years later got his degree in civil engineering from Technical College in Vienna, Austria. 

On 29 April 1907 the Government of Dalmatia appointed him principal of the Split Craft School; in April 1910 he became the superintendent of Dalmatian trade schools, and in August 1911 a school inspector. 

Collecting folk costumes, embroidery and other objects of ethnographic origin in his young years, Tončić early became aware of the need for systematic gathering, storing and displaying of folk handicrafts. In 1907 he started organizing temporary exhibitions, and in 1910 founded the Regional Museum of Folk Arts and Crafts, present-day Ethnographic Museum. As the first director of the Museum, he occupied the position up to the end of World War II. He was also the founding director of the Split Art Gallery from 1931 to 1941. Tončić died in Split on 29 June 1961.

The first years of the Museum

In the school-year 1906/7 the Split Craft School was founded, its first director being Kamilo Tončić, a civil engineer. The same year the Trade School was founded by Tončić who insisted on the didactic use of folk handicrafts. In 1906 he organized a "Lacework and Folk Embroidery Courses", and in 1907 a weaving course. From 1907 onwards ethnographic material was systematically being purchased and gathered. Out of this material, on the model of which pupils would create their works, an ethnographic collection was built.

From 1909 Tončić exhibited the ethnographic material in final school-exhibitions; the following year articles made by peasant-women, and folk costumes from all parts of Dalmatia were also included. The 1910 school-exhibition resulted in a permanent one, which opened for public as the Folk Museum, later Regional Museum of Folk Arts and Crafts and the National Museum of Folk Industry and Folk Arts. According to the public opinion, the Museum was nicely decorated and well equipped. 

In 1913 the Ministry in Vienna validated the first Statutes of the Museum with Tončić as a director. 

Also in 1913, the first issue of the Museum's journal, "The Calendar of the Regional Museum of Folk Arts and Crafts", was published. The 1914 issue was, however, the last. 

Virtual walk

Virtual walk

A virtual walk through the Ethnographic Museum of Split

Maturation of the Museum

At the outbreak of World War I, Tončić had the ethnographic collection stored away in patriots' houses and in the Art Gallery building, preventing so the Viennese Government from transferring the collection to Graz, Austria. After the War the collection was brought back into the Craft School building and in 1919 it was transferred again to Agricultural School near Archaeological Museum. The display rooms, though larger than the previous ones, were again cluttered with numerous exhibits. 

Having acquired ethnographic material originating from a broader area, the Museum became a regional one. In 1923 Tončić deeded the Museum to the City of Split which would hereafter provide financial means for the Museum's activities. Tončić was appointed director of the institution.

The following year (1924) another building became the site of the Museum - former City Hall at the National Square. However, only in 1927 was the Museum officially founded, and its Regulations passed by the Municipal Assembly.

Around the paintings and other works of art selected from the Museum's holdings in the late 1920s, the permanent collection of Art Gallery would be built at 11 Lovretska Street in 1931.

The Museum's display was changed in 1934 and lasted till the beginning of World War II. The photographs of the display, taken after 1931, serve as evidence of the galleries being cluttered with objects, just like the galleries in the School building, which  were  described  by  Tončić  in  1913.  There  were  so many exhibits in the showcases, which had been designed by Tončić himself, that it was often not possible to view an object as a whole. 

During World War II the permanent collection was exposed to danger of being transferred to Rome, but Tončić again succeeded in frustrating such plans of the authorities.

Recent history

In 1946 the permanent display was mounted for the fifth time. It was the first exhibition that was not organized and mounted by Kamilo Tončić, who had already been forced to withdraw from the culture life of Split. The Museum became specialized in ethnography, and was officially named the Ethnographic Museum in Split. At that time the directress of the Museum was Aida Koludrović, followed in 1959 by Leonilda Vidović. 

In 1965 the permanent display was changed for the sixth time, and the ground floor was cleared out for temporary exhibitions. In 1989 the Museum was left without its permanent display; since then only temporary exhibitions have been produced, either in its building or in other museums and galleries. 

With an increased staff of curators-ethnologists, the Museum's working policies have been qualitatively changed. In acquiring objects for the Museum, the guiding principle for Kamilo Tončić was the beauty of objects, while new curators, under the leadership of Aida Koludrović and later directors, have been guided by the strictly scientific principles. As a result, several new collections have been built.  

In 2005, the Museum moved to a new building at Severova 1, where it opened a new exhibition and where it operates to this day.