Margaret Horvath

1995 Florida Folk Heritage Award

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Hungarian folk embroidery ranges from vividly colored flower patterns to more stylized, monochromatic designs, depending on the region and village of origin. Despite ancient origins, the art form is still changing in response to new materials, tastes, and the talents of individual artists. In recent years, Hungarian traditional arts such as embroidery have been experiencing a renaissance. 

Margaret Horvath was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1933. She began to embroider cross-stitch at the age of five. Her mother and maternal grandmother did Transylvanian style embroidery and taught her the tradition. Her father also encouraged her art. He was an architect and designed embroidery patterns in the style of the Mezockovesd region of Hungary for her. Both parents collected examples of old embroidery. Since it was part of the required curriculum, Horvath continued to study embroidery through high school.

Although Horvath became proficient at the traditional styles, she put down her needle to complete her higher education. At the University of Budapest she studied architecture and engineering. After completing her studies, she worked as a city planner in Budapest. In Hungary during the late l940s and early 1950s, jobs for women tended to involve the sale of crafts to tourists, but the tourist economy was slow. Commerce increased in the 1960s, resulting in greater demand for popular art forms like embroidery. Horvath’s work provided her with opportunities to visit different regions, which familiarized her further with differences in styles of costume and embroidery. Gradually, she renewed her work with traditional textiles.

In 1970, Horvath visited relatives in Toronto, where she met married Michael Horvath—a librarian at the University of Maryland, College Park. Throughout their lives together, they have continued to research and present Hungarian folklife and history. When they retired to Florida in 1976, they settled near a strong Hungarian community in Port Orange. The Horvaths decorate their home with a stunning array of Hungarian folk arts ranging from intricate regional costumes and linens, to ceramics, woodcarvings, instruments, and dolls. Every summer they return to Hungary to visit friends and relatives, and to collect examples of traditional embroidery and other folk art. 

Traditional Hungarian embroidery is often created by using or copying old patterns, which may be handed down through generations—and Horvath possesses several handed down in her family. Skillful traditional embroiderers also create their own designs while remaining within the parameters of an established regional style. Their skill is judged by the grace, symmetry and flow of the composition, as well as by technical mastery. Horvath sometimes incorporates Florida’s tropical flora into her work—thus expanding the traditional parameters. 

Horvath has taught courses on Hungarian embroidery at The Casements Cultural Center in Ormond Beach, where she also developed a permanent exhibition of Hungarian arts and participates in many Hungarian community events. Her dedicated interest has led her to amass one of the most extensive collection of Hungarian embroidery in this country. With her unrivaled skills and knowledge, Horvath has served several times as a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program and in 1996 received the Florida Folk Heritage Award for lifelong achievement.