Jan Čáka (1929-2018)

At the beginning of September 2018, Jan Čáka, a prominent figure in not just the art life in Příbram, died. 

The great lover and connoisseur of the Brdy made a crucial contribution to shaping the people's view of Příbram and the Brdy region.


Jan Čáka was born on June 12, 1929 in Prague to parents both living there at that time, but formerly from Příbram. All his detectable ancestors also came from Příbram and Březové Hory. The Čáka’s family returned to Příbram in 1941. After finishing the local primary school Jan became a student at the Public Business School. However, he only completed his first year because the school was closed, and its pupils had to join forced labour. After the war, he graduated from the school and for a short period he was employed as an office worker for the Plzen Trade Cooperative.

The office work did not bring Čáka proper satisfaction though as he became increasingly keen on painting. He left the Trade Cooperative after a year and a half and in June 1948 he successfully passed his entrance exams to the second year of the State Graphics School in Prague, where he focused on graphic design and book illustrations. He studied under the professors Jaroslav Colon and Peter Dillinger.

After the graduation and subsequent compulsory military service in 1953 he returned permanently to Příbram. He worked as a cartographer at the Jáchym Mines (later Uranium Mines), but devoted all his spare time to art work. In 1967 he was admitted to the Union of Czechoslovak Artists. The membership allowed him to follow the liberal profession even under the strict conditions of the regime.

In the 1960s Jan Čáka created countless postcards and occasionally prints. He gradually added literary activity to art creation. It stemmed from his great love for the Czech countryside, which he backpacked. As he himself said, just watching wasn't enough. He always wanted to learn more about the places he visited. That's why his travels led to archives, museums, as well as contemporary witnesses. All his subsequent life he remained true to his creed that he could only publish what he had seen with his own eyes.

The first book, Po Brdech se chodí pěšky (Walk the Brdy), was published in 1969 and is still a source of information for the Brdy lovers from Zbraslav to Příbram. Brdské toulání (Brdy Wanderings) is a narrative of the southern part of the Brdy. Two years later, another travel narrative, Cesta na severovýchod (Journey to Southeast), followed. It was about a boys' gang that decided to cross the Bohemia part from the Šumava Mountains to the Krkonoše Mountains (the Giant Mountains). The book reveals the artist's love for scouting, for which he was persecuted and monitored by the State Security in the normalization years. Jan Čáka had been a member of Junák (Scout) since 1945, so in 1968 he was happy to be involved with Skauting (Scouting magazine), designed for the leaders of the renewed scouting movement. The typesetting of the September 1970 issue with the Čáka’s illustration was demolished at the behest of the Party and the Government, and the Czechoslovak Scout movement was violently suppressed again. The author's heraldry-themed Junák (Scout) symbolism was dumped soon after its publication. It was as late as in the year 1990 when it got finally published.

Příbramské lidové píšně, popěvky a říkanky (Příbram Folk Songs, Hymns and Rhymes) published by the Příbram Museum in 1971 suffered the same sad fate that struck at the beginning of normalisation. Before its sale could begin, at the behest of the OV KSČ (District Administration of the Communist Czechoslovak Party) the museum’s entire print run was confiscated and destroyed for the so-called ideological malpractice and use of religious motifs. Only a small number of hidden copies were preserved. A set of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) postcards was also withdrawn from the sale on the grounds that neither one depicted Karl Marx as a visitor to the spa.

As a result, Jan Čáka and his family faced existential complications during the normalizing 1970s. Yet he remained true to his principles: Not to betray his life's views and his convictions opposing the totalitarian ideology as well as performing professional work.

In those years only one of the author’s books, Poutník Mácha (Macha the Wanderer), was published while other literary works awaited publication for years. Nevertheless, thanks to the courage and friendliness of the conference committee of Hornická Příbram ve vědě a technice (Mining Příbram in Science and Technology) Jan Čáka was able to pursue his artistic work. Since 1977 he worked on a 10-part unique set of 120 graphic sheets, Civitates montanarum in Republica Bohemoslovenica, also prepared other publications such as Poezie hlubin (Poetry of the Depths), an anthology of belles-lettres with seventy illustrations O příbramských havířích (About Příbram Miners) or Dvanáct měsíců v hornické krajině (Twelve Months in the Mining Landscape) and more.

Studying in archives and museum collections led the author to take an interest in the villages and towns that line the Brdy Mountains. Thus, a book on the historical transformations of major sites Od městečka k městu (From Town to City) was created and supplemented with great amount of figurative material and illustrations.

Several Čáka’s titles were reissued in the relaxed 1990s. At that time, the author devoted all his time to his most extensive work, Ztracená Vltava (The Vltava Disappeared). It gives readers a picture of the most beautiful Czech river as well as the surrounding countryside before the dams were built there. It is composed with the author's typical respect for historical facts, accompanied with many old photographs of the priceless memories of the contemporary witnesses. Another book from the 1990s is also devoted to his beloved landscape, Obrázky z Podbrdska (Pictures from the Brdy region), which were followed by Střední Brdy – Krajina neznámá (Central Brdy - The Unknown Landscape), a book about the highest and most interesting places, which were inaccessible for years.

Charming illustrations of vanished Příbram sites as well as old mining traditions came to life in a book filled with author’s personal memories called Kráčím starou Příbramí (Walking the Old Příbram). In the subsequently published book Zmizelá Příbram starou flexaretou (Disappeared Příbram by the Old Flexaret) the author's illustrations are replaced by his own photographs taken with a Czech brand camera, Flexaret. In both publications, the author confesses his love for the town whose form disappeared irretrievably during a period of expansion of the uranium industry.

The set of graphical sheets of Příbramská zákoutí (Příbram Corners) is also dedicated to the same theme. The local habits and customs are presented in the publication of Příbramský rok (A Year in Příbram).

When listing the work one shouldn’t forget the legend-accompanied Obrázky z Podbrdska (Pictures from the Brdy Region) and the book Cesty, krajiny, lidé (Roads, Landscapes, People) in which the author looks back at the post-war Scout movement and remembers the personalities that had influenced him for life.

His heraldic work is based on the artist's deep interest in studying history. In addition to his extensive cycle dedicated to mining towns, he also processed the proposals for 14 coat-of-arms and banners of the Central Bohemia municipalities, which had been approved by the Parliament of the Czech Republic. Rožmitál pod Třemšínem, historie psaná heraldikou (Rožmitál pod Třemšínem, History Written by Heraldry) is another book published on this theme. When looking back at the extensive scope of the author’s work what cannot be missed out are the designs of more than two dozen medals dedicated to mining themes, important personalities and the region's anniversaries, which were published by the Příbram branch of the Czech Numismatic Society or the Association of the Příbram the Nativity Makers.

For years Jan Čáka collaborated with the Příbram Museum for which he prepared a series of art designs including artwork maps. He worked with the museum's director, the historian Josef Velfl, on his publications Památky Příbrami v obrazech (Příbram Sites in Pictures), Příbram v průběhu staletí (Příbram Over the Centuries), Legionáři z Příbramska (The Legionnaires of Příbram region) and others. He created graphics for a book called Toulky Příbramskem (Roaming the Příbram Region), co-authored by archivist Daniel Doležal. Also, he collaborated with the Prokop Association, of which he was an honorary member, the Guild of Příbram Miners and Metalworkers, and with the Holy Mountain. Čáka’s mural was realised in the building of in the Town Hall of Příbram, another two in private residences.

Čáka’s free creation involves a multitude of works created both by a lesser-known scratching technique and by traditional graphics techniques such as wood engraving, etching, drypoint etching and chalcography. The cycle of Mácha’s Variations contains charcoal and pastel drawings, a cycle of the 12 Months in Příbram, and a set of Po Příbrami i trochu kolem (Around Příbram and the Surroundings) as well as the acrylic and pastel drawings. Other cycles, most notably devoted to the memories of the vanished Příbram corners, are in the form of ink drawings. Another part of his work is represented by dozens of New Year's Eve cards, created since the 1960s by the author for his closest friends. They are aptly symbolic of the time in which they came to existence as well as of the Čáka’s views. Later they were printed with additional commentaries in 2007.

The life of this Brdy wanderer and Příbram patriot Jan Čáka ended on September 2, 2018. The family was left with memories of a dedicated father, his friends with the memory of pleasant encounters with a man of pure character and firm and clear opinions. His co-workers will always remember him as a distinctive hard-working artist who refused any public honours with unusual modesty, no matter how merited.

The author's extensive work of art and literature, understandable and close to all readers, acclaimed by historians and ethnographers as a source of reliable information, remains enduring. He devoted his entire working life to the landscape of the Brdy Region and the city of Příbram. His wish remains a message for the generations to come: "I would like my work to inspire the people for whom this region is a true home to take interest in a deeper knowledge of its past, to enhance the love for the places where they live, and perhaps even sow the seeds of a new activity.’

Hana Ročňáková