Latvian Folk Art: Traditional Design for Today

When you visit Latvia, you’ll notice souvenir shops and outdoor market vendors selling elements of Latvian folk art. From crafts made as they have been for generations to versions of those crafts reinterpreted for today, Latvian folk art makes excellent gifts or memorabilia of your travel through the Baltic states.

Learn about Latvian folk art and what you should look for during your visit to Latvia.

Ceramics and Pottery

Latvia has a long and storied tradition of ceramics and pottery. Over the centuries, Latvians have become experts at creating specific-use vessels, such as containers for honey, sour cream, or different types of liquids.

Latgalian pottery—from the eastern Latgale region—is the most famous type of pottery in Latvia. It has traditionally ranged from earthen hues to the ancient style of black pottery.

As you pop into shops and examine the wares of ceramicists working in Latvia, you’ll also notice many pieces decorated by Baltic pagan geometric symbols.

Daugavpils’ Mark Rothko Art Center has a section dedicated to Latvian ceramics by artists working in a modern tradition. However, the homage they pay to the long pottery tradition in Latvia is clear.

Two mugs made of black pottery with geometric symbols in a natural environment
Latvia has a long tradition of pottery-making. Photo 114611048 / Baltic Folk © Itija77 | Dreamstime.com

Weaving

Latvians have taken weaving to another level. Intricate designs with ancient symbols imbued with meaning are often integral to this type of Latvian folk art.

For example, the Lielvarde belt is an extremely sophisticated example of folk art incorporated into traditional costume. Woven in red and white, each belt requires almost three weeks to produce. Due to the beauty and ubiquity of this type of belt, it has become in itself a symbol of Latvian culture, and you’ll see variations of the belts’ designs reproduced on clothing and accessories.

A Latvian traditional folk art belt may not be a practical souvenir, but Latvian weaving tradition, in addition to creating pieces for traditional folk design, has been adapted and can be made a part of a modern wardrobe.

For example, the Sena Klets National Costume Center produces more than authentic skirts, blouses, belts, or coats. Those who love Latvian weaving can also pick up scarves, bags, and mittens with traditional Latvian symbols and designs.

Pagan symbols found in traditional Latvian weaving include those representing the sun or moon, serpents, or stars.

Woven Latvian folk belt with red-and-white geometric designs
The Lielvarde belt is a symbol of Latvia. Photo 160049240 / Baltic Folk © Daina Varpina | Dreamstime.com

Wrist Warmers and Mittens

Like in Lithuanian folk art, wrist warmers are decorative and practical elements to clothing that can be woven in patterns or beaded. They are not quite mittens, but they warm the pulse points right where a long-sleeved shirt would stop and help prevent the cold from reaching the veins in the wrist.

The mitten tradition in Latvia is so well-established, archeologists have even found mittens centuries old. Latvian mittens have a customary pointed shape, and they bear colorful and intricate pagan designs. In the past, mittens were an important cultural item, used as gifts and knitted in preparation for weddings.

Latvian mittens knitted in various colors
Latvian mittens brighten up dreary winter days. Photo 128137787 / Baltic Folk © Askoldsb | Dreamstime.com

Traditional Latvian Jewelry

As you may expect, Latvian jewelry, whether made of precious metals or other materials, may often bear pagan symbolism or be made of Baltic amber.

One example of traditional Latvian jewelry is the Namejs ring, which originated centuries ago as a symbol of Latvian unity and independence. The Namejs ring is typically made in silver and is of a twisted design.

A Latvian traditional ring in twisted silver resting on a green fern leaf
The Namejs ring is a symbol of Latvian unity. Photo 221255841 / Baltic © Ilona Lablaika | Dreamstime.com

Woodcarving

Latvians have long been working the wood found in their forests. This tradition sprung up from when individuals had to craft everything themselves, from spoons to furniture.

Today, you’ll find both practical and decorative woodcarving in Latvia’s shops and markets. Household utensils, such as serving spoons and cutting boards, make an easily transportable souvenir.

Decorative items may often bear traditional Latvian symbols, either carved by had or laser cut into the wood.

Wooden Christmas ornaments hang from the ceiling of a market booth
Latvian woodwork may come in the form of Christmas ornametns. Photo 59754740 / Baltic © Erix2005 | Dreamstime.com

Basket-making

Baskets, like woodcarving, were produced out of necessity for the home. However, today, Latvian baskets make beautiful decorative pieces and long-lasting and useful souvenirs.

Other Types of Latvian Folk Art

The types of Latvian traditional crafts are not limited to those above. Leatherwork, lacework, linen housewares and clothing, metalwork, and other crafts and traditions are a part of Latvian culture.

Where to Buy Latvian Folk Art

Find Latvian folk art in dedicated shops when you visit Riga or other cities in Latvia. If you’re looking for authentic folk art pieces, avoid the tourist shops selling foreign-made tchotchkes.

Latvian folk art can also be found in outdoor markets, such as the permanent one set up in the heart of Old Town Riga, and Christmas markets in Riga.  

Of course, you can also find traditional Latvian crafts online, either through the virtual shops of stores in Latvia or through marketplaces like Etsy.

Latvian national crafts make beautiful additions to your souvenir collections, help you retain memories of your travels, and may even be passed down to the next generation.

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