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May 25, 2023

ICOM VoicesThe Importance of Small Local Museums and Collections – A Look at the Heritage Collection of the City of Novska, Croatia

Luka Štefan

Archaeologist and curator at the Heritage Collection of the City of Novska

Preserving the Past, Engaging with the Future: The Importance of Small Local Museums and Collections – A Look at the Heritage Collection of the City of Novska, Croatia

While traveling the world, we are frequently struck by the grandeur of museums that display the history and cultural legacy of entire nations. These establishments feature collections of invaluable artefacts and treasures that narrate the tales of our ancestors. In the midst of these imposing museums, it is easy to overlook the importance and wealth of small local museums and collections. These museums act as portals into the exclusive and varied cultural heritage of communities.

The Heritage Collection of the City of Novska, Croatia (cro. Muzejska zavičajna zbirka Grada Novske) is one of these museums. It showcases the importance of preserving cultural heritage for future generations and the impact it can have on a community.

Fig. 1: Section of the permanent exhibition depicting the daily life of the people of Novska in the past. © Tomislav Koran

The origins of the collection

Small local museums and collections offer an intimate experience. They allow visitors to connect with the objects and stories in a way that is personal and meaningful. Housed in the heart of Novska, within the building of the Public Open University (cro. Pučko otvoreno učilište Novska), the Heritage Collection tells the story of the area through its diverse collection of ancient objects, many of which have been gathered by the Sajko family. This collection is listed in the Register of Cultural Property of the Republic of Croatia and covers a large period of time, from prehistory to the Croatian War of Independence.

For 70 years, Živko and Željko, a father and son duo, have tirelessly saved and preserved thousands of objects from Novska’s rich history, protecting them from destruction and oblivion. The collection was originally housed in the basement of the Sajko family home, earning it the nickname of “Museum in the House”. As the years passed, the Sajko family sacrificed their living space to accommodate the growing number of artefacts. In addition to collecting physical objects, Živko and Željko also documented public life through photographs, and compiled a vast collection of images from the family albums of both renowned and lesser-known residents of Novska.

A Journey through Time and Culture: The Power of Community Involvement

The permanent exhibition displays 341 objects divided into 9 categories: archaeology, economic development, transportation, everyday life, religion, postcards and photographs, firefighting equipment, ancient weapons and military equipment. Each object is carefully selected and presented to provide a comprehensive look into the history of Novska. Accompanied by informative cartels and texts, the arrangement is designed to be both educational and engaging. With the assistance of  Željko Sajko, who is employed at the museum and was the initial collector of the artefacts, guided tours are provided to elevate the visitor experience, helping individuals engage with the objects and narratives showcased in a personal and insightful manner.

Fig. 2: Variety of archaeological artifacts in the Heritage Collection of the City of Novska. © Tomislav Koran

Fig. 3: Firefighting equipment from the first half of the 20th century in the Heritage Collection of the City of Novska. © Tomislav Koran

In addition to its permanent exhibition, the Heritage Collection of Novska also regularly organises temporary exhibitions that showcase the diverse culture of the region. These exhibitions not only provide a platform for the local community to learn about its history, but also allow for a wider range of objects and perspectives to be displayed.

The Heritage Collection of Novska has curated a variety of recent exhibitions, such as Thread by Thread: The Return to Traditional Hand Weaving. This exhibit celebrated the art of traditional hand weaving, which has been a significant part of the region’s cultural heritage. Visitors could witness the intricate process of hand weaving and understand the history and importance of the craft.

Another exhibition, Birthdays from the Family Albums, displayed a collection of family photographs taken during birthday celebrations throughout the 20th century by Juraj Jmbrečina, a local photographer. It illustrated how birthday celebrations have evolved over time and highlighted the cultural and social significance of this tradition.

The Collection also organised T-34 and T-55: Tanks in Defence of Croatia, an exhibition exploring the role of tanks in the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s, in which Novska had a crucial part.

The local community contributed with their knowledge, objects, and stories to these exhibitions, making them possible. Through these exhibits, the Heritage Collection of Novska continues to preserve and share the region’s cultural heritage with both locals and visitors.

The museum also has a program that actively encourages young people to participate in curatorial duties, giving them a chance to learn about their cultural heritage and to become its guardians for future generations. Involving the community and schools in the museum’s operations not only fosters active engagement but also guarantees that the region’s cultural legacy is imparted in an approachable way.

Residents and local organisations can also loan items for display, offering personal views into the local history.


The existence of the Heritage Collection of Novska highlights the significance of small local museums in safeguarding cultural heritage and promoting community involvement. Through a varied selection of exhibits and programs, the Collection showcases the distinctive history and narratives of the area thus preserving the cultural heritage of Novska for future generations.


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