Monthly Archives: August 2013

Wood Carvings from Gorodets (Part 2)

Larger, horizontally extended three-partite compositions resemble in their designs traditional Gorodets painted panels. Similarly whimsical, though carved, decorations frame the scenes—twisted columns support carved arches; the cornice is usually a frieze with floral ornamentation, birds in the corners and lacy fringe. In these curious little pavilions one can see amusing little figures: a peasant sitting at the samovar, a wood-carver with his wares, an accordion player amidst young girls, or an old man and his wife. Kolov’s manner reveals a gentle humour in his treatment of the subject through expressive rounded forms, the reticent yet exact use of details, and a delicate shading of the ground or sometimes a tinting of certain elements.

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Kitchen set. 1983 By Andrei Kolov

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Decorative ironing board. 1980. Detail By Nikolai Dubrovin

Mikhail Loginov has a somewhat different manner: the ornament plays a more active part in his works. The large, rhythmically alternating motif of branches and lithe shoots ending in a blossom or a bunch of grapes, borders the decorative plate in a broad band. Placed in the centre is usually a large medallion with a bird on a bough. The characteristic floral motif, the elegance of the somewhat flattened form and the almost graphic clarity of the design suggest a similarity between Loginov’s carved works and the painted reliefs of Gorodets shaft-bows.

Alexander Loktionov prefers fairy-tale images. The heroes of his panel Blacksmiths look like bogatyrs from Russian epics, and the fanciful ornament with dragons encircled by twisting boughs carries us off to the world of Oriental legends.

The creative fantasy of folk masters also finds expression in the tiny boxes adorned with images of Volga legendary personages, in decorative ladles and spoons with elaborately carved handles, and in small statuary, such as the quaint figures of provincial ladies by Valery Zelenin or folk dancers by Mikhail Loginov.

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Wood Carvings from Gorodets (Part 1)

The revival of Gorodets wood carving began not long ago, when three young artists of the Gorodets Painting factory, Mikhail Loginov, Andrei Kolov and Valery Zelenin, tried their hand at this craft. Unlike the Semionov carvers, who are masters of geometric and floral design, they have focused their attention on panels with narrative scenes, in keeping with the traditions of figure carving on Gorodets distaffs and partly also of the reliefs decorating local peasant houses.

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Panel from the series Gorodets-on-the-Volga. 1982 By Andrei Kolov

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Salt-cellar: Rooster. 1983 By Mikhail Loginov

The first stage in assimilating the wealthy heritage of Gorodets wood carving was the study of its genre varieties, its particular technical execution. This involved almost literal reproduction of museum pieces. Then, after having assimilated a whole repertory of technical devices, the artists finally chose flat relief carving, as the most flexible, dynamic technique, allowing great freedom in depicting narrative scenes. However, for the ornamental designing of the panel background, of large details and of decorative bands which frame the scene, .three-edge and scallop-shaped grooves are used, as well as brackets and channelled cuts, to enrich the texture of the carved surface.

Gorodets carving is still in an experimental stage. Active research is now going on in order to explore the processes, themes and the selection of articles for production, which would match the type of carving. Andrei Kolov’s series of panels Gorodets-on-the-Volga is illustrative of this trend. Its round panels, in the form of small gingerbread boards, display traditional characters out of folklore: a fantasy bird with a twig in its beak, an enigmatically smiling mermaid, the kind guardian of a peasant house, or a fairy-tale lion with a curly mane. The same artist has created decorative panels based on motifs of folk life— Winter Evening Gathering, At the Gate, Market-place and others.

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Wood and Bast Items from Semionov (Part 2)

Semionov craftsmen also produce articles of polished wood decorated with geometric carving—scoops, vases, caskets and canisters. On their dark, shining lacquered surfaces, grooves and cuts form diamond shapes, pointed flowers, rosettes or fans, as well as dancing snowflakes or long feathery leaves resembling frost patterns on a winter window. These incisions, usually left uncoloured, contrast with the deep tone of the polished wood. Small items such as little boxes for toilet articles, pencil and napkin holders, are skilfully inlaid with straw: the design of straw cut into lozenges is laid on with a needle. The ornament of small and large golden stars rhythmically alternating on the dark ground, varies endlessly, bringing to mind the mosaics of parquetry. The articles made by Semionov turners and carvers are marked by vivid traits of national originality, which explains the unflagging interest in this handicraft.

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Loving-cup: Straw. 1981 By Alexander Shvetsov

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Bowl: Flowers. 1981 By Papil Kurkin

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Wood and Bast Items from Semionov (Part 1)

The Semionov enterprise puts out, in addition to toys, all sorts of wooden tableware, using the techniques of artistic design traditional for this area. Playing up the aesthetic properties of the materials—the plasticity of wood, the flexibility of osier, the admirable natural colour and texture of birch bark—the artists strive to combine the expressive with the functional. Russian folk living along the Volga River have long known the value of birch bark, or bast. They used this light, durable material to make salt-cellars, bread boxes and especially the cylindrical vessels of the type called tuyes intended for storing sour cream, milk, beer and kvass. Such vessels stayed cool even on a hot summer day. Even nowadays Semionov craftsmen put out sets of bast vessels for traditional Russian beverages. They are large mugs on a round or oval tray or wine scoops with small ladles hanging from them. The simple forms of these articles are enlivened with bright painted designs. The floral patterns are laid on pale bast with broad, energetic brushstrokes.

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Containers: Currants. 1976 By Alexander Shvetsov

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Panel: Distaff. 1981 By Alexander Shvetsov

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Decorative plate: Radiance. 1979 By Alexander Shvetsov

Another method of decorating bast is stamping. The artists Nikolai Kuzmichov and Alexander Shvetsov stress the structural character of details, such as relief bands around the edges of the vessel, by stamping them with ornamental stars, small squares or lozenges. Their large sets for festive occasions are decorated with stamped overlays of rosette designs or figures of fantastic-looking pea-hens.

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Wooden Toys from Semionov (Part 3)

Traditional toys for tiny tots are being reborn, such as painted wooden balls, scoops, apples, pyramids of brightly coloured rings and an egg with a surprise—a chick hidden within! Turned souvenirs such as The Water-carrier, The Good Housewife with her samovar and The Grandad-forester are reminiscent of old figurines called baliasinkas, made in the past by local spindle turners. Such figures may be used for fanciful chess sets or for scenes of folk gatherings with balalaika and accordion players.

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Toys with dismountable parts Masha. 1975. Red Riding hood. 1975 By Galina Semionovskaya (both)

Another trend in contemporary Semionov toy-making consists in glueing together turned parts. This allows the making of more complicated toys, such as a Volga riverboat with captain and sailors, a market merry-go-round, a fire engine with crew, and fairy-tale themes. Especially popular among the latter are themes with horses, a favourite image of folk art. Such toys, made in the manner of the old Nizhny Novgorod horse on wheels, depict mounted bogatyrs (legendary heroes of Russian folklore), various carts, and the triumphant entry of Tsar Dodon and the Queen of Shemakha, the characters of Alexander Pushkin’s Tale of the Golden Cockerel.

The art of making wooden toys, constantly in the process of development, delights both children and grown-ups and fosters in all the love of beauty.

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Wooden Toys from Semionov (Part 2)

At the Semionov souvenir enterprise, the skills of the older generations of toy-makers—the Vagins, the Mordashovs and the Sharygins—are being passed to young craftsmen. The virtuoso turners can make a matrioshka of any size, from a miniature three-centimetre doll to enormous ones that can hold 30, 50 or even 70 figures. Although the shape of the toy is traditional, the unique hand-painting makes each matrioshka original and inimitable: she has her own distinctive expression, sometimes an inviting smile and sometimes serious dignity. The bouquets are also individual: some have roses, poppies and dahlias that can be found in any Semionov kitchen garden, and others combine a simple crimson meadow carnation with random grass designs. The brush moves in many different ways sometimes accurately and carefully, sometimes boldly and quickly, and sometimes easily and freely, with a broad sweep. Among the best artists are Anna Galkina, Anna Riabinina and Tatyana Lebedeva.

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The Golden Cockerel. 1979. By Ivan Sorokin and Yuri Siliutin

In the 1960s, novel variations of the traditional matrioshka began to appear, such as The Good Family Man, a neat Semionov chap with his wife and children, and The Wedding Souvenir, with a young Russian man and a local beauty in gay folk costumes. A new contemporary version of the toy has been introduced by Ivan Sorokin, who created a whole team of astronauts fitting into a cosmic rocket decorated with flowers. Since the formation of the experimental laboratory at the enterprise, the range of creative activity has noticeably expanded in several directions. Headed by the artist Ivan Sorokin, the turners Ivan Bushuyev, Yevgeny Bezrukov and Vladimir Mayorov, the joiner Ivan Kozlov, and the painters Tatyana Lebedeva and Anna Riabinina have created a number of interesting toys based on themes from fairy-tales, folk festivals and on contemporary motifs.

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Wooden Toys from Semionov (Part 1)

Wooden toys enjoy universal popularity, but it seems that none have outshone the famous matrioshka turned and painted in Semionov. It is exported to fifty countries and is regarded everywhere as a splendid souvenir from Russia.

The matrioshka was first produced in Russia in the 1890s near Moscow, at first in Abramtsevo and later in Sergiyev Posad (now Zagorsk). In 1922, Arsenty Mayorov from the village of Merinovo brought a Sergiyev matrioshka to Semionov District from the Nizhny Novgorod fair. He was the first to turn a toy of this type in his village, and he showed his daughters how to paint it. Mayorov’s neighbours followed his example, and soon Semionov became an important centre of the handicraft. Working from the basic principle of the toy—identical figures, each one smaller than the last and fitting into it—-local craftsmen created their own version of the matrioshka. Like the beauty of Russian folk songs, it is “round-faced, rosy and white”. Big-eyed, with thin eyebrows, plumper and shorter than the Polkhov-Maidan doll, she is dressed in a patterned shawl and has a bouquet of flowers in her arms.

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Bogatyrs (legendary heroes). 1969, By Roman Pcholkin

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Russian Brave Young Man. 1980 Russian Beauty. 1980 By Ivan Sorokin (both)

Semionov craftsmen also evolved their original technique of painting, unlike that used in Sergiyev. The figure is primed with transparent starch, and when it is dry, the contours of the face, hands and shawl are traced with black India ink; red cheeks and lips are then added, followed by the yellow, pink, blue and green flowers and leaves. As a final touch, the shawl is covered with spiralled specks. The last application of clear lacquer lends a special brightness to the painting.

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Painted Ware from Polkhov-Maidan (Part 3)

New creative endeavours of Polkhov-Maidan artists are associated with their use of a coloured background. Here two different trends are developing. The first is similar to peasant textile prints: usually called luzhok (meadow), the pattern consists of small bright flowers or rosettes strewn at random on a blue, red or yellow background. Other, more complicated designs resemble the patterns on ancient shawls. This second trend features bouquets or sprays of double-petalled roses and fanciful tulips with some other flowers or clusters of grapes in the centre. Antonina Babina and Galina Azamatova are fond of such compositions. The scarlet, pink and orange-yellow fantasy flowers sprinkled on a black background carry us into the world of folk dreams of the beautiful. Thus, Polkhov-Maidan painted ware, enriched by new trends but still retaining its original features, is becoming a striking and significant phenomenon of contemporary folk art.

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Covered bowls. 1980. By Galina Azamatova

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Painted Ware from Polkhov-Maidan (Part 2)

Today, about 600 families are occupied in this industry in Polkhov-Maidan. The best turners and decorative painters work for the art enterprise Polkhov-Maidan Painting, whose experimental laboratory creates new articles for production. Recent additions include a toy horse pulling a cart, balalaikas, windmills, and figures of girls in national costumes. The Polkhov-Maidan matrioshka is a real beauty and a worthy rival of the famous Semionov one. This new model is taller and more slender, with dark eyes, shapely brows and red cheeks. Its apron bears Russian summer flowers, among them the invariable rosy cups of wild-rose. Considerable attention is also paid to turned tableware—fruitbowls, stout little sugar-basins, pot-shaped vases and little casks or barrels for storage. Their rounded shapes are emphasized by decorative carved rings and large ornamental designs.

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Set of little tubs. 1980. By Galina Azamatova.

Among the painting styles of Gorky Region, Polkhov-Maidan patterns are the most gay, colourful and vibrant. Full of charm, for example, are Yelena Tankova’s naive rustic landscapes with sunsets, fishermen on the river, or folk gatherings, which she paints on squat little boxes, tubs and decorative mushrooms. An effect of simplicity, lightness and translucence of design marks the creative manner of Maria Strakunina. Her starlike flowers (contoured with a clear soft line) burn brightly on the light-coloured wood, and modest ornamental girdles of spiral dots set off the edges of the wooden vessels.

(Aurora Art, 1988)

Painted Ware from Polkhov-Maidan (Part 1)

The Polkhov-Maidan handicraft industry is one of the youngest in Gorky Region. It is based on the turning industry, long since existing in Voznesenskoye District, where the village of Polkhov-Maidan is situated. Here in the 1920s and ’30s was organized the production of turned and painted wooden toys, such as matrioshkas, apples, mushrooms, bird-whistles, children’s coin banks and other articles, which local people fondly called tararushkas. By the 1950s the village of Polkhov-Maidan was already well known as the centre of a large-scale handicraft industry with its own traditions, repertory, original technology and artistic style.

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Apples. 1978. Yelena Tankova

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Cockerel. 1978. By Yelena Tankova

The painted decoration is done with bright aniline dyes on a starch coat. The lively range of colours includes blue, yellow, violet, crimson and green tones. Heightened with transparent varnish, they express the folk artists’ colour perception, their ingenuous delight in the surrounding world. The style of painting is characterized by the combination of colourful areas and light elegant penwork, outlining the contours and filling in details. The main ornamental motifs are an idyllic village landscape with a windmill or a little house on a river bank or, even more often, a spray of scarlet wild-rose accompanied by a scatter of berries, a cluster of grapes or a bunch of blue forget-me-nots.

(Aurora Art, 1988)