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Russian folk art

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Modern folk art toy

T he public interest in toys typical for differ nations and times has been rapidly growing in recent period. The ever-accelerating tempo of contemporary life makes the humans realize that their childhood experiences and impressions have shaped the most intimate components of their personalities. However, access to them is tightly blocked by the barriers built by education, so conventions, and adult life experiences that not easy to leap over. The interest is manifesto the increasing number of exhibitions, gal shows, sale drives and other events presenting wide variety of toys ranging from traditional art play things to custom-made porcelain dolls, including such specialized exhibitions as, instance, a show of all kinds of Barbie dolls.

 Yaroslavl majolica. "Skomoroh sur le mouton"

"Skomorokh on the sheep"
Yaroslavl majolica.  2001

      The contemporary Russian culture is unique that it simultaneously sustains age-old folk and crafts and modem art trends, which stem from and develop folk traditions. Craftsmen are
manufacturing folk toys in traditional styles and materials while the best custom-made toys car regarded as masterpieces of modern art.
      In June 2001 the Foundation of Folk Arts Crafts of the Russian Federation located at 7 Leontievsky Lane in Moscow held a large exhibition entitled "Russian Toys. Past and Present”, exhibition featured traditional Russian toys made of wood, ceramic, birch bark, straws, and rags in styles that originated in ancient times.
      The well-known patrons of arts, the wealthy merchant families of Morozov and Mamontov, were especially interested in folk arts and crafts. The family of Anatoly Mamontov settled in the Leontievsky Lane in the second half of the 19th century. In the eighties of the 19th century his brother, Savva Mamontov, a rich industrialist and an ardent arts-lover, supported a circle of modem painters, musicians, and sculptors, based at his country estate of Abramtsevo. He generously funded their attempts to revive what they referred to as the "Russian" style in arts, primarily in decorative arts and furnishings. Similar aspirations guided his brother Anatoly when he opened a so-called "workshop-store "Children's Education" in his house in the Leontievsky Lane. Popular items in the workshop were the so-called ethnographic dolls dressed in holiday costumes typical for different regions and various ethnic groups of the Russian Empire.

Yaroslavl majolica. "Emelya et Brochet"

"Emelya and Pike"
Yaroslavl majolica.  2003

      The toy-making trade was in a deep crisis in the first years after the establishment of the Soviet regime in Russia. The demand for toys sharply dropped during the years of revolutionary upheavals and the civil war. At the same time, the toys handmade by craftsmen were intensely pushed out from the market by the factory-made dolls and the mass-produced metal toys.
      Luka Kotikov, the renowned toy craftsmen from the village of Fedoseevo (Nizny Novgorod region), made a defiant demonstration of his unhappiness with the state of the toy trade by staging a comical "funeral" of himself. He declared that he had "nothing to live for if toys are no longer needed". After a symbolically staged funeral of himself at a cemetery that was almost across the road from his house he erected on his "grave" a monument with the inscription that L.Kotikov was buried there. The monument was a toy windmill with images of the characters from children's fairy tales on its vanes.
      With time there was a gradual renewal of the interest in the toys, in particular, toys from the rural regions. In the Soviet period that started in 1917 and ended in the late eighties the handmade toy trade prospered largely at the centers of folk arts and crafts. The privately owned toy workshops and independent craftsmen manufacturing traditional toys were obliged to join folk arts and crafts cooperatives or state-owned enterprises under the Soviet regime.

Tver toys."Once a Maiden was walking for water"

"Once a Maiden was walking for water"
Tver toy  2000

     Democratic reforms of the Soviet regime in the late 80s of the 20th century initiated a revolutionary change in the social and economic relations in the country. The newly found freedom of expression changed radically the arts scene. In particular, the situation in the decorative arts has grown to become quite similar to that of a hundred years back when the so-called Russian style was flourishing. Thus a new period began in the evolution of the art of the hand-made toy in Russia. At the first stage of reforms many designers and craftsmen strove to revive the old toy styles and motifs that had disappeared for a variety of reasons in the Soviet period.
     The ancient Russian city of Tver is famous for its rich folk arts traditions. The new art toys made by Tver craftsmen from wood and textiles in the recent period exhibit an impressive creativity and profound awareness of the ancient Russian culture. Many collectors of the handmade Russian toys have acquired the "Baba Yaga" Tver dolls.

Tver toys. "The girl with the cock"

"The girl with the cock"
Tver toy.  2003

     The contemporary craftsmen and artists are actively studying and mastering the traditions, skills and manufacturing processes typical for the folk arts and crafts of their regions. The “Maiolika” company in the city of Yaroslavl has made a sustained effort in this direction. The team of craftsmen headed by designer N.Pavlova developed a range of unique majolica articles. They started with making the common earthenware whistles made of red clay. Later they coated, the whistles with opaque white glazing and painted them in many colors. The motifs of the Yaroslavl majolica whistles and rocking toys are rooted in the ancient carnival culture of Russia.
     The centers of the Russian toy-making trade strive to retain the traditional styles and motifs but simultaneously they are seeking for a niche in the new market economy and respond efficiently to the market demand.

Yaroslavl majolica. "Ours et la cuve du miel"

"Bear with honey-tub".  Honey-jug
Yaroslavl majolica.  2004

     Several workshops have been established recently where teams of artists and craftsmen collaborate in producing new types of Russia hand-made toys working in the spirit of the 19th century arts-and-crafts cooperatives.
     Designer Galina Maslennikova (Moskow) is one of the most famous Moscow artists of doll design. She is manufacturing highly original dolls dressed in the traditional costumes of the various regions of Russia of the XIX century. These dolls continue the traditions of the folk-art dolls and of the 19th-century artists who designed dolls in ethnographic costumes at the Moscow workshop "Children's education". Galina Maslennikova continues the tradition of ethnographic dolls as a modern artist who has received a thorough professional training. Galina Maslennikova is a member of the International Artist Guild. In 1992-1997 she participated in many Moscow and international exhibitions (in France, Canada, USA, Germany and Austria).
      In 1990 Galina Maslennikova founded the "Russian Dolls" studio, where she assembled about 50 Russian folk craftsmen and professional artists: dress designers, sculptors, ceramics masters from Moscow, engravers and masters of decorative painting from Sergiev Posad, Nizhny Novgorod and Vladimir, masters of traditional russian crafts of bast-shoes weaving and felt boots manufacture. With linen and wool shawls from Pavlov Posad, brightly painted musical instruments, thick woolen felt boots and hand-woven shoes, Galina's creative details invoke the unique flavor of Russian folk tales and turn of the XIX century customs.

Galina Maslennikova. "Le vieillard avec sa vieille"

"Old man with his good-wife"
Studio of Galina Maslennikova

     The toy-making tradition of Saint-Petersburg can be traced back to the time when the city was founded 300 years ago. Before the region was taken over by the Russian Empire the local Ugro-Finnish communities had manufactured dolls for the everyday life purposes and for use in the ancient sacred rituals. Peter the Great, the founder of Saint-Petersburg, established the city as a center of West European culture an therefore the Russian folk art did not develop there as fast as in other regions of Russia. The urban-style dolls made in Saint-Petersburg were manufactured of expensive materials and were intended for the decorative purposes as interior furnishings. Doll makers lived mostly at Okhta a suburb of Saint-Petersburg, and their favorite subjects were figurines of noble ladies, high society beauties, hussars, and other military officers. Starting from the late 20th s of the 19th century the demand for dolls grew sharply as the demand for dolls and other toys for children increasingly grew from the families of different social classes. The number of doll makers grew accordingly. The Handicrafts Museum in Saint-Petersburg had an extensive collection locally made dolls.
     The toy-making tradition of Saint-Petersburg can be traced back to the time when the city was founded 300 years ago. Before the region was taken over by the Russian Empire the local Ugro-Finnish communities had manufactured dolls for the everyday life purposes and for use in the ancient sacred rituals. Peter the Great, the founder of Saint Petersburg, established the city as a center of West European culture an therefore the Russian folk art did not develop there as fast as in other regions of Russia.

Saint-Pétersbourg. "Boyar's daughter"

"Boyar's daughter"
Saint-Pétersbourg.  2004

     After the revolution of 1917 the private toy-making workshops were nationalized and one of them is still in existence bearing the "Igrotekhnika" Factory.
     In early 90s of the 20th century the doll-making trade was revived. The graceful appearance of the "urban-style" dolls brings back the cozy atmosphere of the rich Russian country states of the past centuries. The "Poteshny proomysel" company in Saint-Petersburg is the major manufacturer of dolls dressed in ethnic and high-society costumes typical for different historic periods and nations. Their most popular products are the sets of dolls sold under the titles the "Tsar Dynasty", which includes dolls of all Russian tsars from Peter the Great to Nicholas II, and "Historic personages", which includes the dolls of famous Russian statesmen and field marshals Suvorov and Kutuzov.
The small-size dolls are very carefully executed, sometime have porcelain parts (heads and hands), and have a considerable artistic value.

Saint-Pétersbourg. "Strelets"

"Strelets" (Body-guard of Tsar)
Saint-Pétersbourg.  2003

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 Lacquer miniatures
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  - Palekh
  - Mstera
  - Kholui

 The russian toys
  - Bogorodskoe
  - Dymkovo
  - Modern folk art toy
  Rostov enamel
  Vologda lace
  Pavlovsky Posad shawls

Galina Maslennikova.

Studio of Galina Maslennikova
Wedding dress.  Orel province.  XIX century

Galina Maslennikova "Costume pour la jeune fille"

Studio of Galina Maslennikova
Girl's dress.  Kostroma province.  XIX century

Tver toy. "Pop and Balda"

"Pop and Balda"
(after the tale of A.Pushkin)
Tver toy.  2004

Yaroslavl majolica "Ivan sur la chèvre"

"Ivan the Fool on the goat"
Yaroslavl majolica.  2004


"Soloha"(Witch).  Personage of
"Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka" of N.Gogol
Saint-Pétersbourg.  2003

Yaroslavl majolica. "Skomoroh"

Yaroslavl majolica.  2004

Yaroslavl majolica. "Skomoroh"

"Boy with sledge"
Studio of Galina Maslennikova

Galina Maslennikova. "Le garçon rural"

"Country boy"
Studio of Galina Maslennikova


Galina Maslennikova. "Woman with pies"

"Woman with pies"
Studio of Galina Maslennikova

Tver toy. "Tavern-keeper"

Tver toy.  2006

 Tver toy. "Tea-drinking"

Tver toy.  2004

Tver toy. "Boy with balalaika"

"Boy with balalaika"
Galina Maslennikova studio