Popular Woodworking 2003-10 № 136, страница 78

Popular Woodworking 2003-10 № 136, страница 78

In the sheds behind every house in the small village of Maidan, Russia, there are wooden shavings piled chest-high, remnants of hundreds of matryoshki.

Often, the price of wood in Polkhovsky Maidan, Russia, is a few bottles of vodka. Homemade lathes are built from automotive parts. And behind almost every house is a shed filled to the brim with wood shavings. Maidan is a town full of turners, where men make a living turning doll blanks and women make a living painting them.

The Russian nesting doll, called ma-tryoshka (roughly translated as "little mother"), is actually many dolls inside each other. Yet in its relatively short history, the ma-tryoshka has become a symbol of Russian folk culture, if not Russia itself.

The first matryoshka was turned in 1899 by Vasilii Zvyozdochkin, a master toy maker. Within five years, the city of Sergiev Posad was producing hundreds of these dolls. Sizes and shapes were as varied as the artists who produced them, even including satirical dolls that represented political figures and illustrations of fairy tales, as well as the traditional peasant girl, "Matryona," after which they were named.

In the late 1920s, as Josef Stalin consolidated power, artists who worked in small workshops or their apartments were moved into factories. There, the only acceptable subject was the traditional peasant girl. Essentially all matryoshki that were produced between 1930 and 1990 depicted that peasant girl, wearing a scarf and apron, and decorated with flowers. Each city developed its own traditional look, but none were allowed to stray from the basic subject; political subjects were not allowed.

As the Soviet Union collapsed in the late '80s, different matryoshki appeared. The first anomaly was the "Gorby" doll, poking fun at Mikhail Gorbachev and his predecessors. Soon thereafter, artists started branching out, and today there is no limit to the themes depicted on the dolls.

by Rett Ertl

Rett Ertl is co-author of"The Art of the Russian Matryoshka" (Vernissage Press) and president of Boulder, Colo.-based TolsToys Inc. (tolstoys.com), a company that imports matryoshka dolls and other Russian folk arts and crafts.

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Popular Woodworking October 2003

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