Semionovo style nesting dolls

Semionovo is a large old center of wooden handicrafts. Huge thick forests, soil that is not good for agriculture, big outlet provided development of local people crafts. Of course, many changes occurred during long history of crafts in Semionovo but even now about 200 items are produced in factories and privately in this region, 33 countries import goods from this small town.

Semionovo is famous for its wooden painted tableware, wooden toys and, of course, matryoshkas. The first mention about this settlement goes as far as 1644. There is a legend that Semionovo was founded by merchant Semion and a run-a-way monk from Solovky monastery. In 1779 in time of Catherine the Second 3000 inhabitants lived and worked in this place. As the town was surrounded by forests people used to make goods of wood for themselves and for sale. Some crafter’s made for their children and just for fun wooden toys, with time it became a profitable business. The first matryoshka in Semionovo was made by Arsenty Mayorov who was well known by his wooden utensils, rattles, balls and apples. In 1924 he brought from the fair in Nizhny Novgorod unpainted nesting doll. His elder daughter Luba painted it using ordinary goose feather and aniline dyes, which were used for painting of toys. Almost 20 years matryoshka made by Mayorov were the best in the area of Nizhny Novgorod. In 1931 an ar tel which made souvenirs including matryoshkas was established in Semionovo.

Gradually a distinct matryoshka type of Semionovo was developed. It was more decorative and symbolic than the matryoshka from Sergiev Posad. Semionovo’s tradition goes back to the traditions of ancient Russia. The painters of Semionovo used aniline dyes; they left quite a lot of unpainted space and varnished dolls. First of all, light touches of the brush mark the outlines of the face, eyes, the lines of the lips and apply color to the cheeks. Then a skirt, an apron, a scarf on the matryoshka’s head and hands are drawn.

An apron is considered to be the main thing in painting of Semionovo. A bright bouquet of flowers is painted on it. It is possible to recognize the technique of old Russian masters. The early matryoshkas of Semionovo were more in the spirit of old Russian painting traditions, the lines were more graphic and lighter. It is easy to recognize a typical Semionovo shape of wooden form of matryoshka. It is slender and has a relatively thin top, which widens sharply into a thick bottom.

The matryoshka of Semionovo are famous for containing many pieces. The biggest matryoshka contained 72 pieces; it was 1 m high and had a diameter. This unique doll was made in 1970 and was dedicated to birthday of Soviet communist leader Lenin. It cost 3000 rubles (it worth saying that a popular Soviet car cost in that time 5,000 rubles. The doll was sent to exhibition in Japan. In the 80-s artists from Semionovo developed new types of matryoshkas Artist Serov designed new matryoshka “The Father Frost and Snegurotchka”. This matryoshka was so designed that children could learn to count: inside a big “mother” 10 small was hidden. Now Semionovo nesting dolls are made at the factory “Semionovskaya Rospis” and they continue old traditions. The artists at the factory designed many new nesting dolls painted in Semionovo style. There is a good collection of such nesting dolls at our web page with traditional nesting dolls. In present time the factory met a specific for our time problem – the copyright problem. Many individual artisans and small workshops make copies of Semionovo style nesting dolls but their quality often is not good, especially quality of finishing. Nesting dolls and other products produced at the “Semionovskaya Rospis” factory have good quality of painting and perfect lacquer finishing.

Polkholvsky Maidan Russian nesting dolls

Polkhovsky Maidan located to the south-west of Nizhny Novgorod 240 km away from it. Is a motherland of another style of matryoshkas and nesting dolls. The river Polkhovka in old times was wide and big, it was surrounded by forests- that is why people choose this place to settle a new village. Now Polkhovka became a small stream meanwhile the village turned into a center of crafts. The first nesting doll was made in Polkhovsky Maidan in 1930-s, as other goods in that time the doll was made by poker work. Wooden workmanship was an old tradition in Maidan. Any toys were made on turning lather: samovars, birds, money-box, salt-cellars and apples. The craftsmen of Polkhovsky Maidan like the craftsmen of Semionovo use aniline dyes. The matryoshkas were pasted over, brightly painted before being coated with varnish. The colors of the matryoshkas of Polkhovsky Maidan are brighter and more expressive than the colors of the matryoshkas of Semionovo, their ornaments are bigger as well. Green, blue, yellow, violet and crimson colors are used to contrast each other, to make an expressive and bright ornament. Richness of color is achieved by superim-posing one layer of dye on another. The matryoshkas of Polkhovsky Maidan are manufactured in the peasant primitive style which resembles children’s drawings. It is a typical village beauty with knitted brows and a face framed in black locks. The ringlets of hair are a genuine element of local women’s headdress. Older women covered their hair with kokoshniks, young girls used ribbons. Black drake’s feathers were stuck in their headdresses. The painters of Polkhovsky Maidan as the painters of Semionovo paid their special attention to floral ornament of matryoshkas’ aprons. They ignored other details of a matryoshka’s costume. Dog-rose with many petals is the main element of apron painting. This flower is always considered to be the symbol of femininity, love and motherhood. This flower is a part of each composition of the craftsmen of Polkhovsky Maidan. Sometimes this theme is developed and a painter adds to the main rose its buds on the branches.

Russian matryoshka nesting dolls in Soviet time

History of matryoshka can be divided into tree periods: 1) 1890 -1930-s
2) 1930-s -beginning 1990s
3) Beginning of 1990-s till this time.

The first period gave us the first Russian matryoshka and developed a lot of new types which were put onto base of modern matryoshkas. Blossom of matryoshkas’ types was interrupted by construction of socialism in the USSR. Why? The Soviet Government paid much attention to construction of factories, which produced goods of people crafts! Yes, this is right. The main problem is in it. Hand-made goods can not be made in factories – they are not mass production items. A few matryoshka’s types were developed for factory production: Semionovo type, Sergiev Posad type, Kirov (Viatka) type and some other. Private making of matryoshkas and production of other hand crafted things was forbidden in the USSR – craftsmen had to work at the factories where was no possibility neither to earn enough money for their labor (rates were quite low as at other state enterprises) nor to show their art abilities (goods had to be simple enough for mass production). I remember a story of old crafter from Polkhovsky Maidan about work in Soviet time. Those who did not work at the factory were not allowed to use home lathes for turning, electricity was “cut down”. Militia and representatives of power controlled road and railway stations to prevent possibility to carry to other regions of the country ready handicrafts to sell . Nevertheless people produced their own goods and brought them to different regions of the Soviet Union: Far East, North regions, South and Central Asia Republics. It was easier to work at the factories of Semionovo where many new types of wooden toys were created. These toys (and matryoshkas among them) were exported to many countries of the world. In spite of that all things are too similar, they look like each other and they lack worm of hand made goods.The same happened with Sergiev Posad matryoshkas. In 1920s the matryoshka makers artel “Artisan Artel” was rename “The Workers and Peasants Red Army Artel” that in 1928 became toy factory #1. The period of free work has finished. Some simple types of dolls were produced at the factory. It is necessary to say that there were some people who created and painted original matryoshkas but it was not typical. Such matryoshka were bought by private collectors and now are quite rare. In the beginning of 1990s when old economic system was destroying artists and talented artisans gained a freedom for creation of new type of matryoshkas and other crafts. During the Soviet time many factories all over the country made nesting dolls. In time of planning economy when some wise guys from Gosplan (it would mean The State Planning Comity) decided that it would be nice to make as many matryoshkas as possible in order each person on the Earth could get his/her own matryoshkas That is why nesting dolls were made in Moldavia (South part of the USSR), in the Ukraine, in Bashkiria, Karelia and many other places. Nobody was interested that it was impossible to bring together with tools and wood mastery of people and their skill. Without native traditions matryoshka lost its charm and became an ordinary wooden toy, very primitive and simple. The only place where matryoshka found its new home was Kirov -the old city with deep root and traditions of wooden making. Now Kirov matryoshka has its own style and still is made at the factory.



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