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Hohloma (or Khokhloma)


The northern part of the Gorky region is a single glorious expanse. A green carpet of water-meadows spreads along the lower left bank of the Volga and beyond them stretch boundless forests. In autumn these forests are particularly beautiful: dense fir-trees enhance the yellow-tinged lime and birch; the luxuriant maple canopies turn purple and orange and the sun tints the venerable oaks with noble bronze.The golden foliage and lacy branches with scarlet clusters of ashberries recall the vibrant colours of Khokhloma - the folk painting that originated in these parts. Today this age-old art is flourishing anew. Aflame with gold and slender vermilion leaves, Khokhloma wooden tableware and furniture are world-famous. This remarkable Russian decorative craft dates from the seventeenth century and derives its name from the Volga mercantile village of Khokhloma, which has since become a major centre of folk art in the Soviet Union.

Equally old is the small town of Semionov, lying amidst forests and fields near the river Kerzhenets. Its wooden houses, built on a gently sloping hill, are noted for their finely carved window casings, ornate weather-vanes and chimneys. Thousands of tourists come to Semionov every year, wishing to know more about the folk art of the Gorky region. They visit the local handicrafts museum to see examples of mas-terly woodwork: carvings, sculptures, toys, Gorodets distaffs, gingerbread moulds and blocks for the hand-printing of fabrics. The main attraction of the museum, however, is its large collection of wooden Khokhloma ware.

On display are the gilded wooden bowls and dishes used daily in nineteenth century peasant households. Having dulled with age, they now glow softly in their showcases. But next to them shine the freshly varnished wares of a modern Semionov factory with their eye-catching floral designs. Today Khokhloma comes to Soviet people in a different form: magnificent dinner services adorn their tables on special occasions; ornamental vases and scoops lend poetry to modern decors; little caskets and spoons have become favourite souvenirs; painted beads, brooches and bracelets of wood add elegance to any fashion.

In the Khokhloma range of purely decorative objects, tableware takes pride of place. Besides the traditional bowls, spoons, small barrels and canisters, Khokhloma craftsmen produce superb kitchenware, including sets of dishes for fish soup, and vessels for jam, honey, and milk. These colourful vessels seem to radiate Russian hospitality.

Khokhloma ware is practical and makes an ideal ornament or gift. But it is also an original Russian folk art, a unique expression of national culture, and this too contributes to its growing fame. Today`s craftsmen are reviving generations of experience in the art of turning, carving and painting wood. Anyone who has seen these cups, canisters, small kegs and salt-cellars made of light, turned wood cannot fail to be impressed. Gracefully austere in form, yet rich in decoration, these modest articles are genuine works of art.

The motifs of Khokhloma painting are both simple and poetic, consisting of floral and plain geometrical patterns. Flowers and clusters of berries interwoven with sweeping grasses and golden tendrils curve gently over the wooden surfaces. Some of these compositions are restrained, others lavish; but all reflect the Russian people`s love of nature and quest for beauty.

Khokhloma derives its bright, festive character from a distinctive matching of scarlet, black and gold. This dignified and lustrous combination gives the wooden dishes an aura of great value. That is all the more remarkable in that Khokhloma "gold" is not real, but the ingenious invention of Russian craftsmen. To achieve the gold effect on wood is far from simple. First, the unpainted articles are primed and coated with drying oil. Next they are polished with powdered aluminium (powdered tin and more rarely silver were used in the past). The "silvered" wares are then painted with heat-resistant oil colours, varnished and fired in kilns. The heat turns the varnish yellow, the "silver" into "gold" and mellows the vivid design with an even, golden tone.

These "secret" techniques and traditions are today being maintained and developed by two large enterprises in the Gorky region. One is Khokhlomskaya Rospis in Semionov; the other is Khokhlomskoi Khudozhnik, which has branches in the Ko-vernino district villages of Siomino, Kuligino and Novopokrovskoye.

Between them, these famous enterprises employ about a thousand craftsmen (more accurately, crahswomen), many of whom have received top awards for their skill. N. Denisova, 0. Lushina, A. Tiukalov and A. Savinova have merited the title of Honoured Artist of the Russian Federation; and no fewer than eight craftswomen - A. Busova, 0. Veselova, Ye. Dospalova, N. Ivanova, Z. Kiyova, 0. Lushina, N. Salnikova and M. Siniova - won the Repin State Prize in January 1970. Their expertise has also earned them diplomas and medals at major Soviet and international exhibitions in Moscow, Paris, London, Brussels, Leipzig and Pyongyang.

The last decade in particular has seen exhibitions featuring the richest and most varied displays of modern Khokhloma painting. These include the Moscow exhibition Contemporary Folk Art of the RSFSR held in 1978; the 1975 Warsaw Exhibition of Folk Art from the Socialist Countries; the trade fairs in Berlin (1976) and Brno (1977); as well as EXPO `67 in Montreal and EXPO `70 in Osaka. It has become an established custom at international exhibitions for the artists to demonstrate the painting technique itself; and this they do with consummate ease, entrancing onlookers with the sheer artistry of improvisation.

In Osaka`s bustling exhibition village visitors queued for hours outside the Soviet pavilion to take away one of Yekaterina Dospalova`s hand-painted souvenirs. Meanwhile the artist sat working at her low bench. Stroke by stroke she painted her designs, wild flowers and grasses flaming scarlet beneath her brush.

It was no accident that Khokhloma art emerged in the Volga region. These forested north-eastern parts of the Nizhni-Novgorod land once played a vital role in the economic and political life of Rus; their culture is as ancient as it is rich. Indeed, they inspired one of the greatest Russian folk poems, the legend of Kitezh - a town that was said to have vanished into lake Svetloyar during the Mongol invasion led by Khan Batu in 1238. This lake, which is pure and clear, lies hidden deep in the forest and its enigmatic beauty has lured wayfarers for centuries. But it was much later, in the early seventeenth century, that the region began to be populated in the true sense: large numbers of settlers came from all over Muscovy to seek refuge in the dense, impassable forests bordering the rivers Kerzhenets and Vetluga. Some of them were Old Believers who opposed the ecclesiastical reforms of the Patriarch Nikon; others were runaway serfs and rebellious streltsi (tsar`s musketeers). These dissenters founded small, secluded monasteries in which were preserved treasures of ancient Russian art: icons, illuminated manuscripts, jewellery, precious fabrics and gold embroidery.

The sandy soil to the east of the Volga was scant and infertile. This obliged the newcomers to take up various handicrafts, of which woodwork - due to the abundance of timber in the area - was the most important. The peasant craftsmen would lavishly carve and paint almost everything they made: sleighs, shaft-bows, distaffs, battledores, looms and household utensils. They engraved intricate designs on gin- gerbread moulds and blocks for the hand-printing of fabrics and turned wood into lovely children`s toys.

The Volga region boasted particularly elaborate carvings on the gables and gates of peasant cottages. These decorative panels depicted lush vegetation, legendary Sirin birds, water-sprites and lions with flowering stems for tails.

Craftsmen would often tint their carvings; most colourful of all, however, were the paintings on toys, boxes made of bast, Khokhloma ware and Gorodets distaffs.

Gorodets, once famed for its noisy bazaars, is a town on the Volga not far from Khokhloma. Yet the style of painting which developed there in the latter half of the nineteenth century differs markedly from Khokhloma art. Gorodets peasants specialized in painting distaffs. The broad dontsel was especially interesting with its lively illustrations of town and country life: brightly dressed couples, merry gatherings round tables laden with food and drink, or dashing horsemen and their proud steeds; such scenes were bordered with full-blown roses or vivid bouquets.

This peasant art is still admired for its bold pictorial style and rich, harmonious shades of blue, yellow, black and magenta. The everyday scenes of Gorodets painting indicate its fairly recent origins. The wide range of colours and the technique of painting without firing characteristic of Gorodets emphasize, by way of contrast, the unique qualities of Khokhloma, whose ornaments, sublime colouring and unusual technology were rooted in seventeenth century art and culture.

Khokhloma assumed a special place in the history of Volga-based handicrafts by virtue of its widespread production and sale, as well as the remarkable tenacity of the craft itself. The Khokhloma method is thought to have arisen in the seventeenth century. At least, it is certain that by then the craftsmen of Nizhni-Novgorod were using powdered metals in decorating wooden tableware. We have proof that this was so on the estate of a certain boyar called Morozov, who wrote a letter to his bailiff in 1659 demanding to be sent "one hundred painted dishes polished with powdered tin, both large and medium, of the very same kind possessed by us earlier, not forgetting twenty large painted wine bowls, twenty medium and twenty somewhat smaller..."2 We are not told whether or not these vessels resembled gold.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries wooden tableware was being made all over Rus. It was often coated with drying oil to make it harder and floral designs were painted on the rims of wine bowls and scoops. But only the peasants of Nizhni-Novgorod knew the wonderful technique of imitating gold. It is more than likely that they were trying to copy precious ware turned from valuable types of wood; this was embellished with vermilion and real gold. It was made in monasteries, especially in the village of Klementyevo near Moscow. Klementyevo belonged to the lands of the Trinity - St Sergius Monastery, to which were added in the seventeenth century the eastern Volga villages of Khokhloma and Skorobogatovo.

The peasants from these villages volunteered to help in the monastery workshop where they could familiarize themselves with the production of fancy bowls and scoops. Thus it was the Khokhloma and Skorobogatovo areas which became the natural home of such precious-looking painted tableware. But how did the peasants learn to give wood this golden sheen?

The older inhabitants to the east of the Volga recount a legend on this very subject: at the time of Tsar Alexis, there was a certain dissenter - an icon painter - who devised the art of making beautiful gilded bowls from wood. Although he lived clandestinely in the forests of Kerzhenets, his jealous rivals determined to capture him and even the palace guard "strode forth into the lands of Semionov" with the aim of bringing him back to Moscow. On hearing of their approach, however, the fugitive craftsman summoned all the people from the neighbouring villages, told them his secret, gave out brushes and paints and then set light to his house, where he was burned alive. The sparks of this fire are said to have "kindled the fame of Khokhloma colours throughout the forest villages and settlements".3 This legend supports the assumption held by modern researchers that Khokhloma technology evolved under the influence of icon painting, which thrived in the monasteries of Old Believers. Seventeenth century craftsmen in Nizhni-Novgorod were accustomed to working with gold in a variety of ways. Quite often they would use silver powder to "gild" the background of icons. The powder was coated with drying oil of an amber colour achieved by adding to the oil alder and rowan bark. The surface was probably then exposed to high temperatures in a kiln.

This technique, not unlike Khokhloma, was also used for ornamentation. In the Gorky Art Museum there are seventeenth century icon cases whose painted designs recall precious oriental textiles with luxuriant branches covered in fabulous golden flowers and fantastic leaves glittering against red or green backgrounds (plates 1, 5).

The roots of Khokhloma can be traced back to Old Russian ornamental art, as there is an obvious link between Khokhloma designs and the floral decorations on icons, frescoes, manuscripts, seventeenth century utensils, cloths and gold embroidery. Although peasant art came under various influences, it modified these to create its own distinct style, largely dictated by the need for cheap and durable tableware.

The oldest surviving tableware dates from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Typical of this period are wine bowls, large drinking vessels passed around at a banquet for everyone to drink from in turn, strong and beautifully shaped, as well as mugs and huge dishes. These vessels were only partially gilded in strips on a black or vermilion background. Sometimes the designs were executed with thick brush-strokes, but usually the craftsmen employed stencils similar to those for hand-printing cloth. It is hardly surprising that Khokhloma artists adopted the designs and compositions used in textile printing, as this was a common industry in the Semionov and Vetluga districts. Each utensil had its own motif, such as the tiny silver flowers on curving stems which decorated mugs; the little trails of gold and silver stars, golden red pomegranates and fan-shaped shrubs running over winebowls, and the rosette arrangements of silver bead-like dots in the centre of cups (plate 6).

It was bowls of this type which the court physician, G. Rehmann, noticed while visiting Makaryev fair, the largest in Russia, in 1805. The fair used to skirt the walls of Makaryev Monastery, whose golden cupolas overlook the confluence of the rivers Kerzhenets and Volga. Here, in this colourful market-town, with its cosmopolitan bustle and countless stalls, selling everything from Persian carpets and Kashmir shawls to Siberian furs and nielloed silver from Ustiug, Rehmann was struck by "a long row of carts bearing wooden vessels of everyday use, many of which may be considered rarities of their kind." Rehmann was referring to the dishes and bowls turned from lime-wood in which Russian peasants served their food. He continues: "Among many other objects worthy of curiosity, I was often astonished by the great bowls of as much as one and a half arsheen [equal to 107 centimetres] in diameter turned from wood, which did not show the least signs of cracking, in spite of the scorching heat and the strong reflection of the sun`s rays from the sand where they lay. There were smaller bowls than these with lids, which held up to forty smaller ones placed one inside the other... Almost all the vessels made for special occasions are coated with yellow and dark varnish and adorned on the outside with silver and gold. These [he concludes] are veritable examples of the art of turning." 4 He even mentions where the vessels were made the villages of the Semionov district.

The scholar and geographer, E. Ziablovsky, also visited this district at the beginning of the last century, commenting on wares made by the villagers of Nikolskoye: "Their wares are light, clean and durable, and the yellow and black varnish on them is most hard and clear, being prepared from boiled linseed oil."5

Vast forests and the proximity of trading routes assisted the growth of the craft. By the mid- nineteenth century the principles of Khokhloma technology had been laid down; the characteristic designs and compositional patterns were established.

Khokhloma follows various principles, depending on the type, size and function of the article to be decorated. The cheapest bowls - which could be seen in every peasant home - bore very simple designs. The craftsman would take a stencil made of felt, a dried puff-ball or a porous sponge and dip it in paint. On the surface of the bowl he would then paint black and red lozenges, stars and spirals. Alternating on a plain gold background, they produced a beautiful rhythmical effect. Sometimes they were combined with light brush-strokes - either applied randomly along the rim of the bowl or arranged like a flower in the bottom. Even these primitive compositions reflected the village craftsman`s sensitivity to his art, his ability to decorate a surface without impairing the effect of the gold background. His tools were humble, but with them he created the most attractive designs {plate 8). The travny or grass design was painted on larger or more sophisticated articles. With rapid, tense brush-strokes the craftsman depicted blades of grass or feathery leaves. This light, delicate design highlighted the beautiful proportions of gold dishes, kegs and wooden mats. The huge artel bowls measuring up to one and a half arsheen in diameter are particularly interesting. These were made to contain enough helpings for an entire team of workmen and sometimes they bore inscriptions like "This bowl is for barge haulers for them to eat their fill. Our master we shall serve as we sing our song."

Often craftsmen would decorate the bottoms of these bowls with rosettes consisting of blades of grass radiating outwards from the centre. This design was popularly known as ryzhik, meaning "the red one", because of its resemblance to either the reddish wild mushroom of the same name or to the sun, called Ryzhy (red) Yarilo after the ancient pagan sun god. The rosette was often enclosed within a lozenge, in which case it became a prianik, or gingerbread design. The sides of the bowls are decorated with wreathes of foliage so luxuriant that they even seem to be growing: it is as if the branches are putting out their curling tendrils with clusters of berries one after another. This prolific motif is best suited to a spherical surface where repetition acquires clarity and harmony (plate 18).

In another instance the composition was based on the principle of contrast: the prianik-Tosette was enlarged and a series of curving dabs were painted along the rim like the feathers of a fairy-tale bird. Applied in a brisk manner, they produced a rapid circular rhythm and made a striking contrast with the static prianik-rosette (plate 15).

Khokhloma art reverently preserved the ancient travny or grass motif. But it also made bold and unexpected changes such as the wavy sprigs adorning bowls, the leafy shrubs on stout little kegs and salt- cellars, the exquisite sedge on slim canisters and the spiralling tendrils on their lids. The peasant artist had a boundless imagination, for he never painted any two designs exactly alike; each new version displayed his remarkable capacity to improvise, to dispense with preliminary sketches. This accounts for the expressiveness of the verkhovoye technique used for painting grass designs: fluid brush-strokes representing blades of grass were applied in silhouette on a gold ground. The rhythm of the pattern depended on how the artist used his brush; whether the motion was bold and energetic or smooth and relaxed it always showed confidence and precision (plates 4, 9, 17).

It took generations of artists to develop this style, which combines proven techniques with spontaneity and apparent simplicity. Every brush-stroke, be it heavy or light, obeys a certain law; while alluding to nothing more than a shape, it instantly evokes the vivid impression of a flourishing plant. The fiery splashes of vermilion reflect the generous Russian soul, a lively attachment to nature, the peasant`s dream of beauty and his desire to turn an ordinary plant into an exotic one with fanciful tendrils. We are reminded of the imagery of country wedding songs, in which the "golden hop" twines, "azure flowers" bloom and "silken grasses" bow down to the bride and groom.

Although the grass theme was the peasant`s favourite, he often gave preference to the pod listok composition of simple leaves on branches (occasionally complemented by grasses) and the drevko design a stylized tree with big flowers and leaves and curling tendrils.

Verkhouoye painting is related to the tradition of "spontaneous painting" which was popular in the Volga region in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fono-voye painting emerged in the mid- nineteenth century and cultivated different, more involved principles and techniques: the artist traced the outline of the design thinly in black. He then coloured in the background, bringing the remaining silvery design to life with light brushwork and hatching. After the utensil had been varnished and fired in a kiln, the golden flowers and leaves came alive against a bright red or deep black background. This was the method of painting the "curly" or kudrina design, consisting of golden tendrils. If painted in series, like the crests of waves, they made an attractive gold border. Craftsmen were very fond of decorating the rims of bowls and canisters in this way. The kudrina motif often appears as a branch with fleshy leaves, reminiscent of the foliage patterns carved on peasant cottages. As one elderly artist, N. Podogov, tells us, craftsmen modified these patterns to suit the curved surfaces of Khokhloma ware, rounding the leaf outlines accordingly (plates 10, 12). Kudrina was liked for the generalization of form and the vibrance of its gold patches. It adorned small basins and spoons, yet was most effective on very large objects such as round stools, bowls and shaft-bows.

One can see similar designs on shaft-bows dating from the mid-nineteenth century. They are very much like the illuminations of ancient manuscript books: the branches with curling leaves are finer and are clasped with rings. Such drawings obviously influenced the kudrina motif and may even have determined its technique: instead of thick brush-strokes conveying succulent grasses, the kudrina motif is based on contours, gold patches and meticulous hatching. However, the somewhat laborious fonovoye painting was evidently confined to objects which were either commissioned or intended as gifts and few of these have survived. They often bore signatures or inscriptions such as "This shaft-bow belongs to the peasant, Simeon Ivanov Grishin, village of Retkino, 1855."

The verkhovoye technique of painting on a gold ground was simple and succinct. For this reason it persisted as the main method of decorating vessels sold in bulk, that is, in batches of a thousand. By the second half of the nineteenth century Khokhloma production had expanded considerably, having spread to the provinces of Kostroma and even Viatka. Nevertheless, Khokhloma in the Semionov district continued to be its centre. "There is remarkable activity in the Khokhloma area," wrote the Nizhni- Novgorod Provincial News in 1855. "One village makes wooden blocks, from which another turns bowls, while, a third village paints them." This shows the unique division of labour which had evolved by the mid-nineteenth century. There were over five hundred turner`s workshops in the Semionov district alone. Workshops were set up on the narrow, but fast-flowing rivers Kerzhenets, Linda and Uzol. The water drove a wheel which in turn rotated logs studded with wooden blocks; using various chisels, turners would dexterously cut and round these blocks. Horse-driven lathes and lathes worked by hand also existed.

The turned articles were then taken to the village of Khokhloma where they were bought by peasant dyers. These craftsmen lived in tidy, close-knit villages and their premises were unmistakable: a dye- house smelled strongly of paint and burned drying oil and its entrance was always cluttered with baskets containing the finished wares. A wealthier peasant would own a larger dye-house equipped with two enormous kilns, numerous drying shelves and a spacious cellar. There was room for ten people to work: men would paint their articles while women and children performed auxiliary tasks such as priming and coating the wares with drying oil. Spoons, however, were usually painted by women and girls. In all, they produced up to forty types of spoons of various shapes and colours made of birch, maple and even palm trees brought from the Caspian. With their adroit and delicate hands, the girls of Semionov adorned their spoons with flowers, birds, houses, and pretty noblewomen, painted either in ink or size prepared from red lead or chrome yellow; their "monastery" spoons bore other motifs: bell-towers, torrets and small towns. The "golden" spoons of Khokhloma were stencilled with tiny stars or adorned with the more elaborate pod listok and kudrina designs. The dyer usually packed these beautiful spoons into the baskets last of all, so as to show off his wares to their best advantage.

Spoon-makers dwelled in separate settlements. During fine summer weather they would often work in the open, outside their cottages. First, they hewed the wooden blocks with an axe; then they made the hollow of the spoon by gouging out the extraneous wood. Finally came the handle, which they rounded off at the end and grooved. One observer, A. Lemann, expressed amazement at their knack of using a "rude axe" to transform a piece of birch-wood into the daintiest mustard spoon in a mere fifteen minutes. He was so struck by the spoon-makers` enthusiasm for their craft that he wrote: "Outside almost every cottage was a tree-stump where sat a spoon-maker, hollowing spoons. Around him lay a mass of white shavings, proving that work had begun before sunrise.""

By the 1880s there were twenty thousand artists engaged in spoon production near Semionov and thirty-five million spoons were despatched for sale every day. In 1870 alone, some 930 thousand differnt types of vessels and spoons were painted in the ten villages of the Semionov district, including Vikharevo, Koshelevo, Siv-tsevo and Beriozovka. The people of the Skorobogatovo district in the neighbouring Kostroma province also took up the craft. Khokhloma painting had now spread to Bolshiye and Maliye Khriashchi, Siomino, Rassadino, Mokushino, Vorotniovo and a village called Bezdeli - meaning "idle" in Russian, because its inhabitants lived entirely on the proceeds of their craft, unlike most peasants who were both craftsmen and farmers.

By the second half of the nineteenth century this area was producing bowls, caviar dishes, mugs, kegs, varnished walking-sticks and snuffboxes. Khokhloma furniture was also popular. The governor of Kostroma, for example, commissioned the Krasilnikov family of Bezdeli to make his drawing-room furniture. One of them, Fiodor Krasilnikov, won a medal at the Second All-Russian Handicrafts Exhibition in 1913; another, when only fourteen years old, was reputed to be "virtually the best in the district."

The originality and beauty of Khokhloma delighted exhibition-goers in Russia and abroad. In the 1860s Khokhloma ware appeared in Paris, Edinburgh, Berlin, London and Chicago. The Nizhni- Novgorod Museum opened a permanent handicrafts display in 1888, and in December 1912 a "floating exhibition" of Russian handicrafts set sail from Odessa on a world cruise, Semionov bowls and spoons among its exhibits. They aroused admiration in Cairo, Beirut, Constantinople, Alexandria, Tripoli and Trebizond; soon afterwards, companies selling Khokhloma sprang up in Nizhni-Novgorod, Paris and Warsaw.

Khokhloma bowls, spoons and canisters were sold all over Russia and exported abroad. The Volga was the main trading route. Every spring, as soon as the river had thawed, barges laden with wooden articles could be seen sailing to the famous market-towns of Gorodets, Nizhni-Novgorod or Makaryev, from where they would continue their journey to the provinces of Saratov and Astrakhan. Khokhloma even crossed the Kirghizian steppes to Persia, India and Central Asia. From Nizhni-Novgorod it was sent to Siberia, the White and Baltic Seas; Britons, Frenchmen and Germans purchased it in Archangel and travellers encountered it in remote parts of America, Africa and Australia.

Popular though it was, Khokhloma art suffered a serious crisis at the turn of the century. This was caused by a rise in the cost of timber and greater competition from factory-made tableware, compelling the craftsmen to produce only the cheapest articles. As a result, their skill deteriorated. The Nizhni- Novgorod provincial council instructed professional artists to teach the craftsmen new designs in an at- tempt to rescue the art, but the effect was somewhat dull and conventional.

The October Revolution opened a new chapter in the history of Khokhloma. In its very first decrees, the Soviet Government showed a deep concern for the future of folk arts. Of paramount importance was the Decree on Promoting the Handicraft Industries, signed by Lenin and Kalinin on 25 April 1919. Khokhloma craftsmen were among the many who received invaluable state support in the form of grants and raw materials. They regrouped into larger collectives, leaving the cramped dye-houses for spacious and well-lit workshops. In 1918 the Semionov School of Khokhloma Art welcomed its first students. In 1921 the Historical Museum in Moscow held an exhibition of peasant art which impressed many Khokhloma artists and awakened their interest in the rich heritage of their craft. However, the renaissance of real folk art occurred in the 1920s and `30s, when younger craftsmen learned the finest Khokhloma traditions from such veterans as S. Yuzikov, the Krasilnikov brothers, the Podogov family, A. Serov and P. Raspopin.

Pre-revolutionary Khokhloma traditions were redefined in the new spirit of the times. This led to the appearance of fresh and exciting works, examples of which were displayed at the folk art exhibition held in the Tretyakov Gallery in 1937.

The traditional grass theme in these works had been modified to some extent. Artists endeavoured to reflect the beauty of the Russian countryside more fully: among the sweeping grasses they now inserted flowers, ornate leaves, wild strawberries, black currants, raspberries and ears of rye; in some designs they included birds and even fish. Never before had Khokhloma embodied such verve, richness and emotion {plates 36, 111).

Intense experimentation followed. Craftsmen made special monumental scoops, winebowls, and vases to decorate the interiors of public buildings and such works had place of honour at the exhibitions of decorative applied art in the 1940s and `50s (plates 22, 43). Their splendid designs elaborated the theme of the bountiful Russian soil, echoing the strivings of former handicraftsmen to assert their creative talent. Craftsmen broadened their horizons by participating in exhibitions, competitions and conferences and by forging links with the country`s greatest museums. Khokhloma art was enriched with new discoveries.

Khokhloma owes its most outstanding achievements to the modern period. In 1975 the GPSU Central Committee passed a resolution on folk arts and crafts, which outlined the prospects for ornamental arts in the Soviet Union. It helped enhance the aesthetic merits of contemporary works, giving them a new dimension.

Khokhloma craftsmen have derived special benefit by collaborating with fellows of the Research Institute of Industrial Design in Moscow - V. Vishnevskaya, Z. Ar-khipova, A. Babayeva and E. Vorontsova.

Modern Khokhloma factories contain laboratories where artists can work on extending the range of their increasingly popular products, such as folding nursery furniture, light, convenient tables, vases, decorative panels and scoops. The latest souvenirs include graceful vases, powder compacts, and sets of miniature canisters fitting one inside the other, decorated with travny, kudrina or fonovoye designs. In developing the plastic qualities of these new products, the artist aims at making the fullest possible use of his medium - wood. He takes traditional wooden utensils like bowls, winebowls, canisters, tubs and large kvass mugs, but interprets their shapes afresh, making them more expressive. By modifying their proportions and introducing details such as handles and lids, he can stress either their slender-ness or passive squatness.

Today Khokhloma is unusually refined and emotional in character. The artists have mastered every technique to create extremely varied designs, each of which tells us something of the painter`s personality. If we look closely at the grass motifs, for instance, we-can easily distinguish between the thick, lush grasses painted by A. Kurkina, the soft, wispy blades of 0. Lushina and S. Veselov`s scarlet windswept design (plates 106, 107}.

Khokhloma has acquired a richer and more sophisticated colouring. Artists are seeking new combinations within the traditional framework by dividing primary colours into their related shades: red berries are highlighted with yellowish-orange shades and leaves are tinged with greenish-brown in subtle combination with gold. The Khokhloma palette seems to have absorbed all the autumnal majesty of its native forests. Artists intensify the richness of the designs with-gold stripes, grooves and rings, giving every piece of the Khokhloma range its unique elegance.

Two trends can be discerned in the art today. The artists of the Kovernino district live in remote forest villages - an environment which has influenced many aspects of their style. Their favourite motifs are grasses, wild flowers, leaves, birch-catkins and berries. The designs suggest a smooth, leisurely rhythm, though the brush-strokes are in fact bold and possess a painterly quality {plates 54, 88). Semionov is the second major centre of Khokhloma art and here we see the changes of recent decades clearest of all.

Semionov artists, however, differ from those in Kovernino, who have their own favourite methods and motifs. This difference was noted long ago. In 1937, at the Exhibition of Folk Art, Moscow, people were impressed by two decorative panels. One of them was the work of the Kovernino craftsman, N. Podogov. Using the ancient dreuko motif, he depicted starlings singing among the fresh green foliage and fluffy blossoms of a bird-cherry tree; it was both a poetic and lifelike picture of the Russian spring (plates 31, 32).

The other panel - by the Semionov artist A. Kuznetsova - had a bewitching fairy-tale quality. She had painted an exquisite bird with fiery golden plumage perched on a luxuriant bough laden with magic apples (plate 27}.

Indeed, Semionov artists continued to favour complex designs with fabulous birds, flowers and leaves painted in a light, graphic manner.

Recently, however, they have put much painstaking work into highly detailed kudrina patterns. The dinner services painted by Ye. Dospalova, N. Salnikova, N. Iva-nova and N. Morozova are lovely examples of this style. Their designs display a rare beauty - be it the filigree decoration of tiny gold leaves and tendrils or fanciful gold branches curving delicately over the red backgrounds of cups, winebowls and scoops (plates 55, 67, 99).

The wares of Semionov and Kovernino complement each other splendidly; they give us a clear idea of the enormous potential of Khokhloma painting today. Once, long ago, inventive Russian peasants created Khokhloma in imitation of very expensive gold-decorated utensils which were beyond their reach. The magic of their craftsmanship turned Khokhloma into something which is indeed precious, for today it is loved and admired all over the world.

Two trends can be discerned in the art today. The artists of the Kovernino district live in remote forest villages - an environment which has influenced many aspects of their style. Their favourite motifs are grasses, wild flowers, leaves, birch-catkins and berries. The designs suggest a smooth, leisurely rhythm, though the brush-strokes are in fact bold and possess a painterly quality (plates 54, 88).

Semionov is the second major centre of Khokhloma art and here we see the changes of recent decades clearest of all.

Semionov artists, however, differ from those in Kovernino, who have their own favourite methods and motifs. This difference was noted long ago. In 1937, at the Exhibition of Folk Art, Moscow, people were impressed by two decorative panels. One of them was the work of the Kovernino craftsman, N. Podogov. Using the ancient dreuko motif, he depicted starlings singing among the fresh green foliage and fluffy blossoms of a bird-cherry tree; it was both a poetic and lifelike picture of the Russian spring (plates 31, 32).

The other panel - by the Semionov artist A. Kuznetsova - had a bewitching fairy-tale quality. She had painted an exquisite bird with fiery golden plumage perched on a luxuriant bough laden with magic apples (plate 27}.

Indeed, Semionov artists continued to favour complex designs with fabulous birds, flowers and leaves painted in a light, graphic manner.

Recently, however, they have put much painstaking work into highly detailed kudrina patterns. The dinner services painted by Ye. Dospalova, N. Salnikova, N. Iva-nova and N. Morozova are lovely examples of this style. Their designs display a rare beauty - be it the filigree decoration of tiny gold leaves and tendrils or fanciful gold branches curving delicately over the red backgrounds of cups, winebowls and scoops (plates 55, 67, 99).

The wares of Semionov and Kovernino complement each other splendidly; they give us a clear idea of the enormous potential of Khokhloma painting today. Once, long ago, inventive Russian peasants created Khokhloma in imitation of very expensive gold-decorated utensils which were beyond their reach. The magic of their craftsmanship turned Khokhloma into something which is indeed precious, for today it is loved and admired all over the world.

NOTES

The Russian distaff was composed of two elements: the lopastka, or blade, a vertical board with a broad flat upper part on which the bunch of flax was fixed, and the dontse, or base, a horizontal board on which the spinner sat. After the work was finished, the dontse was hung, as a rule, on the wall next to the icons and embroidered cloth (which always had the "place of honour" in peasant huts).



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