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27 Feb, 2010 07:35

Vologda – preserving centuries-old traditions along with country spirit

Modern life in the Vologda region can have the hectic pace of any city or town, but pausing to look around one can find many ways to unwind and embrace the moment.

Carrying on Russian traditions and adopting a pastoral lifestyle is what many of the region’s craftsmen can teach Vologda’s guests.

Igor Ivanov is one of the region’s residents who have settled for a simpler way of life. He has been making a living preserving an ancient art of sleigh-making since he was twelve.

In the winter nobody lives here but me. In late spring, city residents come to live in their dachas,” Igor says about his surroundings.

The sleighs Igor makes offer an old-fashioned and long-forgotten alternative for a snowmobile.

I watched my father making a sleigh and learned from him,” explains Igor. “I wouldn’t say that he taught me how. I just watched him work. And he corrected me when I did something wrong.”

Local government official Vasily Vorobiev says taking pride in Russian arts and crafts is what distinguishes Vologda's artists. However, he believes that it is traditional Vologda lace that the region is most famous for.

Now, we are building a national museum of lace here in Vologda and the President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, saw our lace and was very impressed and expressed support for the project last year,” Vasily says.

Nina Kurakina is another local who has been keeping Russian culture alive. At her shop, she makes traditional pottery using age-old techniques.

I’ve been dealing with pottery for 35 years,” says Nina. She has also adapted her pieces to give them modern uses. Along with tableware and knick-knacks, Nina makes elaborate glazed tiles, built-into a modern home.

Tile-making is a centuries-old art that is being put to modern use in the Vologda region. The tiles that come out of Nina’s workshop could be built-into a modern home or be used to cover the outside of traditional Russian stoves.

“It is very inspiring to apply this richness to new tiles and let them live in a new house and make its owners happy,” says Nina. “It is a pleasure when there are such clients who can appreciate this beauty. And we have such people more and more with coming years.”

"For some artists [craftsmanship] is a hobby and they organize exhibitions and workshops, for others it is work and they earn a living out of it,” says Tatyana Usova, a local resident.

Along with snowmobiling, the Vologda region is prime territory for hunting. Three quarters of the region are comprised of forest, much of which is home to big game.

“Usually, 10 per cent of people like hunting,” says hunter and state park inspector Vladimir Shagin. “But only one per cent of them are true hunters.”

Hunters like Vladimir don winter camouflage and skis to seek prey among the trees.

I’ve been hunting all types of animals living in the forest for more than 40 years, like hares, foxes, lynx, raccoons [an introduced species – ed.], bears, elk, wild boars and wood grouse,” says Vladimir. “As for my biggest haul, I used to bag 15 to 20 geese a day when it wasn’t restricted to kill them.”

Whether it is putting food on the table or preserving ancient traditions, one can find it in Vologda.