Preserving age-old handicraft at Matryoshka’s birthplace

Part of UNESCO’s world cultural heritage list, Nizhny Novgorod and its region are also the cradle of many ancient Russian handicrafts and traditions.

Alexander Vugin has been a master in wood carving for 14 years, ever since giving up his job as a photographer.

He picked up the trade without any training or specialist knowledge, and can now make chess sets, furniture and his trademark sculptures.

“To me working with wood is a pleasure, to feel it and see that it's alive. I don’t like adding too much paint or varnish – it should be natural to let it breathe,” Alexander says.

Demanding precise skill and a delicate touch, woodcarving is one of several ancient handicrafts to come out of the Nizhny Novgorod region.

But the number of specialists is diminishing and that is why people in the town of Gorodets, on the Volga River, are taking action to ensure their legacy isn't lost.

They have set up a new workshop, where visitors can learn about the various crafts iconic to the Russian region:

“People can come here to see the handcrafters at work. Those who get interested in their work have the opportunity to learn from them and in time become handcrafters themselves,” tour guide Irina Udalova explains.

The town of Gorodets is nearly a thousand years old and is known throughout Russia for its wood carving, pottery, gold lace embroidery, and its painting designs – skills that have been practiced in the region for generations.

For instance, the art of pottery making in Gorodets dates back to the 13th Century and is one of the many crafts the people here are trying to preserve.

Handicrafts are also a big business in the Nizhny Novgorod region – nearly a third of Russia’s embroidery, ornaments and boxes come from here.

And some of them don’t come cheap. A painted box might set you back $1000, though much like everywhere else, times have been tough recently and production is falling.

“In Soviet times we employed 160 workers, now there are only 30. But given what has happened in Russia over the years, and the way the economy has changed recently, I guess it’s normal. Demand for our goods has fallen in comparison with last year,” director of Gorodets Rospis factory Vyacheslav Grushlin says.

But with a drive to attract more interest in the region’s cherished handicrafts, people in Nizhny Novgorod are hoping the worst is now behind them. The important thing is that region is very proud of its handicraft heritage.

Speaking with RT, the consultant for support and development of small business at the Nizhny Novgorod council, Tamara Murygina, mentioned that the famous Matryoshka nesting dolls were created in her region.

“In essence, Matryoshka is a result of Semyonov painting – traditional craft of wood-toy painting,” she explained.

According to local resident Anna Moroskova, household appliances designed with Khokhloma wood painting handicraft are a common sight in Nizhny Novgorod homes.

“Everyone has at least a plate, spoon or vase designed with recognizable red, black, gold colors of Khokhloma,” Moroskova said.

Watch Moroskova's interview

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