The handicrafts and artistic achievements of craftsmen are an important part of Russian culture and a source of particular national pride. The Moscow RegionRussian: Moskovskaya oblast or Московская область is one of the ancient centres of Russian folk art. Artists’ teams and workshops grouped around Russia’s capital throughout the centuries and, over the years, evolved into some twenty distinct handicraft centres with their own traditions and renowned artists.
Located in close proximity to Moscow, all handicraft centres are accessible by local trains and by car. In this regard, guided tours by bus are also very convenient, and if you want your trip to the origins of Russian culture to be unforgettable, it’s a good idea to be guided by the experts.
It is in the Moscow region where well-known ‘Russian souvenirs’ such as the Sergiyev PosadRussian: Sergiev Posad or Сергиев Посад matryoshka, Zhostovo Russian: Жостовоtrays, GzhelRussian: Гжель ceramics, FedoskinoRussian: Федоскино lacquer miniatures and Pavlovo PosadRussian: Pavlovskiy Posad or Павловский Посад shawls emerged. Today, folk artists from the Moscow region practice their traditional crafts not only to produce souvenirs for sale but as a symbol of the old Russian peasant lifestyles and of the national spirit. This is why interest in local folk arts and handicrafts is steadily growing, and visiting folk craft centres is akin to a pilgrimage for some. The average price for a guided tour to one of these centres ranges from 300 to 600 RUB per person.
Pavlovo Posad shawls and wraps
The production of women’s headscarves was one of the oldest handicraft industries in Moscow Region. In the late 18th century, the peasant family of Labzin, originally from the village of PavlovoRussian: Павлово (80 km from Moscow), became Russia’s first scarf manufacturers and, by the 1860s, had grown into a factory producing woollen shawls with printed designs. The great mastery of artisans who decorated their creations with breathtaking floral patterns brought them fame; they were awarded prizes in All-Russian art exhibitions and commissioned by members of the Russian imperial family. At the time, carved wooden matrices were used to apply the design to the fabric, and up to four hundred applications were required before the product was ready for use.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the enterprise was nationalized and continued to increase its productivity with the development of textile technologies, bringing the design to perfection. It became more concise and finer and now boasted new shades to create a more dimensional appearance. Today, the Pavlovo Posad Shawl ManufacturerRussian: Pavlovoposadskaya platochnaya manufaktura or Павловопосадская платочная мануфактура is a source of steady income for the town of Pavlovo Posad, with its world-famous products inspiring top fashion designers to collaborate in designing the products. The manufacturer produces hundreds of varieties of wraps, shawls, stoles and tablecloths made from natural fabrics (wool, linen, cotton and silk) complete with brand name designs featuring bouquets, floral garlands and ornaments. They comprise 20 to 40 colours automatically applied to the fabric with silk and netted plates. The price of these models begins from 1,200 RUB, while shawls with a more intricate design may cost up to 6,000 RUB. All of the products are certified and bear the official trademark.
A specialized shop and the one of a kind Museum of the History of the Russian Wrap and ShawlRussian: Muzey istorii russkogo platka i shali or Музей истории русского платка и шали are open at the site. The museum is open to visitors daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (open until 7:00 pm on Fridays, closed on Sundays). The museum is located at 27, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya StreetRussian: Bolshaya Pokrovskaya ulitsa or Большая Покровская улица, Pavlovo Posad.
Zhostovo painting on metal
The Zhostovo Factory of Decorative PaintingRussian: Zhostovskaya fabrika dekorativnoy rospisi or Жостовская фабрика декоративной росписи is located in a village 50 km from Moscow. The handicraft of lacquer painting on tin trays emerged in the villages of the present-day Mytishchi DistrictRussian: Mytischinskiy rayon or Мытищинский район of Moscow Region in the early 19th century. The bonded peasant of Count Sheremetevfrom one of the wealthiest and most influential noble families in Russia, F. Vishnyakov, launched this business in 1825, and he was soon followed by other artisans. Large-scale family businesses later gave way to a factory-based method of production. Lacquered trays came in different shapes and were adorned with traditionally bright bouquets against the monochrome background, which is usually black.
Beautiful trays decorated by Zhostovo artisans soon became widely popular. This handicraft passed from generation to generation and continues today. In Soviet times, scenes from history or literature and images of landscapes, buildings, birds and fruit were added to Zhostovo trays. The main pattern was also modified, but the basic techniques remained the same, notably the lavish floral design. Depending on their size, shape and design, Zhostovo trays cost 1,000 to 4,000 RUB. Each tray is crafted by one artist and has a number of specific features which assert its authenticity. The authentic tray produced at Zhostovo has a smooth and mirror-like surface and bears an official trademark. Purchasing a tray at an official shop or at the place of its production, in the village of Zhostovo, is the best way to avoid purchasing a forged copy.
The Museum of ZhostovoRussian: Muzey «Zhostovo» or Музей «Жостово» (1, DivnayaRussian: Дивная Street) is now open on the factory’s premises, and visitors can join a guided tour daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (closed Sundays). You can even attend a personal class here, by prior arrangement.
Fedoskino lacquer miniature
The village of Fedoskino in Mytishchi District, 25 km from Moscow, is the centre of Russian lacquer miniatures. In 1780, the merchant Korobov set up a workshop for painting lacquer peaks on Russian military headwear. One day, a snuffbox was painted in the same way, heralding the beginning of a style that now been traditional for almost 240 years. The community of artists from the villages of Fedoskino and DanilkinoRussian: Данилкино continued to grow and in 1910 was named the Сo-operative Association of Former Lukutin ArtisansRussian: Artel byvshikh lukutinskikh masterov or Артель бывших лукутинских мастеров (after the artisan Lukutin); in Soviet times, it turned into a state-run enterprise. The main symbol of Fedoskino painting was the Russian troikaa traditional Russian harness driving combination, using three horses abreast, usually pulling a sleigh. In the 20th century, papier-mâché objects – snuffboxes, cases, spectacle cases, album covers and jewel boxes – were decorated with images of various scenes (such as paintings of particular genres, scenes from fairy-tales, landscapes, revolutionary and military topics). Three or four layers of oil paints are applied manually to a papier-mâché surface. The paints are enriched with silver, gold and nacre chips, and the whole process may take as many as six months, resulting in a high-quality three-dimensional picture that seems to shine from within. The imperial family, 19th and 20th-century art collectors and the Soviet government greatly appreciated the art of craftsmen from Fedoskino. President Dmitry Medvedev offered a piece of Fedoskino art as a gift to a member of the British royal family – that is how well-loved Fedoskino pieces are amongst the Russian people. Products manufactured at the lacquer miniature factoryRussian: fabrika lakovoy miniatyury or фабрика лаковой миниатюры are unique and expensive, which is typical of individual art creations. For example, the minimum price of a tiny case with simple decorations is 6,000 RUB and a rare sample may cost as much as 300,000 RUB.
The lacquer miniature factory is located at 1, the village of Fedoskino, Moscow Oblast, together with the Moscow Oblast Museum of Folk HandicraftsRussian: Moskovskiy oblastnoy muzey khudozhestvennykh promyslov or Московский областной музей художественных промыслов. The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Guided tours of the museum and classes are available at the village of Fedoskino, along with visits to the factory.
Porcelain handicrafts of Moscow Region
The village of Gzhel is located in the Ramensky DistrictRussian: Ramenskiy rayon or Раменский район of the Moscow Region, 65 km from Moscow. Since ancient times, this area has been rich in various clays used in brick, pottery, tile and pipe production. A porcelain factory was established here when white earthenware mixtures were found in the village of VolodinoRussian: Володино in 1800. Currently, the Gzhelsky KustRussian: Gzhelskiy kust or Гжельский куст (Gzhel Bush) comprises 27 villages – this is where Gzhel painters work.
Initially, many shades were used in pottery production, ranging from green to crimson. However, blue cobalt obtained from pyrite was the start of a new direction in Gzhel ceramics. Local artists worked on brush strokes and alternating painting processes between various stages of baking of ceramics. The production system was fully developed by 1850. Today, Gzhel painters use over twenty shades of blue cobalt applied to the white background colour to create charming designs in blue and white, sometimes enriched with touches of gilding. Designs include mostly floral and ornamental motifs, and intricate compositions can be of landscapes or portraits. Differences in the shades used are a result of the artisan’s art and creativity. All work is done manually, and the main secret of the extraordinary charm of Gzhel pottery is the ‘alphabet of brushstrokes’, a repertoire of brushstrokes used by the artists.
Sin’ RossiiRussian: Синь России (The Blue of Russia), is located in Ghzel. It is a research and production organization which focuses on the revival of Gzhel porcelain traditions. Products of the Gzhel porcelain factory bear a special trademark, and often, the craftsman’s signature. The Factory’s museum located at 41, Yegoryevskoye HighwayRussian: Egorevskoe shosse or Егорьевское шоссе, in the village of TuryginoRussian: Турыгино is open to visitors from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (by appointment only), and guided tours, lectures and classes are available as well.
The town of Likino-DulevoRussian: Ликино-Дулево, another centre of handicraft related to porcelain production, is located in Orekhovo-ZuyevoRussian: Орехово-Зуево District, 78 km from Moscow. A peasant named Kuznetsov established a porcelain factory in 1832, which ended up becoming a leading enterprise by the early 20th century and was renowned for its products. Today, this factory still produces porcelain. This porcelain is plainer and cheaper than Gzhel porcelain, but Dulevo craftsmen also produce valuable and expensive items, mainly dinnerware, statuettes, vases and souvenirs. The trademark of Dulevo products is the silhouette of a falcon.
One of the highlights of Likino-Dulevo is the remarkable exhibition of old Kuznetsov porcelain hosted in the Likino-Dulevo Local History MuseumRussian: Kraevedcheskiy muzey Likino-Dulevo or Краеведческий музей Ликино-Дулево located at 15, Lenina StreetRussian: ulitsa Lenina or улица Ленина. Opening times: 9:00 am – 4:45 pm (break from 12:00 pm to 12:45 pm), closed Sundays and Mondays. The factory runs a wonderful shop.
Wooden toys for kids
Sergiyev Posad matryoshka
The world-famous Russian matryoshka doll was created in 1890 in the town of Sergiyev Posad, famous for its Trinity Lavra of St. SergiusRussian: Troitse-Sergieva Lavra or Троице-Сергиева Лавра, 70 km from Moscow. It was modelled after Fukurokujo, the Japanese god of fortune, with its replicas inserted inside the figurine. The story of this ancient wooden toy factory began in 1904 with the production of a figurine of a Russian peasant girl holding a rooster in her hands. Today, the matryoshka doll is a symbol of Russia.
Matryoshkas are still painted manually at the factory, in keeping with tradition. A guided tour to the Russian Matryoshka FactoryRussian: fabrika «Russkaya matreshka» or фабрика «Русская матрешка» comes complete with a matryoshka painting class. The Sergiyev Posad Toy MuseumRussian: Sergievo-Posadskiy Muzey igrushek or Сергиево-Посадский Музей игрушек, located at 123, Krasnoy Armii AvenueRussian: prospekt Krasnoy Armii or проспект Красной Армии, is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, except Mondays and Tuesdays.
The first carved softwood toys appeared in the settlement of BogorodskoyeRussian: Богородское, 29 km from the town of Sergiyev Posad, as early as the 17th century. These toys are remarkable because of their mobility. They are carved with the professional SchuchkaRussian: Щучка knife and their joints allow them to make interesting mechanical movements. Kids have always been excited about these toys. The products made by craftsmen from the Bogorodsky rezchik co-operative teamRussian: Bogorodskiy rezchik or Богородский резчик, which resumed its activities in 1923, delighted art lovers for many years and earned numerous awards at international competitions.
Since 1960, bogorodskaya toys have been produced at the factory, which has unfortunately been going through hard times for the past 30 years. The number of carvers have decreased, and many craftsmen now work from home on commission per order. Traditions and qualifications are getting lost, and classic bogorodskaya toys representing hens, peasants with bears and hare drummers can be found only in Bogorodskoye or in rare souvenir shops. Prices range from 150 and 400 RUB.