Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hazy Start of Matryoshka Dolls

Savva Mamontov
Sochi Winter Olympics just took off in Russia. Tourist, supporters, athletes, staff, politicians, and diplomats flock the ski and beach city of Sochi. Because of the games, local businesses will profit highly from the event, especially the souvenir shops. One good souvenir that will remind of Russia would be the cute and Russian nest dolls called Matryoshka Dolls. 

The Matryoshka dolls are nest dolls that contained of usually seven to eight smaller dolls. Made from usual birch or lime tree, its design commonly displays a Russian rural lady with a babushka at her head. But it can be customize depending on the artist or the customer. The history of the Matryoshka doll is not that long, just appeared a century before.

The Matryoshka dolls first showed up in Russia during the last decade of the 19th century. In 1890’s, just in the north of Moscow, in Abramtsevo, the first Matryoshka doll appeared. In the Children’s Education (Detsko Vospitanie) Workshop, founded by the business tycoon and art patron Savva Mamontov that the iconic doll first created.

There are several story of what inspired to the creation of the Matryoshka dolls. One story says that one of the workers in the workshop, Vasili Zvyozdochkin, was looking for a new toy and got inspired by an Easter egg and wanted to develop a hollow toy where smaller toys could be placed. But another story said that Zvyozdochkin was inspired by a Japanese nest dolls with a bald old man, called Fukuruma, brought by Mamontov’s wife from Japan. Another story tells that it was dolls of the Seven Gods of Fortune that Mamontov’s wife brought. In another case, it was not Zvyozdochkin, but Sergei Malytunin that was inspired by the Japanese dolls and design a Russian rural woman; and gave the design to Nasili Zvyozdochkin to realize the design. Then another story suggested that it was not the businessman’s wife that brought the doll but it was Russian monks in Japan that returned to mother Russia that brought the dolls. 

Regardless of whatever that transpired, Vasili Zvyozdochkin and Sergei Malytunin were credited for the creation of the first Matryoshka doll, the so-called Rooster Girl. The Rooster Girls set the standard of a Russian Nesting doll. It embodies the characteristics of a Russian woman, especially a countryside girl. The top doll and biggest doll of the rooster girl shows a girls with a babushka holding a black rooster at her side. There are 6 doll inside. Each of the dolls had a different colored outfits, and hold each holds different item: a basket, a sickle, a bowl of porridge, a broom, a younger brother at the side. Then the smallest doll in the end is a small baby in a quilt. The rooster girl was then given a name, Matryoshka, coming from a root Mtryona or Matriosha, means “little mother.” 

The matryoshka doll then began to be produced in the workshop. Eventually, it became very prolific in Russia that in 1900, in the Paris World Exhibition, the Matryoshka doll was exhibited with another Russian icon, the Faberge egg. Production of Matryoshka continued even up to the period of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, the Matryoshka dolls began to be produced in industrial scale. Later on, the designs also changed, from just a simple farm girl, it can be fairytale characters, and even politicians. Today, it is one of the most iconic object that embodies the Russian culture. It is widely recognize and liked not just by many tourist across the world.

Beumers, B. Pop Culture Russia!: Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. California: ABC-CLIO Inc., 2005. 

Billington, J. Russia in Search of Itself. Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2004. 

Lewis, A. "Preserving Russia's Past: The History of the Russian Nesting Doll." Golden Cockrel. Accessed February 2, 2014.

Terletski, M. "Nesting Dolls History." Russian Crafts. Accessed February 8, 2014.

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