Russian Nesting Doll

  • Photo: Artem Ganzha
  • Text: Elena Vaskovskaya

When buying gifts "a la Rus," be sure they were actually made in Russia. Russian arts and crafts centers are located in the western part of the country, some 8 to 9 thousand kilometers from Vladivostok. China is closer, of course, and factories there have already learned how to make Matryoshka dolls.

The “Hometown” of genuine Russian dolls is the city of Sergiyev Posad, Moscow Region. If a doll has a confirmed souvenir certificate from JSC "Art Products and Toys,” you can be sure that it is a Sergiyev Posad matryoshka - which are nearly 120 years old. Round-faced with a naive smile, unfashionably dressed in modest rustic attire, she holds in her hands a young rooster, a samovar, or a basket; but inside – she hides a whole "family" or "daughters."

The famous Semyonovskaya Matryoshka is a dark-haired beauty in a bright yellow shawl with a bouquet of red flowers on her apron. Masters of the city Semyonov in Nizhny Novgorod region are adept at fabricating large wooden dolls – with up to 72 dolls inside! "Trading House Semyonovskaya Painting" retains the traditional task of turning and painting. Dolls from the village Polkhovsky Maidan are decorated with coquettish ringlets and wild rose hips. Those manufactured by JSC "Vyatka Souvenir" have pouty lips and are inlaid with sheaves of rye.

Designer matryoshkas have a wider range of subject matter: Russian folk tales, seasons of the year, and even recognizable features of modern politicians. A genuine Russian matryoshka is made of basswood and painted by hand; the pleasant smell of its lacquer is safe and non-toxic.

Russian wooden dolls made in the “Celestial Kingdom” have no artistic value. As a rule, the fakes are decorated on a printing machine, and they have discrepancies and pixilation in their artwork - a wry smile, cracks, and an unpleasant odor. Variations on the matryoshka theme - whether magnets, keychains, or manicure sets – are, more often than not, made in China.

Researchers still argue about where these detachable wooden dolls with a secret inside came from when they first appeared in the Moscow region at the end of the 19th century. In just a few years, they became a leading symbol of Russia – a personification of motherhood and fertility, a reflection of the hidden mysteries of the universe and the layering of the human personality. The most widespread version is that the Russian matryoshka has Japanese roots. Allegedly, more than 100 years ago, the detachable wooden figure of the Japanese god of happiness, Fukurokudzyu, somehow ended up with masters in Sergiyev Posad. The lathe operators there turned it into a comely village girl and called her Matryona, a common name in those days. Still, the main secret of the dolls has not been unraveled: Why did they become popular throughout the world rather than their Japanese predecessor?

To Purchase Matryoshka dolls in Vladivostok:

"VladGifts" company stores
Aksakov Str., 3a (observation platform funicular)
Naval Fleet Embankment, 1a, 2 and 3 floors
Hours of Operation: 9AM-8PM
Phone:+7 (423) 200-12-15
"Russian Souvenir" shop
Nizhneportovaya Str., 1 (Seaport building, 2nd floor)
Hours of Operation: 10AM-6PM
Phone:+7 (423) 230-27- 37

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