The  big sadness and the sad fate of Russian dolls

By authorization of Pierre-Laurent MAZARS 

The " Journal du Dimanche "  March 22nd and 31st, 2009

Destination Russia and Semenov
“City of matriochkas”

               Where the orders are at half-mast. So vacillate the model artisans
who sculpture and paint " the soul of Russia "...

Factory of Russian dolls Khokhlomskaya Rospis to Semenov in the region of Nijni Novgorod (cradle of matriochkas and other wood painted by Khokhloma) in 480 km east of Moscow.
Here the boss Alexei Polikarpov counts on the " system D " to survive.
 Konstantin Zavrazhin / Polaris for the JDD

     Bent over her drawing board, Valentina Chvetsova runs her pointed paint brush over a carved cylinder of wood.   In spans lightened by dim neons, the other artists-workers trace petals and vermilion volutes, black or gilt on the decorative details who they are decorating. Serving spoons, bowls, boxes, vases, and salt boxes pile up on the tables before being lined up in racks pushed against the wall.  A radio plays background music:  “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees.  A rather good summary of the problem today put in Khokhlomskaya Rospis, this factory of Russian dolls the main concern of which is “stay alive.”

       The russian dolls manufacture Khokhlomskaya Rospis  in the conuntry of Nijni Novgorod, ( craddle of hte matriochkas and other paint woods ), 480 Km on east of Moscau, Russia..Konstantin Zavrazhin / Polaris for the JDD
NB. All the photos which follow contained the same legend

     With its 1,100 employees, this factory in Khokhlomskaya Rospis is the flagship  of the art profession  which  Semenov ( 25.000 inhabitants ) is proud .  This little town, 80 km to the north of Nijini Novgorod, is the cradle for the manufacture of matriochkas and other creations of carved wooden painted objects.  by Khokhloma, fleuron of the craft become national pride. " The soul of Russia ", the gate of the factory proclaims, which thrones in majesty in the middle of isbas  with its covered  snow roofs. It has been three centuries since here,the artisans sculpture and paint soft trees, birches which populate the surrounding forests, with the necessary requirement  the reputation of this factory.


   " We had to decree Friday, day off "
    The crisis which devastated the heavy industries of this region has begun to destroy the dolls of Semenov.  The artisans have come to realize how fragile their prestige is.  At the age of 50, Valentina has come to see her employment contract weakened.  Through her work, she has always gained the respect of her neighbors.  At the age of 15 she began an apprenticeship and worked for three years learning how to paint and to work the wood.

     Hired by Khokhlomskaya Rospis in 1978 Valentina worked during almost twenty years in the principal workshop, where are produced in series the simple details  In 1999 she was chosen to work with  “le département des creations uniques”  on the upper floor where elaborate painted objects were stored.  She earns today 8,000 rubles (175 euros) a month, a modest wage but a better salary than that earned by the villagers near the factory.   The future ? Valentina does not too much want to evoke it.

     The factory saw its sales falling in autumn, 2008: about 30 % of decline in November and December. " We met ourselves with a big stock of unsold articles, tells Andreï Dobrokhotov, financial director. We always take a credit at the beginning of the year, which we cover some months later because the main part of our sales is made in the approach of the name-days at the end of year. This time, we were not able to pay off. We had to lower our 25 % production and decree Friday, day off "

     The kitchen garden to hold

     The income of the employees flopped from 20 to 25 %, according to the management of Khokhlomskaya Rospis. More certainly of 40 %, according to artisans who work on the factory. In her small house in the modest and kitsch decoration, Lioubov Zorina, a 29-year-old young lady who paints for ten years matriochkas at Khokhlomskaya, does not want to complain about her bosses. " They can nothing there. When we want to go to see somewhere else, it is necessary to face the evidence: there is some work nowhere ",  she says. Her husband, mason, saw his salary divided by two, and he has just undergone two months of layoffs.  
   Lioubov, who works overtime at home for small artisans of neighborhood since the birth of her first child, has already kissed goodbye to her monthly income from 6 to 7000 roubles. But she is going to get stuck in: " I refuse nothing, I take all the orders which pass in my reach. " If it is not enough, it will be necessary to squeeze up the belt, to count on some animals - hens, goats - that she possesses and to content herself with vegetables, cabbages and potatoes that she grows in her small kitchen garden.. 

      In the shade of the lorry Khokhlomskaya Rospis, the small firms of manufacture of the traditional Russian dolls suffer too. That of Alexei Polikarpov is installed in a summary building, adjacent to an ancient barn transformed into working workshop of the wood, to an exit of Semenov. In his exigu and badly warmed office, Alexei summarizes its delicate situation : " From October, 2008, sales fell of 30 % "

     " Today, we are less 50 %. I have zero contract in the export since November. " As a result, he made take a radical bend in his activity: since January, his artisans do not make any more matriochkas, impossible to sell, but different wooden toys which find more easily buyers on a less narrow market. " It is the only solution, assures Alexei.   I have to occupy people who work for me because I do not want to lose them: their know-how  is inestimable. "

    Him,  he cannot count on the helps of the State, contrary to Khokhlomskaya Rospis, the representatives of whom met March 12th, with a delegation of the craft sector, Secretary of Commerce and the Business Viktor Khristenko. This one promised to them to support the field by means of state commissions and of reductions of taxes. The favorite dolls of the State ? Privatized in 1992, the big factory of Semenov, ancient cooperative, preserved a very Soviet style.

The company has its hymn, in the glory of its founders and the country, diffused every morning in the opening of workshops. Among the productions house which decorate the desk of the general manager, Nikolai Korotkov, the most remarkable, in the balance of his armchair, is striking one Putin's portrait inscribed on  a wooden flat of Khokhloma. The object is particularly ugly, but it has a little sight of talisman anticrisis. 

Pierre-Laurent MAZARS


  We are very happy of the license which was given to us by the Journal du Dimanche and its journalistic team: to share with you what is a survival of traditional Russia such as we again like imagining it. We know every these small charming dolls which we meet in at random Shows of antiques or secondhand trades, often made uncomplete but always full of charms. You can find there also, of recent,
 at the House of Russia in Paris.

     The interest of this report, because it is one, it is exactly these photos of an active factory with his(her) artisans painters, his(her,its) lively and cheerful colours which seem to constraster with the survicance of the previous still sensitive regime by certain sides, customs were formerly taken.
     We can only wish that this world of the doll if far from us all, so isolated still, find an evolution, if it turns out indispensable, in the wooden toys among which all the children of the world be crazy because unbreakable, colored and joyful.

To end, Poupendol adds
some additional precision on Russian dolls.
     Curiously it would seem that Matriochka, Russian Russian doll, has some Japanese previous history ! There was in the Country of the Rising sun a tradition of series of dolls (not fitting into each other), each representing a symbolic element of the family. A Russian painter seduced by these dolls brought back it in his country and had the idea to be inspired by it to create the dolls which you know.

    The Japanese influence limits itself there. Matrikochka wears typical clothes of the Russian provinces (sarafans, shawls) and owe to the skill of the artisans (often farmers in the periods of lesser agricultural activity) a lot who mastered very well the turning of the wood and had known how to realize the emboitage of numerous dolls (until 10) the some in the others, to go of the biggest, the mother, to the smallest, the newborn 


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