Matryoshka or nesting dolls first appeared in Russia around 1892. They come in a variety of sizes, characters and number of dolls nested one inside the other. The development of Matryoshka dolls was centered around the Russian city of Sergiev Posad, Russia’s center for toy making, about 50 miles outside of Moscow. The Sergiev Posad Matryoshas are known for their realistic characters. The early Sergiev Posad Matryoshka were painted by students and artists from the local icon painting school and portrayed peasant girls in colorful costumes and often with baskets or bunches of flowers. Local prominent artists were determined to create a style that was distinctively Russian but also represented Russian’s folk heritage and traditions. During my business trips to Russia in the 1990s, I collected a number of these Matryoshka dolls that are included in this blog.
Matryoshkas are made from dried wood logs. Using a lathe and chisels of various sizes and shapes, the craftsman begins forming the desired number of Matryoshka pieces using the smallest one first. Each of the remaining pieces are worked to the proper size and shape. After each shape is completed, the top of the piece is cut off, a ring is carved into the bottom piece so that the top will fit secure on it. Each piece is hollowed out just enough to accommodate the nesting of the next smaller piece. Once all of the pieces are carved, the exterior surface are primed with glue and painted to the artist’s satisfaction and then covered by a layer of lacquer. Modern Matryoshka painters use the doll’s apron as a canvas for various themes. Most commonly, Russia’s wonderful architectural monuments, historical figures, churches and writers/poets from the past. The name Matryoshka comes from the word for mother, the rounded bottom shape is meant to celebrate motherhood by representing pregnancy.
After the fall of the USSR, Matryoshka dolls started to be created and sold depicting the former USSR leaders. Here are three examples. Can you identify each of the leaders depicted? The smaller Matryoshka figures represent chronologically past leaders. The smallest Matryoshka are difficult to see, so imagine the careful workmanship that was required.
Collecting these Matryoshka doll sets was a most interesting way for me to appreciate and understand the Russian culture. Here is one last Matryoshka for your enjoyment.
Reference for this blog is: DeLaine, Linda, “Matryoshka – Soul of Russia” October 17, 2006. www.russianlife.com.