The most famous of all
the many Russian Dolls produced over the last 100 years must be the
Semyenov style from the Nizhny Novgorod Region of Russia, about 500
Kms from Moscow. In the 19th Century the factory produced various wooden items such as spoons and bread boards and it was not
until about 1930 that they began to produce nesting dolls.
At this time they also produced wooden toys and a range of birch bark items, products which
continued to be made to the end of the 20th Century.
This most simple of dolls usually painted with a
yellow head scarf and red dress with a rose design on the front. The
Semyenov factory existed well before the revolution mainly producing
wooden items of tableware. In about 1932 it was set to produce a wide
of toys and other products including Russian Dolls and was a
significant employer in that
town until recently. It has now been taken over completely by its near
neighbour the "Hochlamaskaya Rospis".
Although the has
slowly developed over
the years it is fundamentally the same as it was in the early days. The
factory was privileged in that it was these dolls that were
exported throughout the world under the communist regime. In the
1960's two 72 piece dolls were manufactured as promotional items.
Although the standard
colours of Semyenov dolls are yellow top/red skirt it is not unusual
to find these colours reversed. Indeed it is possible to find
green, purple and even black dolls, although these colours are
usually restricted to the outer piece.Of
particular interest to collectors now are dolls which not only have
their original orange made in the USSR labels but also retain
their original cardboard boxes. Our collection contains a 16 piece
doll in an original box.
perestroika the factory has put a number of automatic machines into
place making it the only automated production facility in Russia for
Russian dolls. The workforce has suffered with an estimated
reduction from 3000 in 1990 to around 500 now although this figure
includes all workers not just those engaged in the production of
addition to the standard dolls there are a large number of other
styles from Semyenov including animals, viking figures, Santa Claus
and different maiden designs, all worth looking for but
becoming increasingly rare.
This factory now operates on a very commercial basis and it
to order dolls in large quantities for delivery anywhere in the world.
Sadly they remain out of touch with the value of their product and are very inflexible in pricing.
Also they are unable to control the numerous copies of their work produced by individuals.
At this time it is difficult to see how the factory can keep producingwithout some regard to the final sales price of
a word of explanation. The ancient town of Sergiev Posad with its St
Sergius Trinity Monastery (founded in1340) is the centre of the
Russian Orthodox Church. After the revolution the name of the town
was changed to Zagorsk and only in 1992 was the original name
re-instated. The result of this name change is that the Matrioshka
made here are usually known as Zagorsk style dolls.The
town of Sergiev Posad is a short journey from Abramsova and by the
time Maliutin and Zviozdochkin were making their doll there Sergiev
Posad was well established as a toy making centre. The huge market
place in front of the monastery has been a trading place for
dolls were produced for fun and in the first years of this century a
caricature of Ukranian leaders or Hetmen was produced. The forunner
of the Gorby doll. Dolls were also made depicting characters
from Russian folk lore as well as from books. A popular story was the
tale of the farmer and the giant turnip.
Eventually the factory
began to make one specialised design which we now recognise as the
typical Zagorsk style. The communist period greatly reduced the free
expression of the pre-Revolutionary artists. The standard doll
produced here was special in that the colour of each doll in a set is
different. They are very simple as can be seen from the picture
above and can still be found in some shops. They were not exported
in the same quantities as the Semyenov style of doll.
the factory in full production in the mid seventies. After the
changes brought about by the collapse of the communist system the
factory quickly ran into trouble. By 1994 the satellite factories had
closed and by 1997 the main factory outside the gates of the
monastery was also effectively closed for the production of
It has become less lucrative for artists to work on their own than immediately after
the end of the Communist period although many still supply the tourist
trade in Moscow which is only a short journey away by train.
Probably over half of all dolls sold today are made in this area and have
Sergiev Posad written underneath them.
Polkov Maidan is a collection of small workshops in one
all producing in a similar style. Much of what is produced here is
sold on the internal Russian market place as unpainted items or
zagotovki as the Russians say. It is theoretically possible to
order any shape or size of blank from this area.
Semyenov there is a long history of production of wooden goods from
this area and it is a natural extension to produce nesting dollls. In
the beginning the dolls were produced with a mixture of Poker work
and paint although the use of pokerwork soon ceased. The designs of
the dolls are little changed in sixty years. The main feature is the
dog-rose created using bright analine dies. Only strong colours are
used and to some the finished product is just too bright, almost
garish, with strong reds, blues, yellows and mauves. Decoration is
always larger than life
tradition of wood-turning is strong and boys as young as ten can turn
a reasonable doll. Painting is almost exclusively done by women and
girls who often work outside in the Summer as in the picture. In
addition to Matrioshka the village of Polkhov Maidan is known for
wooden samovars, spoons, piggy banks and other small wooden items.
the least known of the major factories in Russia is that at Nolinsk
in the region of Kirov (Vratsky). This centre of production has
existed for some time and its main design is very similar to that
from Semyenov - the major difference is that the Kirov dolls have a
poppy on the front, the Semyenov has a rose.
feature of many of the Kirov Matrioshka was that they had a straw
inlay design. At one time this was actually cut into the wood but
now the straw is only stuck onto the surface. These are still
available but are becoming less common. The picture was taken from
the best Communist period book we know which was produced for the
Olympic Games in 1980.
In recent times
Kirov factory has begun to produce a selection of different designs
and shapes such as the Snow White illustrated here
to pack the dolls in plastic bags with the traditional simple Russian