Games and toys are as old as anything in
the human world. They emerged at the dawn of human civilization
and were important instruments in the processes of socialization,
upbringing, development, and education of human beings.
The games, rituals, and festivals brought a
measure of emotional and substantive order into the seeming
primeval chaos of being. The toys grew to become indispensable
wares of everyday life bringing to it some orderliness and
harmony. When a human being was born he was accompanied with
a toy and he died accompanied with a toy. It is not easy,
for instance, to identify the toy utensils found in the archeological
digs of the burial sites as play things or items required
for funeral rituals.
The most ancient toys discovered on the Russian
territory date back to the second millenium B.C. These are
the earthenware rattles, utensils, hatchets, and human figurines.
The ancestor worship cults presumed that the dead had a magical
power and could provide support and guidance for the living.
The figurines were manufactured for attracting and hosting
the souls of the dead. These figurines were the earliest dolls.
The ancient toys were typically made of the
two materials most common in Russia, that is, wood and clay.
The earthenware rattles, miniature household utensils, human
figurines, and whistles shaped as birds, horses, and other
animals have been found in the Slavic burial sites of the
6th - 7th centuries and in the archeological digs of the 10th-14th
century strata in the old Russian towns of Kiev, Novgorod,
Ryazan, Moscow, Tver, Kolomna, Radonezh, Zaraisk and Dmitrov.
Wooden rattles, balls, boats, figurines of birds and horses,
and other articles dating back to the 12th century have been
found in the towns of Staraya Ladoga and Novgorod, and in
the archeological digs along the Oyat River. These days, hundreds
and even thousands years later, we are encountering the types
of toys that emerged in ancient times.
The more developed a civilization is in material
terms, the more sophisticated are the toys produced by it.
The centers of traditional toy manufacture typically coincided
with the centers of traditional earthenware crafts and woodworking
trades. The craftsmen manufactured various utensils and other
useful articles in the workshops while women and children
made toys from the same materials. In the distant past toys
had many uses, magical, domestic, and artistic. The magical
use of toys in rituals was of a primary importance at the
earliest stages of human civilizations. The artistic attributes
were of primary importance, too.
The public interest in toys typical for different
nations and times has been rapidly growing in the recent period.
The ever-accelerating tempo of the contemporary life makes
the humans realise that their childhood experiences and impressions
have shaped the most intimate components of their personalities.
However, access to them is tightly Hocked by the barriers
built by education, social conventions, and adult life experiences
that are not easy to leap over. The interest is manifested
by the increasing number of exhibitions, gallery shows, sale
drives and other events presenting a wide variety of toys
ranging from traditional folk art play things to custom-made
porcelain dolls and including such specialized exhibitions
as, for instance, a show of all kinds of Barbie dolls.
The contemporary Russian culture is unique in that it simultaneously
sustains age-old folk arts and crafts and modern art trends
which stem from and develop folk traditions. Craftsmen are
manufacturing folk toys in traditional styles and materials
while the best custom-made toys can be regarded as masterpieces
of modern art.
In June, 2001 the Foundation of Folk Arts and
Crafts of the Russian Federation located at 7 Leontievsky
Lane in Moscow held a large exhibition entitled "Russian
Toys. Past and Presenf. The exhibition featured traditional
Russian toys made of wood, ceramic, birch bark, straws, and
rags in styles that originated in ancient times.
The well-known patrons of arts, the wealthy
merchant families of Morozovs and Mamontovs, were especially
interested in folk arts and crafts. The family of Anatoly
Mamontov settled in the leontievsky Lane in the second half
of the 19th century. In the eighties of the 19th century his
brother, Sawa Mamontov, a rich industrialist and an ardent
arts-lover, supported a circle of modern painters, musicians,
and sculptors, based at his country estate of Abramtsevo.
He generously funded their attempts to revive what they referred
to as the "Russian" style in arts, primarily in
decorative arts and furnishings. Similar aspirations guided
his brother Anatoly when he opened a so-called "workshop-store
" Children s Education" in Us house in the Leontievsky
Lane. Popular items in the workshop were the so-called ethnographic
dolls dressed in holiday costumes typical for different regions
and various ethnic groups of the Russian Empire. It was in
this 'workshop at the turn of the 20th century that the wood
turner Vassily Zvez-dochkin (1876-1956) made the first matryoshka
doll (a series of hollow dolls, one inside the other) and
the professional artist Sergei Mafyutin painted it The prominent
industrialist Sergei Morozov (1863-1944) bought a part of
the house and the workshop and provided funding for establishing
the Arts and Crafts Museum in it. The museum inherited from
the workshop "Children's Education" the tradition
of collecting and studying all types of Russian toys with
the aim of continuing and expanding their manufacture. The
curator of the toy collection and the manager of toy manufacturing
workshop was the artist and arts teacher Nikolai Eartram (1873-1931)
who was a recognized expert on toys. He supervised preparations
for the exhibitions entitled "Toys of the Past and Present1
and "How Toys Are Made" held at the Arts and Crafts
Museum in 1909-1910.
A number of publications on the history of
Russian toys appeared in that period including a collection
of toy articles entitled "Toy, Its History, and Significance"
(1912). It was only then that the toy was recognised as a
work of decorative folk art, it became fashionable to collect
toys, art experts started describing and studying toys, and
artists turned to designing and making traditional and new
types of toys.
The first decade of the 20th century was a
period of reawakening of the Russian toy art. The development
of the toy trade and art was centered on the Yolk Arts and
Crafts Museum where Nikolai Eartram was the toy collection
curator and consultant for the folk toy craftsmen from the
Moscow region towns of Sergiev Posad and Eogorodsk and the
professional artists interested in toy design (including V.A.
Vata-gin, IS. Efimov, LI. Oveshkov, and many others).
The toy collection of the Arts and Crafts Museum
was nationalized in 1918 and the Toy Museum was established
by the governmental decree in Moscow. The museum was one of
the most popular museums in Moscow. Nikolai Bar-tram was its
director until 1931 when the Museum was relocated to Sergiev
Posad. It is functioning now as the Toy Museum of Art and
Education. The wooden toys are very ancient in origin. The
traditional centers of the toy trade in Russia are the Northern
Russia, the Volga region, and the Moscow region.
In late 19th-early 20th century the villagers
in the remote regions of Northern Russia still observed the
ancient traditions and customs in their everyday life. The
age-old ethnic roots can be perceived in the carved and painted
ornaments on the wooden articles manufactured by Russian craftsmen
and in the earthenware and wooden toys. In early 20th century
it was in such Northern villages that one could still find
in use the primitive toys known as "panics". These
were figurines of humans, birds or animals roughly hewn from
wood blocks. The word "panic" is derived from the
Nenets word "pant" for tree root or stem. The principal
feature of these toys was that they were solid chunks of wood.
One can easily see that their prototype was the ancient idols
worshipped by the aboriginal tribes before they were converted