Democratic reforms of the Soviet regime
in the late 80s of the 20th century known as pere-stroika initiated
a revolutionary change in the social and economic relations
in the country. The newly found freedom of expression changed
radically the arts scene. In particular, the situation in the
decorative arts has grown to become quite similar to that of
a hundred years hack when the so-called Russian style was flourishing.
Thus a new period began in the evolution of the art of the hand-made
toy in Russia.
At the first stage of
reforms many designers and craftsmen strove to revive the
old toy styles and motifs that had disappeared for a variety
of reasons in the Soviet period. The craftsmen of Sergiev
Posad were among the first to revert to their own cultural
roots and traditions. In 1991 they established the Sergiev
Traditional Culture Center associated with a museum.
Aleksandr Varganov was one of the leaders of
the movement for restoring the Sergiev toy culture. He had
received training as a wood carver at the Bogorodskoe school
of folk arts and crafts. In mid-eighties he studied the traditions
of the Sergiev Posad wooden and papier mache toys. In the
19th century the toys trade was so important for Sergiev Posad
that the town was referred to as the "Russian Niirnberg"
(since the 18th century this German city was famous as the
world toy center).
A gifted artist and skillful craftsman, A.
Varganov mastered almost all styles and motifs typical for
the Sergiev wooden toys of the 19th century. He has manufactured
dolls depicting ladies and horsemen, various small figurines
from 3 to 10 cm in height, and sets of toy houses, churches,
and trees. He is very tactful with articles on religious motifs.
He has manufactured numerous figurines of angels of different
dimensions which are highly artistic and yet look charmingly
naive. Moreover, he has found a proper balance between carving
and painting of his figurines. The impressionistic brushwork
he employs in painting his art work makes it to look quite
distinctive, fresh, and modern. Varganov's art is invariably
very kind in disposition as can be seen from the very appearance
of his carved wooden figurines, from the way he makes use
of the natural properties of wood as the art material, and
from the overall ornamentation of his works.
A. Varganov employs the plainest toy-making
technique, which consists in carving triangular blocks of
wood. The technique has been perfected by craftsmen through
centuries. His toys on traditional subjects, such as "nurses"
(figurines of women guiding children) and guardian angels
are imbued with a newly discovered religious significance.
They can be highly appropriate souvenirs for visitors to Sergiev
Posad, which is the most sacred site of the Russian Orthodox
There are other creative innovators searching
for traditional roots in the Sergiev Posad toy trade, apart
from A. Varganov. The mother and daughter Dmitriev worked
hard to give a new lease of life to the tradition of the rag
doll making that flourished in the Russian countryside and
Anna Dmitrieva graduated from the Sergiev Posad
school of folk arts and crafts in 1975 and now holds the position
of the chief designer of the Sergiev Posad Factory of Arts
and Toys. Her main job at the factory was to design clothes
for the many dolls manufactured there. For instance, she made
ethnic dresses typical of various Russian regions for the
tea cozy dolls and ethnic clothes for a wide variety of other
In the nineties A. Dmitrieva embarked on a
project to revive the tradition of the Russian rag doll. For
dressing these dolls she often used fabrics, ribbons, and
lace of the 19th century she collected on her ethnographic
excursions to remote villages. The rural custom in making
a rag doll was not to use new fabrics but bits of old clothes
that had been worn by people respected in the village. The
popular belief was that it would bring luck to the child for
whom the doll was made. A. Dmitrieva has carefully studied
the doll collection of the Sergiev Posad Toy Art Museum and
went on field trips for gathering old article of folk arts
in the Russian countryside. She has attempted to build a bridge
between the forgotten folk art culture and the present-day
life by restoring the traditional rag doll styles and bringing
them to the contemporary public. She transferred much of her
knowledge of folk art and tradition to her daughter Maria
who graduated from the Sergiev Posad Toy Arts and Crafts College
Maria designed her first doll at the
age of seven. She mastered the traditional doll-making skills
so well that the Toy Museum commissioned copies of some valuable
exhibits from her, for instance, of a doll dressed in the
peasant's dress typical of the Orlov region. Mother and daughter
Dmitriev employed their exceptional knowledge of folk arts
and doll-making skills not just to duplicate perfect specimens,
they gave the peasant's doll art a new lease of life. They
are designing new dolls in the style of the traditional "upright"
rag doll. Their perfect understanding of the rural doll style
allows them to produce new modern adaptations of the basic
model by subtly varying some features, primary the appearance
of the doll clothes. M. Dmitrieva favors the "slen-der-waisted"
doll style with the emphasized waistline. The Dmitrievs and
some other doll-makers, for instance, N.M. Apalkova, were
successful in reviving the old rag doll tradition and bringing
it to the attention of collectors in Russia and abroad.