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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 Church.

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 provincial towns.

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 dolls.

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 in 2000.

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.

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