Thursday, May 31, 2012

#ArtIHeart 12 - Matryoshka Russian Dolls

Art I Heart
Share the art you love from your walls, a birthday card, what your child drew at school, that you saw in The National Gallery in London...

1. Choose one piece of art that has a short personal story behind it. It could be something on your wall, something you've seen in a gallery and love, homedrawn, on a postcard, on a birthday card, something by Degas or something by your DS.

2. Take a photograph, scan or download a picture of your picture and post it along with the short story about why you are drawn to it, have it on your wall, bought it, or hate it. Don't forget to link back to the linky so your readers can see the other entries.

3. Link up (it's open till next Thursday, 4pm GMT), leave a comment, et voila!

Here's mine:

The original matryoshka

You could say it's not art. However, the crafting and hand-painting of these dolls is a highly skilled job and, as production decreases and factories close, one that is in danger of dying out. You can read about the history and background of Matryoshka here. There is also some debate about whether they are called matryoshka (or matrushka) or babushka. I think babushka is merely a nick-name as it means grandma or old woman in Russian. And you can see many fine examples far better than my pathetic collection, here. This post is about my personal story and I'm eager to tell it without getting bogged down in the whole matryoshka culture.

The full collection (and me in the mirror)
When I was a child we had a biscuit tin that had originally contained Scottish shortbread. It was tartan with a picture of the actual tin itself on the lid. In the picture could be seen a smaller picture of the tin and an even smaller one inside that. Ad infinitum, supposedly, as they get too small to see after the first few. I was fascinated by this tin and would study it for ages. I've since learned (thank you Google) that it is called a droste effect or a recursive picture. I trawled Google Images trying to find a picture of my tin but alas I could not. Suffice to say, I have had a life-long love of things within things. Even today my favourite toys belonging to my daughter involve stacking cups.

Fast forward to 1986 and my friend and I were going to Russia for a week. It was touch and go whether our trip would be cancelled as it was only a few months after the Chenobyl disaster, but in the end we went. (Since then we have given birth to eight healthy children between us, if you're interested.) It was a package, organised tour including 4 days in Moscow and 3 in Leningrad (now St Petersburg again). I knew that I wanted to buy a matryoshka while I was there.

Bought in London and sadly depleted
In Moscow we visited some refusenik families. Families who had applied for visas to emmigrate to Israel and, as a result of this, had lost their jobs or were harrassed by the KGB. They had nothing. Not that anyone had much. The shops in Moscow, the few that we saw, were very sparsely stocked with the drabbest and most uniform products.

On the other hand, all the tourist hotels had a tourist shop overflowing with colourful souvenirs. We went to look around on our first day. The choice of matryoshka was vast. "Do you want to buy your doll now and then we don't have to worry about it anymore?" Asked my friend. I didn't want to.


Assorted odds and bods (oddyoshkas?)
On our last day in Moscow my friend suggested I buy my doll because who knows what will be in Leningrad. Again, I didn't want to. We went through the same scenario in Leningrad on the first and last day. We visited more refusemik families and the tourist shop was just as bounteous as the one in Moscow. The contrast between the two worlds was just as brazen. In the end I knew that I couldn't buy myself a souvenir of my 'holiday' after what we had seen. I just couldn't.

In the early 1990s the iron curtain lifted and about a million Russian Jews arrived in Israel. As you can imagine, they didn't come with much. You used to see them sitting on a blanket by the side of the road, all their worldly goods spread out before them, for sale. I was walking down King George Street one day and I saw a matryoshka (pictured above). The man gave me a price and I gave him double what he asked for. I had my matryoshka at last.

Since then I've collected others. I had mostly complete sets until my daughter discovered the joy of playing with things within things. I am not one to keep chipped mugs or jigsaw puzzles with half the pieces missing, but every so often you come across a lone piece from a matryoshka. I collect them in the hope of one day matching them up somehow.

18 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. What a story behind how you eventually came to own your Matryoshka too. When I was a small girl I was bought one by my uncle, I don't know where he got it from, but it is not dissimilar to yours. Years of younger brothers playing with it mean that the pieces aren't all there now, but I wouldn't part with it for the world. I still love it after all these years. As a little girl, there was something very special about playing with it - so I can understand the appeal for your girl too.

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  2. Thank you MP. There is something magic about them isn't there?

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  3. I have that same exact one in the first picture. When my parents divorced I claimed it as mine and it came to live with my family! My children love it too, even if the poor tiny one is now held together with sellotape!! :)

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    1. I've never met a little girl who didn't covert one of these.

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  4. This was such an interesting post! I used to love these when I was a little girl. I would spend hours fitting the dolls into eacj other then taking them part again. I loved the tiny one at the end. And they are so beautifully painted aswell.

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    1. DD also loves the tiny ones. She collects them up and puts them in a box together. I was always excited to see how small the tiniest one would be. I once saw one with two plaits of woollen hair.

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  5. My boy loves them too! And I love your idea of reuniting lost 'family members' :)

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    1. It's nice in theory but the reality is just more odd pieces.

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  6. I've never heard them called 'matryoshka' but I was always fascinated by them, and so was my daughter, who now owns a set, though not with such a wonderful back story as yours x

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    1. I think every matryoshka has a story, or will have in the furture.

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  7. Lovely, lovely story. Now I want a matryoshka!

    It's funny, reading this and thinking about 'things within things' immediately made me think off that old TV show 'Get Smart' where your man went through smaller and smaller jail gates!

    xx Jazzy

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    1. Everyone should have a matryoshka Jazzy.

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  8. Marvellous! I love them, they look so iconic and intruiging. I had a set identical to the first picture when I was little. Must hunt them out again!

    Definitely art. Some are simply gorgeous and different sets tell so many stories, either intentionally or otherwise.

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  9. I think my original set is the most common for some reason. I wonder why they stick to those colours and that design. The original matryoshka in 1890 was different.

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  10. I love Matroskas, I have a red set with 18 pieces from the Ukraine. The last ones are so tiny they hardly ever come out. My downstairs bathroom is all red, so they fit in perfectly!!

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  11. ArtIHeart 12 - Matryoshka Russian Dolls is a nice topics. Its contains more information. Thanks for your sharing. For more information Russian Dolls.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for this Dula. I love your website.

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