Souvenirs from Russia: Khokhloma

Khokhloma tableware Khokhloma tableware, The Golden Khokhloma Museum, Semyonov 

I believe almost every family in Russia owns at least a couple of wooden wares - spoons, or bowls, or maybe plates - painted in the so-called Khokhloma style. These simple utensils coloured with images of grass, berries, flowers and leaves in red, gold and black look really impressive and beautiful. This folk art dates back to the 17th century and is named after the village Khokhloma on the Uzola River in the Nizhniy Novgorod region. One of the distincitive features of the Khokhoma style is the characteristic gold-ish colour which is created without applying real gold. The technique is very peculiar: first the unpainted wooden article is coated with special priming, then with drying oil and a thin layer of aluminium powder. The "silvered" object is then painted with heat-resistant oil, varnished and fired. The gold colour appears during this final stage, when the article is kept in a kiln at up to 90C.

Khokhloma style painted articles: tableware, table, chair

Khokhloma collection from the Golden Khokhloma Museum, Semyonov

Khokhloma painted decorative wooden spoons
Khokhloma collection from the Golden Khokhloma Museum, Semyonov, Russia

The predominant colours used for painting are red, gold and black, colours typically used for decorating monastic vessels, the red representing beauty, the gold symbolizing spiritual light and the black relating to the struggle to purge the human soul of wrong doing. The patterns are inspired by many sources including manuscripts, icons, brocade fabrics and of course nature.

Khokhloms painted decorative clock
Decorative clock from the Golden Khokhloma Museum in Semyonov 

There are two main types of Khokhloma painting: red and black ornaments against the golden background; and golden ornaments against the black or red background. The second type is more complicated since more expensive.
Not only kitchen wares are painted in the Khokhloma style nowadays but pieces of furniture like chairs and tables, clocks, icons, jewelry boxes, and jewelry itself.

Khokhloma jewelry box

Wooden bangle hand painted in Khokhloma style
Wooden bangle hand painted in the Khokhloma style, by Elizaveta Mazikova

Khokhloma items - light, strong, boldly coloured, patterned and gilded - are part of Russia's rich folk handicraft heritage and would make wonderful and meaningful souvenirs to bring home from Russia.

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1 comment:

  1. how beautiful! I really like their intricate design...and there is something so powerful behind this gold, red and black colour combination. Thank you for sharing. I've learned something new today.