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History of a Matryoshka Doll:
Matryoshka dolls, also known as Russian nesting dolls, are familiar around the world. The concept of one-inside-another has been used in other types of stacking toys, but the magical appeal of each colorful, hand painted Matryoshka doll has delighted children and adults alike for more than a century.
Matryoshka is a regional female name in Russia; there are many popular variations. Matryoshka personifies a mother of a large family, a woman who is happy, healthy and well fed. The name represents fertility and motherhood. Nesting dolls are symbolic of Russia; they are globally recognized as fine Russian folk art.
The first Russian Matryoshka dolls were made in 1890 in the "Children's Education" workshop . An earlier nesting doll of a laughing bald man had been made by a Russian monk on Honshu, Japan. It is now in the Artistic Pedagogical Museum of Toys in Sergiev Posad, Russia.
Russian artisans had already perfected the technique of creating nesting objects. They were experts at crafting nested sets of wooden eggs and apples.
Nesting dolls have been popular play dolls from their beginning. Doll sets might represent fairy tale characters, historical events, or political figures. They are highly prized by collectors and are one of the most popular travel souvenirs from Russia. Matryoshkas were frequently custom made as wedding decorations or for special celebrations.
Some dolls were created to reflect ethnic or cultural groups. Peasants, gypsies, and royalty have all been represented. Early dolls were often decorated by "porking", or burning, the design onto the wood. The technique sometimes created slight relief surfaces. Antique porked designs acquire a desirable patina.
Traditional Matryoshka dolls are hand turned on a lathe. No measuring is done. The artist relies on experience and skill to achieve the accuracy needed to make the dolls fit together. The carving process is specialized; apprentices learn from masters.
Birch is a common wood used in traditional dolls. Other woods are also used. When the doll blanks have been carved and the artist has painstakingly made sure that the fit is correct for each piece, it is time to paint the dolls. The wood is first sealed, and then the hand painting begins. Souvenir Matroyshka dolls are painted in bright colors, and they often are holding baskets, toys or pets.
Modern souvenir Matroyshkas may be copycat versions that are molded or pressed from wood products. Each doll in a traditional Matroyshka, though, is carved from a single piece of wood.
Matryoshka dolls are made in all sizes. Some are so tiny that they are carved and painted using a magnifying glass. Others are quite large, fifteen inches or so. There is no standard number of dolls made to nest inside. Three or four are just as appropriate as 30. Children's play Matryoshkas were sometimes made in a "pocket-size" so they were easy to carry along.
How to Collect Matryoshka Dolls:
Matryoshka dolls, one of the most popular souvenirs of Russia, are a type of wooden nesting doll in which progressively smaller hollow dolls are stacked inside the largest. The original matryoshka dolls featured a pleasant peasant woman, usually wearing a head scarf. The name "matryoshka" comes from a popular Russian female name that is rooted in the Latin "mater" (mother). These dolls have been made for generations, and some are highly collectible.
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