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Woodwork Tradition in Russia
November 30, 2013 11:01


Pre-Christian Russians had a mastery over molding and forging, ceramics and embroidery, and fine enamels. Kiev artists were good at bone carving, blackening, metal engraving, making glazed tiles (izrazets), and glasswork. However, Russians were most skillful in woodworking.

Wood was used for building houses, defensive walls, and bridges; it was applied in vehicles (sledges, skis, boats and ships), numerous household things, from furniture to tableware and toiletware. Peculiarities of different tree species were well-known to masters. Thus, for construction works they generally used coniferous timber, whereas broadleaf wood was applied for household items. Sometimes they worked on imported wood as well: bilateral crests were made of boxtree, and expensive cypress wood was used for icons.

Woodworking tools were varied and most of them are still used. However, the hacket was the main tool. They cut logs and split boards with it. Logs were never sawed off, since the saw disrupts the wood structure, making it decay faster. The Russians borrowed the very word “topor” (i.e. hacket) from the Turkic language, where it was called “sekira” (i.e. pole-axe). However the real Old Russian pole-axe had its specific structure, with a slightly curved handle and a crescent edge.
Russian woodworkers attained such mastery over that instrument that could easily make with it even household utensils, such as bowls and even interior decorations.

Roofs of houses and churches were covered with shingles — the Russian tiles generally made of redwood bark. The saw, various cutters, and the lathe were used in making small household items. Lots of them were decorated with carving: house details (window frames, cornices, banisters, etc.), furniture, tableware, combs, spoons, knife handle, sledge spurs, shipboards and steering rowlocks. Sometimes wood was coated with paint, but it badly remains. They also carved small, but very expressive figurines of humanoids and animals.



The decor used in woodcarving, was most often represented with circular, helicoid and volute ornaments. Similar ornaments were used in bone carving. It is quite possible that carver had a mastery over both types of materials, wood and bone equally. Well-known are very lively looking images of mythological beings, such as dragons and mermaids, sculptural heads of birds of prey. Numerous finds of wooden and bone ornamented household items give ideas about art culture of medieval Russian cities, joining the course of architecture and painting of that time, created a bright image of Russia of pre-Mongolian era.

Certainly, people did not only work but also had a good time. Music instruments were found in ancient cities (psaltery, gudok, jew’s harps, rattles), numerous wooden and bone chess figures, dices, and bone skates. Well-known are children’s toys made of wood and clay: dolls, swords, daggers, bows and arrows, penny whistles, and animal figurines.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Carpentry Woodwork Russian Traditions Russian Folk Crafts  

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