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Ornamentation of Wood Carved House
November 23, 2009 14:01

The tradition to decorated one’s house with wood carving is rooted in pagan times, when every sign left with a man’s hand – be it a notch or a dent – had some magic power and had great sense and meaning in struggle with the powers of nature. Made on wooden constructions, the first patterns were quite schematic – they were just conventional signs cut with an axe. The plain notches sometimes combined into simplest figures, such as crosses, triangles, or stars.

Endowing the initial simple signs with wonder-working magic qualities, the man turned them into amulets to protect house from evil spirits, and also into symbols, serving to attain well-being, glorify and attract vital energies of nature, and first of all that of the earthly fertility. As the time passed the simple signs were developed into more complex ones and turned into ornaments, with a changed technique of making them, and certain laws of putting the signs and separate figures on the façade and in the interior of the house.


Thus, magic images were used to frame all the doorways and openings, as being the most accessible to the evil powers: on the gates, around windows, doors, and at the eaves. Inside of the house the tie beam (the central joist of the ceiling) was trimmed with symbolical carving: “thunder sign” or “sign of Rod”, the pagan godhead. The diamond-shaped or square images on window cases served as symbols of sown land and fertility, which attracted wealth. Several thousands years later the character of the symbol has not changed. Performed in the technique of geometrical carving, it still remains in tracery decorating lots of village houses nowadays. Special place belonged to the solar symbols (including various swastikas). Hundreds of years later the symbolical meaning of the patterns was lost. However, they formed ornamentation consecrated by tradition and passed on from one generation to another.


Wood-carving in ancient Russia was gradually supplemented with traditions of some foreign schools. For example, such a classical element, as the laurel leaf, which was adopted from European carving and tailored to the needs of everyday household of Russia was turned into an expressive burdock leaf, grapevine was transformed into delicate pea tendrils, and a bird’s nest into a bast shoe.

In this way the ornaments grew more and more complicated, and today we can see them in openwork tracery of window cases, carved friezes and cornices, on porches with carved pillars, pediments, headstocks on corners of the framework and other architectural constructions of old wooden houses.

In the mid 20th century along with loss of meaning content of wood-carved ornaments the centuries-long tradition of Russian house carving was considerably broken: the former variety of plots boiled down to a few images, which were often merely molded; figurativeness vanished or was simplified to compilations of geometrical signs devoid of sense and just filling the free space on architectural buildings; lines of carved details became thinner, whereas decorative trimming acquired rigid symmetry and, along with it, comparative coldness and aloofness.

In the post-war years only the plainest houses were built in villages and settlements, and the talent of rare folk masters turned to be irrelevant. In the mid 20th century the art and craft of house wood carving was considered practically lost, and by the end of the 20th century carved wooden décor was replaced with faceless artificial materials.


Just recently the interest in folk Russian arts and crafts has been revived; traditional ornaments and decorative patterns have been restored, and state-of-the-art technologies make it possible to recreate ornamentation with the help of machine wood processing. Today wood carving has regained its popularity - in modern settlements one can find not only carved window cases, platbands, eaves, and roof ridges, but also wells, benches, gates and fences decorated with carving. Nowadays masters again resort to monuments of folk culture – old wooden houses of the 18th – 19th cc that have survived in Ural, Siberia, Russian North and Volga Region – and pay tribute to great unknown masters who had created them.

Look also: House Wood Carving


Tags: Russian Wood Carving Old Russian House Slavic Symbols   

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