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Birchbark Handicraft
December 8, 2009 12:51

Birchbark wickerwork is an old Russian handicraft. At all times amazing natural qualities of beautiful birchbark were considered irreplaceable in household. The famous Russian lapti (aka bast shoes) are among the numerous articles handmade of birchbark.

From olden days birchbark was used for making various dishware, such as cups for milk, kvass, and other traditional Russian drinks, trays, jugs, boxes, cylindrical containers with lids, and amulets. Later people started decorating their houses with birchbark items: it was used to make pictures, decorative panels, icons and caskets. Birchbark accessories appeared: necklaces, pendants, bracelets and belts. Special priority was given, however, to articles for hunting and combat functions. Birchbark was used to make bow cases, arrow quivers and in production of complicated Slavic bows as taping and all sorts of loops.

Birchbark had such an integral part in household, that there appeared even sayings about it, such as, for example: “But for bast and birchbark man would fall apart”. From making toys to building houses – everywhere birch bark was used.

People have been using birchbark from times immemorial, and not only in Russia, naturally. It remains popular even today, in the age of synthetic materials, due to its unique natural qualities. Birchbark is elastic, water-proof, thermal, light, pliable, practically undecayable and ecologically safe.

Birch bark proves to have amazing bactericidal qualities. It is not by chance that in birch wood the air is purer than in an operating room. Birchbark removes poisons and toxins from products, purifying them. In olden days birchbark vessels were used to preserve fish, honey, milk, butter and cereals for a long time. Bread kept in birchbark cases remains soft for a longer period.

Birch wood is called “warm wood”, and so is birch bark. Even in a cold room it feels warm, having great positive energy. Looking at it and holding it in your hands will be enough to calm down and relax.

The most stunning and mysterious thing about birchbark is certainly the birchbark manuscripts written by our ancestors in Novgorod, Smolensk, and Ryazan in the 11-14th cc. Letters were easy to scribble with a pointed bone stick against pliable birchbark surface. The other end of the stick was often decorated with carved horse or lion heads and had a hole to be hanged through onto the belt. Not only adults, but kids also used to write on birch bark. Thus, several manuscripts were written by a little boy named Onfim, who made drawings along with writing. Even a real birch bark book was discovered in Novgorod: consisting of twelve pages, it contained the text of an evening prayer and was written in the second half of the 12th century. Ancient Novgorodians were probable unaware of one more outstanding quality of birch bark – its ability to preserve for centuries. After more than eight centuries of laying in the ground the Novgorodian manuscripts have come down to us. (Read more about birch bark manuscripts…)

In addition to its amazing antiseptic qualities birch bark is very beautiful by its nature, with varied shades of warm colouring, and natural tracery. However, different decorating traditions and processing technologies were developed by birch bark craftsmen. Nowadays the folk art of birch bark articles is not limited to the old methods of carving and pressing. Artful masters also decorate birch bark articles with painting, embossed patterns, etc. Quite often birch bark is used for wickerwork, and marguetry technique is becoming increasingly popular. Sometimes birch bark is organically combines with other materials, such as beads, natural gems, pearls, and leather. Birch barks articles are always handmade by artists, and so each of them is one-and-only.

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Tags: Russian Arts and Crafts Birchbark Handicraft    

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