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Shemogodsky Birchbark Carving
November 23, 2010 13:58


Shemogodsky carving is the traditional Russian folk art and craft of birch-bark carving that became popular due to masters of Shemogodsky Volost of Veliky Ustyug District.

Shemogodsky carving – what is it like?

Ornaments by Shemogodsky carvers are also known as “birchbark lace” and used in manufacturing of birch-bark caskets, boxes, tea-caddies, cases, containers, dishes, plates, and cigarette cases.

The designs of Shemogodsky carving usually consists of a trailing stalk with extended leaves and spirally curling branches with round sockets, berries and leaves on tops. Quite often masters vary floral ornaments with insertions of geometrical patterns of circles, diamonds, ovals, and segments. The composition is based on the principle of accurate symmetry. These ornaments can be filled in with images of birds and animals, or architectural motives, and sometimes even scenes of garden walking and tea drinking. Other typical feature of this kind of carving is geometric ornamental frames surrounding the picture. The design is finished with a frame of leaves, triangles, wavy lines, and grid.

How is the carving done?

Basic contours of the design are marked on a prepared birch-bark strip with the help of a blunted bodkin. Then the pattern is cut out with a sharp knife and the background is removed. The silhouette ornament is decorated with small cuts. Embossing is applied on the birch bark with the same blunted bodkin. Afterwards the birch-bark strip is pasted onto the item usually made of soft wood (such as aspen); sometimes the background is tinted or covered with some colour foil.

History of Shemogodsky Carving

The handicraft appeared in villages down the river Shemoksa, the inflow of Northern Dvina. Peasants of Kurovo-Navolok Village learned the art of birch-bark carving in the 18th century, and in the second half of the 19th century already 14 villages of Shemogodsky Volost were engaged in this handicraft.

The late 18th century – first half of the 19th century was the period of blossoming of birch-bark through carving and formation of the style of Shemogodsky carving. Subject compositions prevail in early monuments of this art. The masters depicted scenes from life of nobility, comic moralizing pictures, fantastic creatures, and daily peasant activities encased in floral ornaments on birch-bark caskets and trunks.

In 1882 at the All-Russia Industrial Exhibition and the Moscow Fair works by Shemogodsky masters were awarded and the imperial court yard bought up practically all the items.

In 1918 the centre of this craft moved to Veliky Ustyug. Modern manufacture is concentrated at the factory "Velikoustyuzhsky Uzory". Skilled masters cut the patterns without preliminary marking out.

The development of the ornamental art of birch-bark carving was in different periods influenced by bone carving, northern silver patination, and wood painting. However, having experienced all those impacts Shemogodsky birch-bark remained original and inimitable.

The history of this handicraft is associated with the names of a number of talented masters. The State History Museum keeps signed works by the carving master Stepan Botchkarev from Veliky Ustyug. These are caskets and snuffboxes of the first half of the 19th century with pictures based on Aesopian fables, with images of animals and architectural constructions. Works by Ivan Afanasevich Veprev won a medal at the All-Russia exhibition in Moscow in 1882 and a diploma at the World Fair in Paris in 1900.

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V.Ivanova




Tags: Russian Arts and Crafts Russian Birchbark Handicraft    

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