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Stary Oskol Clay Toy
February 11, 2015 12:26


The Stary Oskol clay toy is a folk art handicraft in the Stary Oskol District of the Belgorod Region. It has been known since the early 18th century.

The Stary Oskol clay toy is one of the most ancient folk handicrafts of the Belgorod Region and is included in the catalogue Folk Crafts of Russia.

However, researchers specificated the Stary Oskol clay toy as an independent trade not before the mid 1980s. In 1987 the Stary Oskol clay toy was displayed at the National Pottery of Russia exhibition.

Throughout the entire history of the arts and crafts development of Stary Oskol there were no written records made about the clay toy. Maybe it can be explained by the fact that toy trade was not considered a specialized branch and had no special significance in trade life of handicraftsmen.

The handicraft of clay toy started taking shape in the late 17th – early 18th centuries. The background of the clay toy has not been established yet. The idea of clay toy could have possibly been brought by immigrants, and the craft fitted well into the local culture.
The finds of simple bird-like ocarinas with 3 or 5 holes testify to it. Such penny whistles are found practically in all the places that have the tradition of clay toys, this type being the oldest one.

The Stary Oskol clay toy was further developed in the 19th century. The toys became more sculpturesque, with better polished detailed and more stylistic features. Traces of engobe painting in the form of vertical stripes can be seen on those toys, but the painting is quite archaic still. Previous images of “riders” were complemented with “madams” harbouring a whistle in their headdresses typical for 1810-1820, “goats” with a saddle and a new type of “rider” with a specific headgear of the early 19th century. The toys were in great demand.

The Stary Oskol clay toy flourished in the mid 19th century, and then the heyday was followed with certain decline, which was most likely related to the overall fall-off in the town economy. The number of potters in Stary Oskol decreased from 172 families in the mid 19th century to 67 families in 1904.

The introduction of industrially produced toys and porcelain figurines considerably reduced popularity of the clay toy. However, new images of the clay toy were created in that period, including a petty-bourgeois “Madam” wearing a muff and a hat typical for the late 19th — early 20th century, as well as new images of animals and birds: Bear, Duck, Chicken, Deer, and Fox. “Riders” somewhat lost their assertive and rigorous character of the military and came to resemble normal provincial riders from everyday life. The painting became richer in colours and more varied in ornaments.

Art critics divide the folk toys into village, suburb and town toys. Stary Oskol clay toy is reckoned among suburb toys, which are anywhere from town to village toys. It has neither genre descriptiveness of the town toys, nor conditionality of the village toys. These amusing figurines are at the same time accurate and elegant. Female figurines make a vivid portrait of the Stary Oskol clay toy handicraft.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Folk Arts and Crafts Pottery Penny Whistles   

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