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Unique Russian Woodwork of Burr Craft, Part 1
March 30, 2015 17:15

Throughout centuries craftsmen of the Vyatka lands (Kirov Region nowadays) were engaged in wood processing. It is no wonder they laid the foundation to the unique burr craft.

Burr is a material admirable in its kind. It is called forest porphyry or wooden malachite.  Wonderful paragons of burr ware are kept in the largest museum collections of Russia. Such ware was called napiform in Russia of the 16th – 17th centuries. It adorned tsarist feasts on a par with gold-plated and silver dishes.

Burr growth found on branches and trunks of old trees remind of a knob, a drop, a boulder or a human head.

The burr is usually found on oak, walnut, black alder, and aspen trees. However, it is most common for birch trees. Burr material is strong and weighty and lends itself to machining favourably. It is not subject to cracking, starting, shrinking or swelling out.  The burr layer varies in its thickness. The larger a burr and the more intricate its patterns are, the more expensive it is.

It is known that in the first half of the 19th century the burr of 20 pounds (a little more than 8 kg) cost as much as thoroughbred bull. In pre-revolutionary Russia the burr was worth its weight in gold: 70 rubles per kilogram in the dry state. Legends were circulated about the burr, just like about ginseng. It was considered great fortune to find it in the wood. The birch burr, which is the most beautiful in pattern and color, was widespread in the Vyatka Province (Kirov Region). It was thanks to this material that the remarkable woodwork craft appeared.

The burr woodwork was first recorded in literature of the early 18th century. The famous Russian historian Vasily Tatishchev wrote about burr ware made in Vyatka in his book Composition of History and Geography of Russia.

Grigory Makarov, who lived in the first quarter of the 19th century in the district town of Slobodsky is considered to be the founder of the burr craft in Vyatka Province. He used thin burr plates to create caskets and snuffboxes in geometrical forms and exact proportions in line with the style of Classicism domineering in those years. His major merit was adding wooden hinges to his woodworks.  Grigory Makarov unriddled and adopted this secret from a Scottish snuffbox, which he had come across. He managed to make it by mastering most sophisticated operations. Making exactly fitting hinge fingers and holes, as well as drilling with a thin wire became part of the arsenal of the next generations of burr craftsmen.

The master Semyon Ivanovich Bronnikov from Vyatka also left his mark in the history of the burr craft. He is known as the creator of the one of a kind wooden pocket watch, with its case and box made of burr. His sons Nikolay and Mikhail assisted their father in his work. They took orders for making pocket watches from many cities of Russia. The pinnacle of the Bronnikovs fame as watchmakers was participating in the World Fair in Vienna (1837). The dynasty members were a big success in the subsequent famous exhibitions, such as the Nizhny Novgorod Commercial and Industrial and Art Exhibition (1896) and the All-Russian Exhibition in St. Petersburg (1902).

Next: Unique Russian Woodwork of Burr Craft, Part 2


Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Folk Art Woodwork Arts and Crafts   

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