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Russian Tradition of Birch-Bark Craft, Part 2
April 27, 2015 20:23

Birch-bark cylinder containers are most often ornamented. The process of manufacturing a birch-bark cylinder is quite complicated: the handyman needs to take the bark off the tree trunk very cautiously without damaging it. It will be the inside part of the container, which is whole and waterproof. Outside they are coated with birch-bark cut on one side. The coating piece is a little smaller than the inside part and it is closed with “a lock”. Afterwards a wooden bottom is driven into the base. A tight-fitting lid with a knob is cut. The handyman can decorate the coating with a geometrical or zoomorphic ornamental carving. Sometimes it can be a openwork floral ornament or a geometrical design.

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Birch Bark and Household 

Birch bark played an important role in the life of peasants in the North of Russia. It was widely used by people in Siberia and the Far East. One cannot picture peasant life without birch bark. This amazing material was applied everywhere, from toys to house construction.

Birch bark with its waterproof and antiseptic properties proved to be very helpful in building and prevented houses from dampness and rotting. The lower joisted floors, window sills, and overlappings served much longer if interlaid with birch bark. Birch bark is still used in some modern villages as roofing material for bath houses and storage rooms. A roof coated with birch bark serves for no less than 40 years.
A number of various birch bark utensils were of wide use in peasant household. Baskets were taken to forests for mushrooming and picking berries. Birch bark boxes served for storing vegetables, flour and grains. Birch bark cylinder containers were irreplaceable in storing dairy products, honey, fish and pickles. Saltcellars varied in size and type, frequently stylized as ducks. Cracked pots were restored by wreathing them with birch bark tape. Even simple horse harness was often made of birch bark.
Everything from footwear to a hat could be woven or stitched from birch bark. A suit with a hat, jacket, trousers, and boots made of birch bark was exposed at the All-Russian exhibition in St. Petersburg in 1882.

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Shemogod Birch Bark Through Carving 

Shemogod pro-carved birch bark is probably the most famous birch bark craft in Russia. It is well-known abroad as well. The craft developed in the Shemogod District was named after the small river of Shemoksa that flows into Northern Dvina near Velikiy Ustyug town.

168 people were engaged in the craft in the Shemogod District of Veliky Ustyug in 1882. “The best birch bark craftsmen live in the village of Kurovo-Navolok. They make highly refined birch bark items”, the Domestic Industries Review of the Vologda Province reads. It implied household items decorated with pro-carved birch bark. Handymen carved refined ornaments to decorate items’ walls and lids. Birch bark designs looked like a luxurious material against a dark or golden background. Naturally, it made the items much more attractive to customers.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Folk Arts Arts and Crafts Birch Bark Woodwork  

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