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Abashevo Clay Whistles
August 4, 2009 13:35

Abashevo in the Penza Region is an ancient Russian settlement with deep historical, religious, and artistic roots. The village first recorded as far back as 1616, became most famous for its craftsmen, namely potters and pipers.

In the 19-20th cc the village of Abashevo was the leading pottery centre of Russia. Clay toys made by Abashevo masters were exhibited in Moscow, London and Paris. They are profoundly traditional: from generation to generation the artisans passed down these peculiar images of domestic animals, birds, deer, horsemen, ladies, etc., and yet, each of the masters let these images deep inside and breathed life into them, creating inimitable inspired characters.

The secrets of modeling and baking these stunning whistling toys were passed on from generation to generation, from father to son. Learning and training started from the age of eight. In this way whole dynasties of potters and pipers appeared in Abashevo.

In the old days Abashevo earthenware was baked in special firebrick furnaces, either round or oval, each a meter and a half wide and 2 meters high. The potter got inside to arrange the jugs and pots that his wife was giving him. Then the items were covered with splinters of broken dishes for protection. Birch or oak logs were used for the furnace. There was a custom to bake potatoes in it after the baking of pottery was over.

The Abashevo clay toy was discovered for art historians by the well-known collector N. M. Tsereteli (1890-1942). He gathered the first collection of Abashevo pipes, especially distinguishing the gifted master Larion Zotkin (1979- 1933). The Tsereteli collection later channeled off to central museums of Russia.

In the 1930s a pottery artel was organized in Abashevo, and later, in 1962 a ceramic factory opened in the nearby town of Bednodemianovsk, where Abashevo clay was used for casting of genre sculptures of small size. In 1968 craftsman A.F. Zotkin (1883-1974) was invited to the factory to introduce handmade toys there. This work was continued by other masters, among them T.N. Zotkin, who traced new ways of development of this handicraft. Folk Arts and Crafts Museum has been founded in Bednodemyanovsk, and a ceramic laboratory opened in Abashevo.

The figurines have elongated trunks with short legs set wide apart, and long graceful necks. On their small, finely modeled heads there stand out deeply scratched eyes. Heads of goats, deer, and rams are crowned with curved many-tier horns. Luxuriant fringes, curly beards and manes are clear-cut, with exact patterns and high relief.

The fanciful whistles are painted with bright enamels of blue, green, and red colours in most unexpected combinations. Some details, for example, horns, can be painted silver or golden. Sometimes parts of the figurines remain unpainted in stark contrast to glaring enamel patches.

And so masters’ hands turn usual characters, such as people and domestic animals, into fairy creatures, which, above all, are able to produce various sounds and can be a music instrument.

The medicinal clay used for modeling of Abashevo toys, and goodness put in with masters’ hands, relieves worries and stress, while these colourful animated characters are believed to guard the family against evil.


Tags: Folk Toys Ceramics Whistles Russian Arts and Crafts  

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