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Khokhloma – the Golden Art in Wood

Wednesday, 07 July 2010

khokhlomaKhokhloma is a settlement in Russia, district of the Nizhniy Novgorod. Handicraft from various places was sold there brought from the neighboring villages, including the wooden tableware painted with fascinating patterns. The tableware was bought in the village and spread throughout Russia and to other places. The consumers never sort out the way the tableware was manufactured and who made it and very soon the painting was named after the settlement it was marketed.

Khokhloma is the decorative painting of tableware and furniture. The painting is made in black, red and sometimes in green paints on the golden background. The choice of color used for painting comes from the ancient legend. They say that once upon a time a painter lived in old Russia who was a court worker. He dreamed about creating something unusual that threw back in the core of the native land which is familiar to every person. And trying to make his dream come true, the painter escaped from the desired life at the court of the Russian king and settled in the forest. He built the house of logs, made wooden tableware and started painting it in the way he liked. His followers came to work by the painter and a rich settlement grew in the forest.

As for colors, the point is that the establishment of the settlement is not the end of the story. The king caused to make the painter back to the court, yet, he was revolted with the ingratitude of the painter! The master shared the secrets of his skills with his fellow villagers when he was warned that a troop was sent to take him back to the king. The guards saw just the log house in the red fire on the black dead ground and some greenery around. The painter disappeared. Though, the gold of the flame, the black of the ground and green of the grass was then realized in Khohloma items.

The Khokhloma painting is different from others since it is made on the wood but the wood is not seen, as if the metal articles are painted. This effect is achieved by a small very smart technological approach.

The painters from Khokhloma were willing to have the rich and noble tableware the royal family used in palaces. The royal tableware was decorated with the gold leaves (thin golden sheets to attach to items) or silver gold (the gold diluted with the special powder which is applied to the articles as the plain paint). Gold is gold and it costs a fortune. The icon-painter used to cover the silver sheets with the drying oil with the purpose to have the gilding reduced in cost which brings the effect of gold finally. The peasant masters of the painting improved their skills and practiced using drying oil instead of silver.

The gilding was not applied to the whole article and only some particular elements were gilded, and the pattern was very simple. When the glazed pottery and metal tableware affordable to the public appeared in the market, the Kokhloma craftsmen improved the painting to survive among the competitors. They practiced gilding the entire article and the herbal patterns were first introduced. As a result, the Khokhloma painting did not survive the competition; it became more demanded and popular in the world. To the end of XIX century the painting exhibited at world shows, and it was the real feat of the Khokhloma style at the world exhibition in Paris in 1889.

Nowadays, the technology of the Khohloma painting has not undergone sea changes, Aluminum is used currently instead of the tin which is cheaper and affordable, and the tableware is dried in electric furnaces. This is the difference when in total the technique is thesame as earlier.

The key secret of the beauty of the painting is not the technology. The artistic skills of painters work here. The floral and animal patterns and the legendary herbal ornaments appear to be the major attractive element of the painting. Every item is unique and fascinating. All the items are hand-made, and the patterns are not replicated. The Khohloma painting is what refers to genius Russia. This is what we call the old ancient traditions and customs. The Khokhloma painting is the frozen Russian beauty as well as music, though alive and magnificent for ever.

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