Kholui Lacquer Boxes

A Kholui miniature is a Russian folk handicraft of miniature painting, made with tempera on a varnished box of papier-mâché. This form of Russian lacquer art is produced exclusively by students of the Kholui school, the rural settlement in Central Russia.

The Kholui school of icon-painting was founded in 1883. The school continued the local handicraft of icon painting known since the 16th century, but after the Russian Revolution the icon painting workshops were closed. In the 1930s, a group of artists formed an association to open a workshop for miniature lacquer art, and a new school was opened in 1943. Subjects for Kholui miniatures vary from Russian fairy tales (e.g. Snow maiden) to architectural subjects. Kholui miniatures seem to be less bounded by tradition than the boxes from Palekh, Fedoskino and Mstyora.

The background for Kholui lacquer boxes is usually black, just like Palekh lacquer boxes. The actual boxes go through a seven-step process to produce the finely crafted and very high quality boxes that the artists then paint. The boxes are traditionally finished with a coat of black lacquer on the outside and red on the inside. Lacquer box artists use very fine brushes to paint the extremely fine details. The special paint is a paint made of egg-based tempera. This paint is made in small quantities and very vivid colors. One of the final steps in finishing the boxes is the highlighting, and then painting a filigree design around the box with paint made of gold leaf. The final coat of lacquer is applied and the box is signed with the artist’s name, the theme and the name of the village.

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