Khokhloma first appeared in the second half of the 17th century in today's Koverninsky District of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. The handcraft was named after a trade settlement Khokhloma in the same area, where craftsmen had been known for making and selling their handmade goods between the 18th and 20th centuries.
The original technique of painting wood in a gold-like color without application of a real gold is typical for the Khokhloma. This complex five-step process has originated from religious icon paining, where very skilled and highly trained artists and craftsmen used silver powder and gold leaf technique for creating one of a kind icon masterpieces. They used to paint Russian Orthodox icons on thick well dried wood with tempera paint, extra thin foil and gold leaf. After image was applied, the surface of the icon was covered with sliver powder and linseed oil. The icon then was placed into an oven where under high temperature its surface was sealed and transformed into a gold-like lacquer. The silver powder that was baked underneath would shine through and would look more like pure gold.
The process of creating gold-like color for icons, home decorations and art found great popularity among the local manufacturers and craftsmen who developed a new application of this technique in a form of tableware and kitchen utensils that had no competition Items, primarily kitchen and home decor carved out of wood were usually primed with clay mortar, raw linseed oil and tin powder (nowadays, aluminum). A floral pattern was hand painted on top of this coating with a small brush. After that, the articles were coated with linseed oil (nowadays, synthetic oil) and hardened in a kiln at high temperatures of 120-130 C, which creates shiny gold-like effect that turns wood into a “gold”. A combination of red, black and gold colors is typical for Khokhloma. Red symbolizes warmth and beauty of a man-made gold and black emphasizes its brilliance and shine. None of Khokloma items have sharp edges, but instead they are round and soft which also create a very special shining effect by reflecting the sunlight. There are two principal wood painting techniques used in the Khokhloma, such as the so-called "superficial technique" (red and black colors over the gold one) and the "background technique" (a gold silhouette-like design over the colored background). The most common style for Khokhloma art called “Grass” appeared in 17 century where artist painted contrasting blossoms and berries “wrapped around” with elegant stems and leaves. Later, more styles and techniques were introduced to this unique and one of the original Russian craft. Such artistic elements as birds, daisies and elegant geometric patterns found a great recognition among Russian royalty. Since all Khokloma tableware are hand carved and 100% hand painted, none of two items are ever the same.
Initially, this beautiful type of art was created by monks in Russian monasteries and was made only for Russian nobility including Royal Family itself. By the middle of 19th century, Khokhloma tableware was quite common among Russian merchants who would sell it to the public at the outside market. After the Elite exhibition that took place in Paris, France in 1889, the worldwide demand for Khokhloma tableware and home décor dramatically increased. The Khokhloma handcraft seemed to be fading away in the early 20th century, but it revitalized during the Soviet times. In order to save and keep the traditional art alive after the World War II, it was important to make an objective of training young talented artists to paint in Khokhloma style. The most experienced masters of Semyonov Art School such as Podogov brothers and Fedor Bedin were a big part of the training process. Nikolay Podogov started working on collecting and recording multiple styles of Khokhloma patterns in his book, which he assembled during the times of war. A few years after, the artist had four albums with many styles and patterns that were used by Khokloma artists in 19th and early 20th century. The Podogov collection helped to save and restore the most original and traditional techniques. In 1946 artists developed a new approach of painting objects on red background instead of the traditional black one. The pattern painted on red looked more festive and patriotic, which was supposed to create an impression of wealth and elegance of its country of origin. Artists Lushina, Maslova, Schukina, Zabrodina, Metelkova, Busova and Shushlina remain well known among others for introducing the most original and unique painting styles that are very common and popular among today Khokhloma artists. Artist Olga Lushina was born into a family that was painting Khokloma patterns for three generations. As a young girl, she used to help her mother to paint leaves and simple flowers on spoons and bowls. Olga watched her grandfather at work while he was painting and then tried to recreate the exact same pattern later if she managed to find any defective or broken forms where she could practice and improve her skills. Olga Lushina was especially talented in painting traditional “grassy” patterns by implementing only two colors red and black. All of the highly artistic pieces created by her are very original and unique.
Another great Khokhloma artist of 60’s was Stepan Veselov, who started his carrier as a student of Arkhip Serov, the legendary modern Khokhloma art innovator. Stepan created many pieces that are truly on-of-a-kind, since he never used same design and patterns that he used before. He recorded many new styles that young artists use today. Many elder artists do not only train new generation of young artists but also carefully watch their work and progress in order to make sure that traditional styles and techniques will never be completely replaced and forgotten. Stepan Veselov used to tell his students: “ There are many beautiful plants and flowers around the world that are capable to take your breath away, but only a true Kkokhloma master can pick a few in order to express what matters most.” Khokloma art is based on artists’ knowledge of a right choice.
Today Khokloma articles including tableware, clocks, furniture and home décor remain very popular in Russia and around the world. Young generation of artists constantly work together to bring more new designs that have a unique combination of fresh artistic approach and a classic beauty of old world style and traditions.
Thanks for your interest in Russian Khokhloma!
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