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Appreciating the Craft of Russian Khokhloma

The Russian craft known as Khokhloma is a specialized technique of painting wood which has been part of Russia’s traditional crafts for more than 300 years, and is still being practiced by skilled craftsmen today. This craft first came to light in the latter part of the 17th century in the trade settlement of Khokhloma – from which the craft took its name – in the area of Russia now known as the Koverninsky District of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast.

Household and ornamental items that are carved out of wood are dried out in a kiln, after which a thin layer of clay primer is applied to the item before returning it to the kiln to allow the clay primer to dry. Once the item is dry, three coats of linseed or synthetic oil are applied to the item, which is then left to air-dry. The oil leaves a slightly sticky surface on the item, which is then ready to receive a layer of powdered aluminum. Following this process the item is once again kiln-dried to produce a shiny silver surface which will be decorated by a skilled artist.

Each aluminum coated item is hand-painted, and because there is no initial sketching, each item is truly unique. Paintings typically consist of colorful flowers, leaves, berries, birds and animals, as well as patterns, with red and black being the predominant colors. Once the painting is completed, a lacquer coating is applied to the entire item. Any part of the item that has been left unpainted is transformed into a beautiful golden color by the lacquer coating.

Each Khokhloma item takes about 58 days to complete, with some taking as long as four months. Popular Khokhloma items include bowls with or without lids, spoons in all shapes and sizes, plates, mugs, serving bowls in the shape of birds, candlesticks, egg cups, platters and more. These items, many of which can be used in the kitchen, are heat resistant, waterproof and unaffected by food acids, making them not only beautiful decorative items, but practical too.

The ongoing popularity of Russian Khokhloma is a clear indication that people in today’s busy world still appreciate the skills of the craftsmen who keep this ancient craft alive.


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