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Zhostovo – Combining Art and Practicality

Taking its name from its village of origin, Zhostovo painting goes back many generations. Initially, the trays were decorated with landscapes, scenes of social gatherings and troika horse rides, but these were later replaced by the intricate and colorful floral designs distinctive to the art of Zhostovo painting. Zhostovo trays most often have a dark background that serves to accentuate the colorful floral arrangements and patterns of the artist. Many of the processes in creating one of these masterpieces are similar to the craft of Russian lacquer painting on papier-mâché and wooden items, such as trinket boxes.

Although trays have been used in some or other form for centuries, the development of large cities, with their hotels and eateries increased the demand for these useful items. This need was filled by artists and craftsmen, with their product becoming an art-form in its own right. In the first half of the 19th century, Osip Vishnyakov, a local master of the art, organized the production of these beautiful hand-made trays into a commercial enterprise.

Originally trays were made of papier-mâché, but these weren’t strong enough for everyday use, and crafters turned to metal which they sourced from Nizhny Tagil, a metal-producing settlement in the Sverdlovsk Oblast of Russia. Taking note of techniques used by other tray-makers and artists, the art of Zhostovo was developed and adapted until a level of perfection was reached that is still used today to produce a strong, scratch-resistant surface that is both serviceable and beautiful.

Zhostovo looked to be in danger of dying out during the Soviet-era, but thanks to a number of dedicated artists, this was prevented from happening. Instead, the craft flourished when, in 1940, the Fedoskino vocational school engaged Zhostovo masters V.Dyuzhayev and P.Plakhov to train young crafters, who in turn have gone on to train others. So, in a world where modern conveniences often do away with old-fashioned products, the art of Zhostovo painting still thrives, turning an ordinary household item into a prized work of art. In April 2011 the Tsaritsino Museum in Moscow invited the public to view an exhibition of around 400 Zhostovo-style painted trays, each unique and each reflecting the tremendous skill and dedication of its creator.


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