Of Russian origin: Khokhloma
The colors of happiness
There are two wooden souvenirs that can be found in almost every American, British, German, French or other tourist’s suitcase returning home from Russia: one is a the matryoshka doll, the other – a piece of khokhloma. This well known style of Russian folk art is thought to date back to the 17th century and derives its name from a village in Central Russia which grew to become a trading post where local craftsmen brought their brightly decorated tableware to sell.
The craft has undergone little change over time and is so distinct one can hardly confuse it with any other pattern – a rich floral motif mixing scarlet, black and festive gold (the latter being in fact silver before it is given a few coats of special lacquer and put in the furnace). For Russians, golden leaves and flowers symbolize a happy life and are believed to bring light and wealth.
Khokhloma saw a surge in popularity in the second half of the 19th century after the simple and poetic Russian ornament became known abroad. After a production slowdown in the early 20th century the handicraft was revitalized in the 1930s and has since become a traditional export.
Back in the spotlight
Today new colors such as brown, green and yellow can be introduced, making the ornament more lavish. The range of products that bear the print has also widened. Spoons, cups, dishes and other kitchen utensils continue to be major khokhloma items but it’s almost anything now that can be decorated khokhloma-style – a trend set by one of Russia’s top designers, Denis Simachev , who is behind the latest attempt to drag khokhloma out of tourist gift-shops and back to the glam spotlight.
His fresh take on the more-than-three-centuries-old print includes khokhloma T-shirts, khokhloma belts, a khokhloma Porsche, a khokhloma Sony PlayStation and even a khokhloma iPhone. He also patented his own special motif which took five artists and quite some time to complete.
Apart from such designer experiments, there are two main producers of khokhloma in Russia. Both are based in the traditional region. Despite numerous attempts khokhloma woodwork has proven a hard act to follow or copy. Two main techniques are currently employed in traditional Russian khokhloma production – the so-called superficial technique wherein red and black cover gold, and the background technique in which a golden silhouette stands out against a colored background.
Despite being so very Russian, khokhloma utensils are seldom found in Russian homes - even more seldom are they used for their primary purposes, as spoons, cups, bowls or dishes. They are much more often seen traveling abroad to remind visitors of their trip to Russia.