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The Art of Khokhloma

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In the Middle Ages, artisans who made wooden household and kitchen utensils used to gather at the big fair held in the trade village of Khokhloma, not fair from Nizhniy Novgorod. This was an old town on the Volga river, where wares were sold. In time, these utensils, richly painted in bright colors against a black or gold background, were called by the name of the village in which they were sold. With the aid of only four colors, - red, black, green and yellow - these modest Russian household objects became works of art.


Antique Khokhloma Vase. An antique vase decorated in geometric patterns and simple circular florets. Circa 1890-1913. "MADE IN RUSSIA" in silver on the bottom. 

Soft wood, usually linden, is carved into pieces to be decorated and sealed with a specially-prepared compound. The pieces are polished and coated with several layers of drying oil. After being processed in a kiln or oven, they are again coated, this time with powdered aluminum mixed with linseed oil. In olden times (no longer) tin or silver was used. 

The designs are improvised and never copied from preliminary sketches. This gives each pattern its individuality. When the painting is finished, the pieces are lacquered twice and again subjected to heat. At this point, the aluminum powder acquires the golden colors that is the Khokhloma trademark. The pattern is so completely fused with the wood that the lacquer never peels off, not even in boiling water. Since few paints can withstand heat processing, cinnabar is used for red and soot for black.

The sources of the art of Khokhloma date back to antiquity, but the complex technology and diverse styles used today originated in the 17th century. For hundreds of years Khokhloma painting has amazed the world. The secrets of this art have been passed down from father to son for generations.


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