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Friday, June 6, 2014

Russian Toys

Russian wooden motion toys from Bogorodskoye village

Bogorodskoye is a small village 25 km away from Sergiev Posad, in the Moscow region. Sergiev Posad and its suburbs have long been considered “Russian toys capital” because practically everybody here was involved in the process of making different toys. These wooden toys are still popular all over Russia because they are funny, unique and made only of natural wood. Besides, they are one of the best possible ways to teach your child hand coordination.

What do Bogorodskoye toys look like and why are they called motion toys?

Here are some examples from our online store. Aren’t they cute?
Russian Toy - Drumming Bear with Bunny Toy Russian Toy - Yellow Pecking Hens Toy Russian Toy - Chopping Wood
In case with the first two toys pictured here, you just need to hold onto the handle and make a circular motion so the ball starts to swing. (see what we mean) And then the hens start pecking, the bear starts playing the drums and the bunny taps his foot. The third toy functions a bit differently. The figures move when you pull on one end while holding on to the other. Children of all ages love those toys. Plus the handles are very comfortable for the kids to hold.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Flag_of_Bogorodskoe_%28Moscow_oblast%29.pngTraditional Bogorodskoye toys are unpainted carved figures of animals, birds and people of all professions: musicians, smiths, dancers, woodcutters etc. Usually the figurines do simple everyday tasks like fishing, hammering, pecking etc. but in order to set them in motion you need to move your hand or pull a plank. The most famous toy pictures a man and a bear. That’s why you can see it on the flag of Bogorodskoye village.

There are three types of Bogorodskoye toys:

  1. Traditional “blacksmiths” where two rocking figurines are balanced on the opposite ends of a plank. This type of toys appeared at an early stage of wooden sculpture development in Russia, so the figurines are usually quite primitive, the shapes are rough and the figures are pretty flat. However these toys are very easy to manufacture, so they are very common. And they are most loved by the children.
  2. The second type of Bogorodskoye toys is represented by the toys made of triangular blocks of wood. Though the toys may depict noble women and cavalrymen, their shapes actually resemble the pre-Christian wooden sculptures from the ancient times. In the carving process the master mainly relies on the wood properties, so the result of the work is generally unpredictable.
  3. The third type of toys appeared on the basis of the Moscow art style and represents fully developed sculptural forms with even the slightest details captured by the master. These toys are rare and can hardly ever be found in souvenir stores. You can see them in museums and private collections around the world.

How did these toys appear?

There is no doubt that wooden toys are very old. In Russia the toy-making craft was traditionally centered around the Northern Russia, the Volga region, and the Moscow region.
If you’ve been following our blog for some time, you have probably guessed that there’s some kind of a legend behind these toys. And you guessed right! People say that back in the 17th century there lived a peasant family and the mother once carved a toy of linden wood just to amuse the little children. The children loved the toy, so they played and played with it. But, as it often happens with kids, they lost interest in the toy after some time, so they put it in a far away corner of the house and forgot about it. When the father of the family found it he decided to take it to the local market and try to sell it. Imagine his total surprise when a local merchant got so interested in that little toy that not only he bought it, but also ordered more fun toys just like that one! Supposedly, that is how these toys appeared.
The real date of the craft origin is hard to tell. It is clear though that the craft existed back in the 17th century in the monastery of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius at Sergiev Posad. So the toy handicraft was gradually adopted by the villages nearby. At first the craftsmen of Bogorodskoye made only toy parts and sent them to Sergiev Posad to be assembled, but later they mastered the complete process.
Just like other types of traditional Russian handicraft, the toy-making trade was a family business. Parents started training children in woodworking skills very early, and each family specialized in a certain type of toys: one family carved birds, another carved animals etc.
The popularity of Bogorodskoye toys reached its highest peak in the Soviet times. That’s when the village became the center of manufacturing wooden carved toys. In 1923 the Bogorodskoye Wood Carver cooperative was founded and soon a wood carving school was established there, too. The Soviet government supported the handicraft as well as it only could. Besides, these toys depicted scenes from ordinary, mostly rural life, so they posed no threat to the country regime. At that time the most popular toys were the moving ones. That’s when the range of motifs expanded and included scenes from fairy-tales, literature and everyday life of people in the city. In the 1960s the bear became the most popular and widely used image used in the toys, which is pretty natural because it is the main character in many Russian fairy tales and songs. According to the Russian mythology, a bear is a very special creature. It is the closest to human beings in its character. So it’s really no wonder that the most popular Bogorodskoye toy is so-called “Blacksmiths” featuring the figurines of a bear and a man. Then after Gagarin’s space flight in 1961 the Bogorodskoye craftsmen even made a toy featuring a bear in a spaceship. So the craft continues to develop, even though now it is experiencing a threat from Chinese fakers whose toys are not so well-made, but are cheaper than the Russian originals. Modern toys often feature humans or animals playing chess, or operating a computer, or playing a balalaika etc.

How are these toys made?

The toys are normally made of linden, lime, ash or willow tree because those types of trees are very soft and can dry in the open air. The tools that toy makers use are a hatchet, a knife with a short curved blade, and a set of different round cutters. At first the master prepares the blank of the future toy. Then the toy is shaped with a chisel and a sharp knife, and only after that it is sandpapered and lacquered. It is very easy to tell if the toy is handmade or not: the handmade toy has tiny details and accurate proportions. Handmade toys are also more expensive than the factory-made toys because handwork is a lot more complicated and delicate. The toys are made mostly by women and the degree of the details and the skill with which the toys are made is simply unbelievable. When you are looking at the figurines, it seems as if they came from a fairy-tale and stayed with us to show that miracles are possible, and fairy-tales do come true!

Check out our collection of wooden carved traditional toys for children.  These toys are great! They develop hand coordination and kids’ imagination, and they are totally safe because they are made of natural wood. You will never regret your purchase, we promise!

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