Saturday, June 03, 2000
Along the banks of the Volga River, there is a village called Khokhloma (pronounced: HOK-la-ma). It is surrounded by forests of aspen and birch trees. Over 300 years ago, the villagers found that their growing community could not sustain itself with the limited crops they were able to grow. Rather than cut down their beautiful forests to make room for more farm land, they came up with a way for the trees to provide them with an exportable product. This export was, then, traded for food and other goods. The product was wooden utensils crafted from the local trees.
Khokhloma became a trading center in the Transvolga region. It became quickly known for its unique, hand crafted wooden items. It is said that Boyar B.I. Morozov ordered large quantities of Khokhloma's cups and eating utensils and had them shipped to Moscow in the 17th century.
As the residents of Khokhloma were developing their wood working skills, nearby painters discovered a new way to process beautiful, yet permanent, painting techniques. By using tin, extreme heat and lacquer, they were able to create the appearance of a gilded gold finish. The painters and wood crafters joined their talents to produce Golden Khokhloma.
The craft is still practiced today, using the original techniques and elements. First, seasoned soft wood is hand carved to create spoons, bowls, cups, vases, small pieces of furniture and ornaments. Next, the pieces are dried in a kiln, then covered with clay and placed in the kiln, again. Each piece is hand rubbed and polished using three coats of oil which forms a sticky surface. Tin, or modern powdered aluminum, covers the pieces before their third trip to the kiln. The result is a bright silverish color.
Now, the painters go to work. Each piece is hand decorated and no two are ever alike. The charm of Khokhloma is in the creative patterns of the individual artisans. Typically, only four colors are used; green, black, gold and red. Patterns usually include leaves, berries and flowers. The entire piece is not painted. The idea is to leave a good deal of the silver metal cover exposed. After the painting is done, the piece gets a generous coating of lacquer and a fourth trip to the kiln. It is during this firing that the lacquer covered tin turns to a vibrant gold. Due to the intense heat of the kiln, the painted decoration is literally baked into the wood and cannot peel or wear off.
Golden Khokhloma is still produced today and is a favorite among folk art collectors, worldwide.