June 03, 2000

Golden Khokhloma


Golden Khokhloma

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.

Golden Khokhloma
Gift Shop and Gallery

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

802-223-4955