Russian folk art: Gorodets painting

Posted on July 21st, 2013 at 9:05 pm by

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Russian folk art: Gorodets painting

Gorodets is more than a picturesque old Russian town situated on the left bank of the Volga River 35 miles upstream from Nizhniy Novgorod.  It may have lost its importance in the 12th century as a fortress when its  administrative center was moved to Nizhniy Novgorod. Yet, it has continued to survive through the passing centuries as a little town for 861 years with tourism being its main industry.

Cruise ship on Volga River near Gorodets

There is much more to attract a tourist’s curiosity than just the Childhood, the Samovar, and the Traditional Merchants Lifestyle Museums.  We had come to see the many 19th century wooden houses in Old Town overlooking the Volga.

After we arrived by bus from Nizhniy Novgorod we made our way to the embankment.  We had the embankment all to ourselves.  It was a Monday and everything was closed.  Kind of odd for a city being a tourist destination.  As we walked along the embankment a cruise ship slowly made its way down the river. In the glory days the Volga teemed with all kinds of boats and ships.

Volga River. High water

Something else caught our attention while we walked along the embankment. One very important thing I have discovered from living and traveling in Eastern Europe that public restrooms are difficult to find and not always pleasant when you do.  One public restroom on the embankment was locked,  another was temporarily closed since it was underwater due to spring runoff.

To get to the top of the hill from the embankment where all the wooden house were located, we had to climb a stairway.  Once on top we stopped to look out over the river. The Volga truly is a magnificent river!

Gorodets Embankment from the Hill

We spend several hours walking and enjoying seeing all the individual wooden houses dating back to the 19th century with their carved windows and roofs painted in bright colors, instead of the drab soviet style flats found throughout the former Soviet Union.  Old town had the look and feel of a community that took pride in owning their own homes. The neighborhoods were clean.  Homes were fenced with beautiful landscaped yards, trees, shrubs, flowers and garden spots.  We noticed a few old houses were for sale and talked about what an interesting place it would be to live because all the homes being renovated were maintaining their traditional historical architecture.

Through countless generations Gorodets has survived invaders and nature.  Life wasn’t easy.  Nevertheless, they adapted to the resources available up and down the Volga.  The vast forests provided cheap lumber for building. It also provided artisans and craftsmen the opportunity to develop their talents building furniture and artworks of all kinds.

Since the mid 19th century the artisans and craftsmen have defined and popularized Gorodets’ folk art that is different from other Russian folk painting.  Their style was to decorate with a composition of garlands of roses and daisies surrounded by figures of horses, lions, leopards, imaginary beasts, roosters and birds with scenes of merry making and tea parties outlined in black and white to stress the rhythm and movement of their art.

Gorodets Paintings on Wood

However, it was their wooden distaffs made with intricate carvings, enthrustions and a style of painting that became very popular at the Annual Nizhniy Novgorod Merchant Fair, once the largest in Europe.

Gorodets’ craftsmen today use similar imagery and motifs to make children furniture and toys, decorative panels, caskets, boxes, and various kitchen items like bread bins, and fine salt cellars.

In closing I have added a link to a video that tell more about Gordets’ painting.  It is in Russian.  Nonetheless, you can watch to see how items are produced and painted.