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Birch-bark wares

Since ancient times, the manufacture of birch-bark wares has been an important folk craft in Russia, where birch was one of the most common types of tree species. Craftsmen of Vladimir land were engaged in birch-bark works practically everywhere. Sometimes residents of the whole villages mastered this skill. Birch-bark was considered an excellent material suitable for processing and manufacturing various products. In central Russia it was available and used for the most diverse needs. Since the 11th century birch-bark was applied as a material for writing in Russia. Birch-bark manuscripts are invaluable as a historical source.

Due to its strength and flexibility birch-bark has long been used for making dishes. Birch-bark is water proof, so it was used for making birch-bark boats, its waterproofing properties were applied in construction. Also bast shoes and children toys were made of birch-bark. Birch-bark products were an indispensable part of routine folk life.

However, with the development of modern technologies, the utilitarian value of birch-bark products decreased sharply, and this folk craft was practically lost. In Vladimir land the production of birch-bark wares is being revived today in Sudogoda, Kolchugino, Vyazniki, Murom, Suzdal districts. Sergey Kunov and his wife Yelena (the settlement of Golovino, Sudogoda district) have been engaged in the artistic processing of birch-bark in their family workshop for almost a quarter of a century.

S.P. Kunov studied the birch- bark craft independently by means of books as well as with the help of craftsmen of Krasnoyarsk Krai and Kemerovo Region (first of all, with the help of the well-known craftsman of Russia Yu.M. Mikhaylov). Nowadays Sergey Kunov preserves the traditions of the ancient handicraft in Vladimir land. The master craftsman prepares birch-bark by himself, meticulously selecting the material for each item on the basis of its elasticity, color and other properties. He developed more than ten original types of birch-bark boxes (containers for storing food and drinks) with unique intricate patterns and drawings, carving, braid and embossing.

Ye.I. Kunova, inspired by her husband’s art, also began to work with birch-bark. Her original products – jewel-cases, vases, figures of people and animals, decorations and accessories – are distinguished by subtle variations in the color and texture of birch-bark. 

Sergey Kunov and Yelena Kunova maintain the traditions of birch-bark craft, teach children and youth of Sudogoda district to apply the ancient methods of birch-bark processing. They regularly participate in regional exhibitions of arts and crafts, craft fairs and folk art festivals. Birch-bark works of the Kunovs masters are presented in the expositions of the Regional House of Folk Art, the collections of museums in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Novosibirsk and Kemerovo Regions, and in private collections.

Author: V. Korolkova