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Gorokhovets carpentry toy

The main trade of the Gorokhovets district, which was the leader in Vladimir land in terms of the number of forests, has always been carpentry. Local carpenters – yakushas – were known far beyond the borders of their region. It is no coincidence that examples of wooden architecture of the late 19th century decorated with luxurious wooden carvings have become the hallmark of Gorokhovets.

In addition to the high art of unique wooden buildings and house carvings, the cultural heritage of the mid-19th century Gorokhovets yakusha-masters included original carpentry toys. Such toys were called "wood chips", as they were cut with an ax from the waste of carpentry – wood chips and wood chocks. Toy-makers were only men, virtuoso carpenters who mastered the ax work perfectly and understood the artistic potential and properties of wood, especially of soft tree species (linden, aspen). Masters were keen to put all their skill and invention into the toy. In order to interest children they came up with design constructs that could perform simple movements (for example, all the parts of a moving toy were set in motion from one another in the process of playing). Such wooden toys were almost the only joy of the village children.

The forms of toys, sometimes archaic and rude, were prompted by the life itself. Masters depicted what they saw around – animals, birds, women with children and cats in their arms. But since carpenters often worked in cities they also tried to reflect urban details in their toys with a shade of irony. For example, rural women were portrayed as landowners’ wives, in bell-shaped skirts and city blouses, instead of traditional sarafans, but with kokoshniks on their heads. Many local residents were engaged in carting on a large postal and commercial road connecting Gorokhovets with Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. Therefore, common plots of toy-makers were trios of horses with coachmen, horses harnessed into carts or simply individual toy-horses on wheels.

Gorokhovets toys were painted quite brightly, with a predominance of red, orange and yellow tones. Even traditional Gorokhovets horses are red-orange in color. It is believed that it symbolically reflected the faith of our ancestors that the solar disk moved through the sky with the help of fire horses.

The favorite ornament that adorned the carpentry toys was a large petal rosette which can be often seen in the decor of carvings on the eaves of houses and platbands. Besides, patterns on toys consisted of small dots, strokes, straight and wavy lines. The drawings were bright and expressive. The coloring technique itself is interesting: a clean wooden toy was covered with a layer of levkas (couch of chalk mixed with glue), as in icon painting, then it was painted and covered with drying oil, for shine and a characteristic shade.

The Gorokhovets carpentry toy is a rare type of folk wooden sculpture. Today, very few authentic samples of this toy have been preserved. This is due to the fact that no one took this toy seriously, it was made hastily for children's fun, and only in the off-season, usually in winter, when people had less main work. In comparison with the skillful carpentry carving which was in demand in many regions of Russia the toy was not of great value and was not sold at fairs. Carpentry toys were used with practical purposes, they were made for children's fun and remained in the village where the master lived, and when they fell into disrepair, they were thrown out "as unnecessary." Therefore, the Gorokhovets carpentry toy has survived only thanks to the efforts of collectors. Today, samples of the old Gorokhovets toy are presented in the Art and Pedagogical Museum of Toys in Sergiev Posad, in the State Russian Museum, in the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art in Moscow.

Currently, the tradition of creating an original wooden toy is being revived in the work of the Gorokhovets master A.Yu. Klimovich. He maintains and popularizes the manufacturing technology of the Gorokhovets carpentry toy, which is now included in the Unified Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Vladimir Region. The revived carpentry toy adorns the expositions of the Gorokhovets historical and architectural museum. In the framework of events organized by the museum (Yakusha Day, Merchant Day, etc.), master classes in carving and painting of the Gorokhovets toy are held. These carpentry toys, which do not look like any other products, can be purchased as original souvenirs from Gorokhovets.

Author: V. Korolkova