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Wood-carving. Argunovo carving

Wood-carving is an old folk craft. Since ancient times it has been widespread in the areas rich in forests where the residents were mainly engaged in carpentry. These include the Vladimir province where by the 19th century arguns’ and yakushas’ carpentry-oriented areas were formed. The "arguns" lived in Pokrov and Aleksandrov districts and worked mostly in the Moscow region. The "yakushas" worked in the southeast, mainly in Gorokhovets district. 

The Argunovo wood-carving, rooted in the 18th century, brought fame to the carpentry of Vladimir land. It was named after the village of Argunovo which was inhabited by skilled carpenters (Argunovo was located in the territory of the current Petushki district, this village does not exist now). In the 19th century thousands of Argunovo carpenters went to work in large cities every year and became widely known outside their province – in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl, where they were called "arguns". In his famous dictionary V.I. Dahl explains the word "argun" as "Vladimir carpenter."  

The artisan peasant-arguns from the Vladimir province specialized in the manufacture of carved furniture (armchairs, tables, frames), carved church iconostases, slotted and plane patterned decor on the facades of city wooden palaces and peasant houses (cornices, architraves, towel rails).

The Argunovo carving was distinguished by an unusual variety of drawings and, which is the most important, by a combination of ancient pagan symbols (the sun and the harvest, Bereguinyas, the kind house spirits - domovoys, outlandish birds with human faces, epic fairy-tale dragons and mermaids, etc.) with antique columns and half columns, bunches of grapes and branches of noble laurel in the wooden decor. Most of the argun-carvers worked for wealthy customers in the capital and large cities where they acquired elements of European classical culture, which were organically combined in their artistic fantasies with old Russian images passed from grandfathers and great-grandfathers. The Argunovo carved patterns of platbands and iconostases were often painted mainly with the use of pastel and warm colors. This gave the decor a special beauty and exquisiteness. 

Before the beginning of the 20th century almost all houses in the center of Kirzhach were decorated with the Argunovo carvings that gave them a festive look. Unfortunately the Argunovo décor, which had become quite dilapidated during the Soviet years, was dismantled on many facades and replaced with modern, but faceless forms of platbands and cornices. But in the nearby villages, such as Fineevo,  Ilyinskoye, Nikiforovo and others, one can still see the remains of the former luxury – openwork carved ornaments – on the facades of old huts today. 

At the present time there are few masters who are knowledgeable of about the secrets of Argunovo wood carving. And yet this art is not lost and is being revived by the efforts of such enthusiasts as the carver M.Ye. Gashin. The master collected a large number of archival materials, thoroughly studied the features of the Argunovo carving from ancient patterns and preserved samples, watched the work of the descendants of the Argunovo carvers and talked with them. It took Mikhail Gashin more than ten years to complete the restoration of the classical Argunovo style carved iconostasis of the St. George Church in the village of Ilyinskoye, Kirzhach district. The master restored the facade of the pharmacist Zarutsky’ house in Kirzhach built in 1903-1905 (34 Gagarin St.). He is planning to recreate, at least partially, the historical image of the city. Nowadays the Museum of platbands and Argunovo carvings opened in Kirzhach is engaged in the popularization of the ancient craft.

Author: V. Korolkova