On Off
Normal site version

Clay Toys 19th - 20th cc.


Dymkovo Toys

The Museum-Reserve possesses  a large collection of folk clay toys from the famous centers: Dymkovo, Kargopol, Gorodetsky, Zhbannikov, Filimonovo, Orel and  Skopin. It  can be regarded as  one of the best collections in Russia. Pottery  has existed  on earth for centuries and millennia. And so might clay toys, that are a peculiar and somewhat  mysterious sphere  of  folk art.  Since the hoary  antiquity  they  have preserved  small  plastic forms with  their own range of colors and their specific  painted and  molded  decoration.  Clay toys present  is a particular aspect  in  folk  art: their  function was not always significant. Many molded and painted figurines were not for game, they were interior decorations, like porcelain statuettes.   Yet, traditionally they are called toys.

Clay toys from Dymkovo  settlement  near  Vyatka  (Kirov)  are  perhaps most famous. They are widely represented in many museums. For many people, the very concept of Russian clay toys is  associated with Dymkovo figurines and whistles. Female artisans’ art  is rooted in  remote ages.  The 19th  century samples, that  can be referred to the earlier period of  Dymkovo toys, are very rare. They are  nothing like  bright, multi-colored toys of  contemporary Dymkovo.

The old  and contemporary  Dymkovo  characters are numerous and diverse. They  are  ladies, officers and horsemen; young ladies and gentlemen walking and boating; nurses; water carriers, milkmaids and riders; real and fabulous  animals and birds.  Usually they are free-standing figures.  There  are  few genre compositions on the platform, dating back  to the earlier period.  The most numerous group includes toys-whistles.

    In the index of the Vyatka Handicraft Department we meet the name of Anna Afanasiyevna Mezrina (1853-1938), the very first Dymkovo craftswoman, whose works became widely known. Her  earliest toys, known in the  museum collections are ladies with umbrellas, lady and gentleman going for a walk, nanny with children, water  carrier. They are distinguished by  thin  clay, graceful  poses, somewhat gloomy, yet refined, coloring. Due to the common interest in folk toys and works of Denshin, the end of  the 1910s – the 1930s became the heyday of  art  and glory of Anna Afanasievna Mezrina   

 In 1934, the workshop of clay toys was opened  at the factory of gypsum  products in Dymkovo. In the 1930s – 1940s,  the bright page in history of  Dymkovo toys  was connected  with art  of  E. A. Koshkina and E. I. Penkina. They both originated from the artisan families, and each had  her  own artistic  style. In the  works of the early 1930s dark coloring  was characteristic. Dark- green, black, brown with a rare addition of solferino  and yellow prevailed. The toys, created by Penkina,  were recognized by the stubby figures. They were strikingly varied in molded and painted details.  Penkina’s  fantasy  found  new variants of  costumes and  ornamental patterns usually composed  of  the  favorite motifs:  rings, circles, ovals.

Penkina’s toys, made probably after 1938, should be regarded as team-works, created in collaboration with two craftswomen  – E. I. Koss-Denshina (1901-1979) and L.N.   Nikulina (1906-1961). They marked a special period in her art. E. Koss-Denshina (1901-1979) was the only State Repin prize  winner (1967), who did not belong to any of the Dymkovo dynasties. However,   a lot of her images harmoniously entered the circle of  Dymkovo  small-size sculptures. In the 1930s, she helped to paint E. I. Penkina’s toys. Since 1936,  she painted them herself, as  the  elder craftswoman’s  eyes completely weakened

  In 1943, at the all-Union Folk Toys Competition in Moscow, the  Dymkovo group including  E. A. Koshkina, E. I. Penkina, O. I. Konovalova, E. I. Koss received the first prize “For specimens of creative works”.  In 1944, E.I. Koss became  a member of the USSR Union of Artists.  In the 1950s,  a new stage in her art started. She paid  more attention to  molding and creating the images of  ladies, nannies, water carriers, riders and other traditional characters.

   As Mezrina’s toys, the works of  Koss-Denishina impress with their plastic perfection, they are expressive even without painting. Her female figures are very shapely. They combine conventional Dymkovo molding with correct anatomy and sculptural expressiveness, like the toys of the 19th century. E.I. Koss-Denshina’s toys are easily recognizable. She worked out  her own style. Her toys are marked with the artist’s precise eye and her ability to emphasize the features typical of this or that character. 


Kargopol Toys

The Kargopol toys constitute the most numerous group in the Museum collection.  The basic group (362 items) contains the  works, made  by  Ivan and Ekaterina Druzhinin, their namesakes  Egor and Uliana Druzhinin and their daughter  Lubov, Anastasia Barkhatova, M. Voronova, N. Ya. Zamyatina, A.V. Babkina  in the village of Grinyevo (Kargopol district,  Arkhangelsk region)  in autumn and winter of 1936 – 1937.  The toys were named after the place of their origin. The Kargopol toys reached the same level, as the toys from Vyatka and other centers. They are not just toys for children. Wise adults can also “play” with them

In the 1930s, the restoration of  the traditional folk art centers involved the Kargopol districtб as well. Good opportunities for the individual development were provided. The toys  of  Ivan and Ekaterina Druzhinin are  among  the best samples both  in Kargopol, and  in Russia. The statuesque figurines are covered with ornament of  delicate color treatment. Like in  other toy centers, the images are birds, horses, deer, bears, goats, sheep, dogs and some variants of female characters.

 I. V. Druzhinin’s toys  represent plenty fantastic animals,  distinguished  by the   expressive figurative characteristics. Some toys  are rather  complicated in composition, like  the dog, tracking  down  birds sitting on the tree; children playing with dogs;  farmer feeding a duck, etc. No other museum possesses such a diversity of  genre scenes, queer  themes  and characters. The close connection with peasant culture  gives some reasons to the  archaic Kargopol forms  and their particular  place among folk clay toys

In the 1970s, Uliana Babkina was the most famous Kargopol toy-maker. Her toys were  laconically painted. The head and hands of  human figures were painted white,  the clothes were large color spots with ornaments. The animal heads were whitewashed, the eyes and sometimes eyebrows  were painted with the brush strokes;  horns, tails and legs were outlined in a colored contour. The backs were  decorated with a fishbone ornament, the sides – with large red circles and sidelong crosses. She used  glue tempera and gouache, occasionally  water color or in what was sent and brought by her numerous guests and customers.


Gorodets toys

The Gorodets district in the  Nizhny Novgorod region is a famous wood-carving  center, but the manufacture of clay whistles - "reed pipes"  is a  little-known folk craft. The clay toys were traditionally made in the village  of  Zhbannikovo.  In the early 1930s,   a young  artisan  Larion   Trifonovich Potatuyev (1912-1941) developed  a new trend.  At that time his  name was  inseparable from the  Gorodets clay whistles, like the names of  Ivan V. Druzhinin and Ulyana Babkina   from the  Kargopol clay toys. Making whistles, he  sometimes turned to more complex forms, creating roosters, or combining  a conic  whistle with a  human figure.


In the  1950s -  1980s,  a young talented  craftswoman  Praskovia Stepanovna Timofeyevna (b. 1925)  from the village of  Ryzhukhino  made whistles: cockerels, lambs, cows and other animals. She seldom turned to large forms. Her small, diverse and shapely toys favorably differed from other local figurines.

   In the 1980s, a native craftsman Venedikt  Stepanovich Sirotkin (1928-1985) successfully worked in Zhbannikovo.  He created more complicated forms of  whistles: birds with relief  molded wings and fan-shaped tails, horses, lambs, etc . 

The techniques of  whistle decoration were preserved. The molded toys were put in close rows on the boards and dried in the shade for several days. Then they were fired and glazed in bright red, orange, yellow, green and blue colors. The whole toy was covered with one color. Then aluminum paint  was applied for the  animal horns, ears, hooves, tail ends and the bird combs. Several spots  of  contrasting glaze  made  the toys look like  “Khokhloma”.

Filimonovo  toys 

The clay toys from Filimonovo village ( Odoyevsky district, Tula region)  are represented by the  samples of  the 1950s – 1970s. They are real works of folk art  perfectly reflecting traditional worldview and  aesthetic ideals of  Russian peasants. Tall ladies with thin waists and  disproportionately small heads in wide bell-shaped skirts, riders on funny  horses with  giraffe necks, fantastic striped animals  were very attractive.

The unusually  bright toys decorated with pink, yellow, blue and green geometric patterns, differed  greatly from the  well-known Dymkovo ladies, water carriers and riders. They became a discovery for many connoisseurs, as well as,  for the majority of specialists in Russian art. The millennial tradition could be traced  in their silhouettes, shapes, ornaments. They are  similar to the 10th – 11th century  clay figures, found during the archeological excavations in Kiev. But, perhaps,  most of all, the  Filimonovo  toys with their modeling  and painting   resembled ancient Greek terracotta sculptures..

Few old toys  of  the mid- 19th  - early 1930s,  preserved  just in several museums,  prove  that they can be estimated as the best Felimonovo works.  The contemporary specimens, richly represented  in the  museums and private collections, are mainly referred to the late 1950s  -  1970s.

Almost all Filimonovo toys, regardless of  the images, are whistles. The bird – the favorite image in all toy centers – was frequently and variously repeated in Filimonovo.  There were many variants of "ducks", "roosters" and "chickens". The original Filimonovo style was preserved by the eldest native craftswomen:  A. G. Karpova (1911 – 1992) and  members of the USSR  Union of Artists:  A. F. Maslennikova  (1910 – 1970) and  A. I. Derbeneva (1909 – 1990). Now the Filimonovo tradition is maintained by  E. A. Orlova (the granddaughter of  A. I.  Derbeneva and A. F. Maslennikova).

Orel and Kursk toys

Neither Kursk clay toys made in the 1930s, nor  Orel toys of  the 1960s  prompt by their appearance. Despite some new details, they are archetypal symbols of peasant art sticking to the ancient traditions.

The earliest reference appeared in “The Orel Province Bulletin” of 1866: “Pottery in …Pleshkovo of the Livensky district”;   “ The Orel Province Index” of 1880 stated: “The craft is ancient”. The Pleshkovo images were not varied. They were popular peasant characters - ladies, horsemen, cows, roosters.

 The toys look so archaic, as if they are  not the 20th century works, but ancient archaeological finds. They were made in a somewhat rough manner; their  forms were rounded and  softened, their contours -  indistinct. Working in the same style, the craftswomen treated the images in their own manner.  Malutina’s whistles were small in size, Ivanilova’s  toys were  larger and more diverse. Malutina’s favorite characters were horses and ladies. Ivanilova  molded dogs, cows and sheep in addition.  Her figures, rough yet expressive, indicate her individual manner.

The Voronezh and Kursk figurines, made in the  1930s, were similar in their peasant aspect  to the whistles, made in the 1970s by the sisters Uliana Ivanovna Kovkina and  Olga Deriglazova and also  Valentina Venediktovna Kovkina from the village of Kozhlya  in the  Kursk region.

According to the elder natives, whistles were made in Kozhlya from times immemorial. Many people made toys, so it was difficult to sell them at the local Sunday bazaars and fairs, organized five times a year. The favorite Kursk colors were brightest blue, red, yellow and green. Among the red shades crimson was preferred. All these toys, regardless of the time when they were made, represented typical peasant works, usually called "peasant primitive", considering their pictorial manner.

Skopin Toys

The town  of Skopin, situated on the left bank of the  Verda reiver   in the Southern part  of the Ryazan region, is fairly famous for the  original  ceramic vessels. Known since the second half of the 19th  century, they became the main branch  among  the contemporary Skopin handicrafts. The Skopin toys are mainly expressive figures of animals: chiefly   bears and  “soldiers” on horseback. Less frequent are compositions on the small platforms, obviously designed as statuettes for the  chests of drawers rather than children toys

Skopin toys collecting in Sergiev Posad began in 1937, when the Moscow Museum of Folk Handicrafts was housed in the Lavra buildings.  Dozens of clay toys, including Skopin specimens, were transferred from the State Tretyakov gallery and the State Russian Museum.

The main characters, including animals and birds, bear, horsemen and ladies, are typical of folk toys in all centers. But in Skopin, as elsewhere, local techniques of assembling, molding and decoration were formed. The Skopin toys are original, they can not be confused.

    In  October, 2003, the Museum expedition acquired several works made on the models of  old toys by the contemporary craftswomen I.A. Yakushina and T.A. Kiseleva.  The smoky-grey  birds are exceptionally good. The craftswomen also try to decorate toys with boiling in different blends  (flour, milk, kvass, and even beer) to gain the variety of  color (from light beige to red-brown).