Russian Lacquer Books
- Reference Martin's answer to Dr. Devenyi's inquiry, I have the book he's
referred to, and would highly recommend the "swap" with him. The word
Palekh, which is also the title of the book, has come to denote a specific
Russian school of art but it actually began in a large trading village in
Central Russia by that name. Now it is an administrative center in the
Ivanovo region near a river called Paleshka.
This art started in the 17th century when the peasants took up various
crafts, and specifically, a particular form of icon painting. Now, of
course, it's associated with the very subtle miniatures that decorate black
lacquered boxes and brooches and now the covers of the little books. Not only
does the book give you a full history of it's progression as an artform, but
the illustrations are mind boggling to anyone who appreciates art.
Unfortunately, the book does not carry an ISBN number; it was published
in Moscow in 1975 and the English translation was published in 1981.
There is also a second book entitled Russian Lacquer, Legends and Fairy
Tales by Lucy Maxym who first started importing this form of Russian art in
the form of the little lacquer boxes we see so much of today. This book
tells you how the papier-mache articles are made and some wonderful
information about the four villages that are now involved in this art. This
book explains the process in more understanding detail (rather than the full
progression of the artform itself from the murals and icon paintings, etc.
forward) as we're now accustomed to seeing it expressed. It covers the
village of Palekh where it all began and the villages of Khoku, Fedeskino,
and Mstera where it is also practised. This book was published in 1981 and
carries an ISBN number of 0-940202-01-8 and was printed in the US. It's
possible it could be obtained through an antiquarian dealer or it may even
still be in print as I've seen it offered in catalogs along side selections
of the little boxes.
As mentioned above, this book also explains the complete process a little
better, from the making of the paper mache boxes, multiple coats of lacquer,
extensive drying periods between each step, cleaning and sanding after each
coat until that glass-like finish is achieved, and finally, the artist gets
the box (cover), where a coating of zinc or titanium is applied and the
actual painting begins. The colors are applied in a strict succession
afterwhich the gold leaf process begins. When all this is completed, it goes
through additional polishing and lacquering, all done by hand and with cloths
of increasing fineness. From start to finish, it takes a minimum of from 45
to 60 days. These procedures are followed with slight variations in all four
villages. I can only assume the same process is used in the covers of the
little books, or at the very least, a close approximation of same.
Paper mache is chosen instead of wood for very good reason. The end
product will never be affected, after all the complicated treatment it
undergoes, by changing atmospheric conditions; it will neither warp, crack,
nor craze and the smooth base for the painting is one that could not be
achieved with even the finest wood.
No wonder we admire these works of art. They are an artistic achievement
and a monetary value that's remarkable and really worth understanding from
the artistic point of view as well as in covers of the little book gems we
are now seeing. In one person's opinion, this is an extraordinary art that
has bridged the gulf from fine art to commercial without sacrificing one
ounce of it's beauty, integrity, or value in the process, offered at a price
which the average person can afford. Barbara