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Filimonovo Clay Toys
July 28, 2009 22:00

These wonderful handmade ornamented clay toys are a famous handicraft of the village of Filimonovo in the Tula Region. Here lived the last masters who revived the forgotten art in the 1960s. Deposits of fine white clay are located near the village.

A legend says that once upon a time there lived Elder Filimon there, who actually originated the toy tradition here. The toys are amusing and fanciful, but at the same time simple in manner and very expressive. The majority of Filimonovo toys are traditional whistles. The subject matter is also traditional: the figurines depict ladies, peasant women, soldiers, dancing couples, horsemen, and animals, such as cows, rams with crumples horns, and the fox with the cockerel, as well as mysterious creatures, whose prototypes are hard to define.

The toy trade was started by local potters in the mid 19th century. Thanks to white clay of excellent quality they produced clay earthenware and sold it in the local markets starting from the 16th century. Just like in most of the pottery trades the masters worked together with their families. So men would make only pottery and women sculpted and painted toys. The art of Filimonovo toys still remains women’s trade.

Abundant deposits of clay, as rich and soft as butter, were extremely favorable for making toys. These were the peculiar qualities of the clay that determined such an unusual style of the figurines: they all have stretched necks and legs, and prolonged proportions in general. The thing is that rich clay shrinks and cracks when drying, so an artist has to adjust it several times before the toy is completely dry. When adjusting it, they could not but stretch it – this is how the unique Filimonovo style appeared.

The Filimonovo toys have few details. The ladies have long bell-shaped skirts, smoothly broadening downwards. The skirt seems too large against the upper part of the body. The head and the neck are almost of the same volume; on the head there is a hat or a peasant headgear (1), (2), the povoinik.

Figurines of men (these are most often cavaliers or soldiers) are high, long-legged, and wearing typical costumes - a military uniform with shoulder stripes, a peaked cap or a hat, and high heeled boots. The high heels provide an additional support for the figurine. Strangely, soldiers often hold a bird under one’s arm.

Filimonovo craftswomen paint their toys with bright aniline paints mixed with eggs, and brush it on with a hen’s feather. In spite of the laconic palette, consisting of crimson, green, yellow and blue colours, the toys are painted bright and cheerful.

The toys painting pattern is also made traditional: horses, cows and rams are painted in stripes, whereas figurines of people are decorated using all the ornamental elements (coloured stripes, dots, ovals, stars, triangles, etc.) in various combinations. The ornamental details can be deciphered: a circle stands for the Sun, a triangle denotes the Earth, herring-bones and spires symbolize vegetation, growth and life. All these patterns remind us of man-and-nature relation. The faces of figurines of people always remain white, the eyes, mouth and nose just slightly outlined with small strokes.

Toys from Filimonovo village are truly cheerful, combining roughness and grace, expressiveness of the silhouette and symbolism of pattern, humour and good-nature.


Tags: Folk Toys Clay Toys Ceramics   

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