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Mezen Painting on Wood
September 24, 2009 09:15

Mezen Painting as one of the Russian folk handicrafts originated in the early 19th century. Folk artists used it to decorate most of the household items that accompany man throughout his life entire, bringing beauty and joy into it. Mezen painting also took an important part in façade and interior design of izba (log huts). River Mezen’ located in the Arkhangelsk Region runs between the largest rivers of Northern Europe: Severnaya Dvina and Pechora, on the border between taiga and tundra. During long winter evenings Russian people who lived there expressed their feelings, hopes and beliefs in painting of household utensils: trunks, boxes, ladles, distaffs, etc.

The oldest dated distaff with Mezen painting is dated to the year 1815, though ornamentation motifs of suchlike painting can be found in manuscript books created in Mezen area in the 18th century. Speaking about the style of Mezen painting it can be referred to the most archaic types of painting that have lived to see the 21st century.

Mezen painting is first of all its original ornaments, which is attracting and enchanting, in spite of its seeming simplicity. The items decorated with Mezen painting seem to be glowing from inside, spreading the kindness and wisdom of ancestors. Every detail in Mezen ornament patterns is deeply symbolic. Every little square and diamond, leaf and branch, beast and bird are put just in the right place to be able to tell us the story of the forest and the wind, the earth and the sky, thoughts of the artist and ancient images of northern Russian Slavs.

The origin of Mezen painting ornamentation remains a mystery. The original profound symbols deserve to be seriously studied by researchers. The symbols of Mezen painting are rooted in mythological beliefs of the people of the ancient North. For example, the frequent use of many-tier patterns suggests following the shamanic tradition. The tree tiers stand for the three realms: the lower, middle and upper, i.e. the underground, above-ground and heavenly realms. That is the basis of shamanic world-view of many peoples of the North. The symbols of animals, birds, harvest, fire, sky and other elements are extremely ancient, rooted in the rock paintings, and represent a sort of ancient writing that pass on the traditions of peoples of the North of Russia. Thus, for example, the image of a horse in the tradition of peoples that inhabited this land from of old, symbolizes the sunrise, whereas the image of a duck stands for the course of nature: the duck takes the sun to the underwater realm and keeps it there till dawn. The image of the horse for the people of the Russian North also served as an amulet (often put on the roof ridge), and the symbol of the sun, fertility, and the source of earthly blessings.

In Mezen painting the lower and the middle tiers are filled with deer and horses, whereas birds inhabits the upper one. The strings of black and red horses in the tiers may possibly symbolize the realms of the dead and living. Numerous solar signs surrounding the horses and deer seem to highlight their unearthly origin. The tiers are divided with horizontal stripes that are filled with repeated patterns. Naturally, all the painting is only handmade, and filled with the warmth of hands and thoughts of the artists, who are descendants of old Mezen masters.

In the late 19th century Mezen painting concentrated in the village of Palashchelye (hence is the second name of this painting style), which was first recorded as the centre of painting on wood in 1906.

Traditionally the items decorated with Mezen painting are two-coloured: red and black (sinder and ochre, later red lead). The painting was applied on ungrounded wood with a special wooden stick, a feather of a wood grouse or a black grouse, and a brush made of man’s hair. Further on the item was covered with drying oil, which added golden colouring to it.

Presently, on the whole, the traditional technology and technique is still preserved, with the only exception that bushes are used more extensively. Some inner difference can also be felt due to the fact that initially painting was performed by men only, whereas nowadays women painters are prevailing in number.


Tags: Russian Arts and Crafts Russian Wood Painting    

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