The unique art of Kholmogory bone carving has existed for more than 400 years. The first archive data about this handicraft date back to the 17th century. It was developed by craftsmen of Kholmogory town, which is in the vicinity of Arkhangelsk, and the nearby villages. Since long ago dwellers of the Russian North procured seal bones and walrus tusks in the polar seas and gathered fossil mammoth bones on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. The bone carvings from Kholmogory were notable for excellent craftsmanship and perfected technique. The best carving masters from Kholmogory were invited to work in the Kremlin's Armoury, which performed orders for the tsar’s court.
The flowering of Kholmogory bone carving reached its peak under the reign of Peter the First. The unique works of that time still serve as paragons of artistic decoration and skilful performance for modern bone carvers. The 18th century saw the starting boom of the trade of bone carving. The name of Fedot Ivanovich Shubin, a famous Russian sculptor who came to Saint Petersburg in 1759, became well-known among some persons of consequence thanks to bone carving and pearl work.
Most of the works of Kholmogory masters were all sorts of caskets: large and small, with hipped and flat tops. They also made various sorts of boxes, cases, trays, paper knives, goblets, vases, smoking sets, and varied bijouterie. The masters used different carving techniques: relief and three-dimensional carving, openwork and engraving with colouring.
Just like most of the folk Russian arts and crafts, Kholmogory bone carving underwent a crisis in the late 19th century. By the early 20th century the art nearly ceased to exist, with only few masters sustaining the handicraft. The revival started in the early 1930s, when a new professional college was open to train young carvers. The art was blossoming again in the early 1960s, with a young generation of masters. The achievement of that time was the natural base in creation, when they came to use technically less complicated, but much more expressive motifs of Kholmogory carving.
One of the remarkable methods of Kholmogory art is the engraved composition with a plot. The engraving motifs are developed with understanding of both local traditions and extensive traditions of Russian bone engraving in general.
A typical feature of modern bone carving is certainly the artists’ increasingly individual approach to their creations.
The Artistic Carving Factory in Lomonosovo Settlement now produces both mass consumption goods and unique artistic items of walrus and mammoth tusks. The handicraft is not getting old; it is young both in looking for new ways in art, and in the constant inflow of young creative fresh blood.
Kholmogory masters display vivid creative thinking and insight into national motifs. Their skilful dainty works make a splendid integral part of Russian decorative and applied arts.