Traditional Russian folk crafts Dymkovo toys
The descriptions of the festival in the local press of the 19th century show its transformation from a calendar rite to a merry celebration with a fair and entertainments where a lot of children delightedly and enthusiastically played with toy whistles. The change in the mode of the festivity brought about new forms and subjects of Dymkovo toys. Though the earliest figures to be found in museums date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their analysis in combination with the information of the local press give an idea of what the craft had been like during the whole of the 19th century, e. g. the character of toys, the subjects, the output, etc.
The chief manufacturers of toys were women and children, who wolked seasonally first, and later throughout the year. As the material, they used the local red clay ehca vated not far from the village. In the second half ot the 19th century dozens of families were engaged in the production of toys which were exported to neighbouring provinces, to the , Volga towns and even to Siberia.
But Dymkovo toys were not imitations of porcelain, rather their evolution was stimulated by it; still rooted in ancient tradition, they developed into an original art, vital and always up-to-date. Gradually the figurines shed the traces of their ritual significance and became a separate branch of folk art, small sculpture with the accentuated decorativeness of moulding and colouristic scheme. Using their idiosyncratic techniques of moulding and ornamentation, the artists of Dymkovo were able to create original compositions with figures full face or in profile, laconic and generalized in plastic quality, fixed in a kind of „static movement”, and to achieve a well—balanced typization in which poetic fantasy blends with actual experience. Alongside with one — piece figures, there are groups of personages placed on one foundation.
The history of Dymkovo toys gives an unprecedented possibility to trace its development during a century and a half, and to determine the role of collective and individual elements in it. The analysis of individual styles of women—artists working in the traditions of different families reveals the innovations that each of them introduced and shows that the art as a collective phenomenon has remained the basis of those innovations. There appeared not only new themes and compositions, but also a new approach to traditional imagery, experimenting with plastic and colouristic variations, creating new types of characters.
Among the women working in Dymkovo an outstanding personality is Anna Mezrina, whose art was a link between the old and the new forms of the toys. The works of Anna Mezrina are characterized by harmony of moulding and colour, grotesque portrayals, variegated themes and motifs. She increased the intensity of colour in decoration. It was her activity that, to a great extent, determined the ways of Dymkovo art.
Uniform as it is in style and artistic idiom, Dymkovo toy art shows two trends, a more traditional one, which is nearer to the canonic form, represented by Anna Mezrina, Elizaveta Koshkina, and others; and the trend that allows for a more natural and spontaneous interpretation of the canons, which is closer to naivete of primitive art. The chief exponents of the trend are Elizaveta and Zoya Penkina.
Tranks to the care and attention of the government and public Dymkovo art has found itself in a highly stimulating atmosphere; the toys have become the most popular among the productions of folk artists. Since old times here exists the system of inheriting professional skills or transmission, literally „from hand to hand“, from the older masters to younger girls. Several generations of the Dymkovo artists have been educated by Olga Konovalova, Zoya Penkina, Evdokia Koshkina, and Ekaterina Koss-Den- shina. They were the first among folk artists to win, in 1967, the Ilya Repin State Prize of the RSFSR. The works of these women are classical examples of Dymkovo art, which are still appreciated and followed by the young. Of special interest is the artistic legacy of Ekaterina Koss. She has proved that a person who is not linked by family relations with Dymkovo can master the system of local art.
One only needs talent and inspiration, expert knowledge of the history of the art and thourough under-standing of the tradition.
Dymkovo toys have become indespen- sable for contemporary Soviet art and culture. In the centre of Kirov a new building for the workshops has been erected; fifty nine girls and women work there, most of them for more than 25 years. Though decorative as always, the art now tends to increase the significance of the subject matter of the toys. This tendency manifests itself in the interest to thematic compositions, both one- and multifigured. Retaining the general principles of traditional art, the artists develop various trends in it. Some are inclined to thematic diversity, others are especially sensitive to plastic beauty, still others — to decorative potentials of coloration.