The decorative art of Soviet Byelorussia

decorative art of Soviet ByelorussiaThe decorative art of Soviet Byelorussia develops on the basis of the national traditions of folk art and modern artistic fashions and techniques with a new approach to the image and principles of decorative expression.

The formation of Byelorussian decorative art took place in the 14th — 18th centuries, the times when many famous handicraft centres appeared. Then Byelorussian wood-carvers, jewellers and weavers worked not only in Byelorussia but also in Muscovy. They adorned the Donskoy and Novodevichve monasteries and the Palace in Kolomenskoye with carved work and tiled the Resurrection Cathedral of the New Jerusalem monastery.

The work of the Slutsk weavers in the 18th century won world fame. Wood-carving is a very traditional craft in Byelorussia. Open carved work embellished houses (window framings, porches and 'pediments). Household utensils were chiselled and riveted, carved by an instrument of triangular section (ladles, bowls, spoons and flasks). Willow, bast, birch bark and straw were widely used in making household utensils. They made ,,syavenkas“ (bast baskets used in sowing), birch bark salt-cellars ornamented with diamond, tooth, dentil and cross patterns, and ,,shiyans“ (willow and straw boxes for keeping food and clothes). Skilfully interlacing red willow with golden straw or osier with roots, they thus turned ordinary household articles into genuine pieces of art.

Byelorussia has large deposits of clays greatly varying in colour and composition, which favoured the development of pottery. All kinds of jugs and howls, dark-faced and varnished and light slipped and glazed, and toys — glazed and painted penny whistles „horsemen“, „young ladies“ and their „ad-mirers“ — were on sale at the fairs and common in every part of Byelorussia.

Woven bed-spreads, coverlets, mats, runners, tablecloths, towels, clothes — andaraks (a kind of skirt), shirts, aprons, nametkas (a lady’s head-dress) and belts — constitute a large group of monumental samples of Byelorussian folk art. With coverlets they covered chests, beds and sledges. These articles are rich in colour and of highly ornamental character and usually made of flax and wool with designs of wonderful variety in which vegetable and geometrical forms predominate. Table-cloths and towels are traditional in material and colour — linen with red ornamental patterns on it, black and yellow threads being often added. The national dress reveals to the utmost the centuries-old traditional techniques of weaving and embroidery, character and arrangement of designs, elaborate colour schemes and composition and a wonderful variety and richness of ornamental forms.

decorative art of ByelorussiaToday in the republic there are 24 art handicraft factories. At the age of technological progress and highly-mechanised production of household utensils the products of potters, weavers, coopers and carvers have become collection specimens, souvenir articles and pieces employed for the purpose of decoration and ornament in urban interiors. The coverlets made by the craftsmen of the Diatlov District (Grodno Region), towels woven in the villages of Neglubka (Gomel Region) and Motol (Brest Region), table-cloths and napkins made in the town of Verkhnedvinsk (Vitebsk Region), dark-faced varnished ceramics from the town of Pruzhany and glazed from the town of Gorodok as well as the vases, howls and coffee and water sets made in the town of Ivenets match well modern urban interiors. The post-war period in the development of Byelorussian folk art started with a marked revival of traditional crafts. Proceeding from the traditional approch to various materials, artists working at handicraft factories produce fine souvenir articles. At the Zhlobin handicraft factory they make toys, ornamental panels, napkins and ancy-bags inlaid with colour or golden straw. Wood is used in making chiselled and painted matreshkas (the „ogovo“ style of painting), mugs (often in combination with birch bark) and ornamental panels. Caskets and boxes arc made of abnormal growths. Osiers arc widely used in making bread, fruit and fancy-work baskets with intricately interlaced patterns.

Every year handicraft enterprises manufacture a vast variety of articles of materials traditionally employed in Byelorussian folk art. The products of the Byelorussian craftsmen were shown with success at many exhibitions at home and abroad.

The post-war years have marked a successful development of Byelorussian porcelain-making. The Minsk porcelain factory having high production capacities manufactures a large variety of articles. A special art laboratory functions here. National peculiarities have already taken shape in Byelorussian porcelain, which can be easily traced in the shapes and decorative designs of the articles. The services, vases and small plastic pieces made after the drawings of the artists working at this factory are original in design and elaborately painted.

The masters of Byelorussian artistic glass-making have worked out their origional style with national peculiarities and are distinguished for their ability of a high order. The Neman glass-works in Grodno, one of the oldest handicraft enterprises in Byelorussia, has won world fame. The products of this factory were given a gold medal and Grand Prix at an international exhibition of glass and ceramics in Prague. The Dzerzhinski glassworks in distinguished for the colouring of its crystalware among the best in the Soviet Union. The enterprise employs rare earths. Our glass-making factories use many techniques and manufacture a wide variety of articles. Taking into account the peculiarities and decorative possibilities latent in the material, the artists produce vases, dinner sets and ornamental plastic pieces adorned with cut, engraved, moulded, pressed or stamped patterns.

I. N. Panshina


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