The Matryoshka nesting dolls are the most famous Russian toy. A symbol of Russia and considered to be a phenomenon in the folk art world.
The word “Matryoshka” comes from one of the more common names for female women in Russia. Provincial (village) Russians often called their ladies “Matryona” or “Matryoshka.” This name was derived from the Latin “ma-ter,” which means, of course, “mother.” The name was associated with the image of a strong, healthy, woman of a big family. Today, the name has become the symbol of motherhood and fertility. The dolls which nestle inside one another and have been beautifully hand-crafted and hand-painted, represent the family.
Nesting Doll Making
The basic technique of nesting doll making remains unchanged. As a rule nesting dolls are made from lime, birch, alder or aspen. Lime is the most abundant material. The trees chosen to make the nesting dolls are cut down at the beginning of Spring, usually in April when the trees are full of sap. The felled trees are stripped of their bark leaving a few rings to prevent the wood from cracking. The logs prepared in this way with their butt-ends smeared over are arranged in piles with a clearance between them to allow aeration.
The logs are kept in the open air for two years. Only an experienced master can tell when the material is ready. Then the logs are cut into workpieces for nesting dolls. Every workpiece can be turned as many as 15 times before the nesting doll will be ready. Making a doll on a turning lathe requires high skills, an ability to work with a beguilingly small set of tools – a knife and chisels of various length and shape.