Such Different Dolls

A doll is one of the most typical toys; it has always been in the focus of attention of fashion and any art trend, it was a “tsar toy”. The word “kukla” (“doll”) has several meanings only in Russian. The first one is a children’s toy in the shape of man. The second meaning is a figure of man or animal in the theatrical performance. And the third one is a full-length figure of a man (The Dictionary of S.I. Ozhegov). The Russian word “kukla” is close to the Greek “kyklos” (“cycle”) that means something wrapped, for instance, a stock or a wisp of straw that girls swaddled and wrapped from time immemorial submitting to the maternal instinct.

The most ancient dolls were found during the archeological excavations in Egypt. They were cut out of wooden boards and decorated with rectangular patterns representing clothing more than 4000 years ago. There were wigs of clay or wooden beads on their heads. Dolls served as ritual symbols in ancient times. They were used in magic spells and mysteries. People believed that they had various magic qualities: dolls could protect a man from evil forces, take illnesses and misfortunes, promote heavy crop. There was such a period when dolls saved people, having replaced them in ceremonies of offering sacrifices. Our ancestors had a terrible custom: they sacrificed people to propitiate the gods. But once somebody suggested sacrificing dolls instead of human beings. They took a usual log, dressed it in a kerchief and a sarafan and offered it in sacrifice.

The most ancient dolls in Russia were found during the archeological digs in Radonezh, Kolomna and Moscow. The Russian doll has glorious and rich history. Since ancient times, a rag-doll was a traditional doll in everyday life of the Russian village even in the poorest peasant families. There were up to 100 of them in some houses. The doll was a symbol of future generations and adults encouraged children to play with them in every possible way. Dolls were handed down from generation to generation. Every girl received the first doll from her mother or grandmother. She kept it and sewed different dresses for it. There was even an omen that if children played with dolls a lot, the family would be prosperous. But if they treated the toys negligently, they would be in trouble. Not only girls played with the dolls. All children did it till the age of 7-8 while they were dressed in shirts. But when boys began to wear trousers and girls - skirts, their playing roles and games themselves were quickly separated. While kids were small, mothers, grandmothers and elder sisters used to sew dolls. Starting from the age of 5, any girl could create such a toy herself: they were made of cones, twigs, leaves, flowers. They even spun threads using nettle to make a doll’s dowry. Dolls were decorated with festive traditional costumes that were different in every region of Russia. The dresses adorned with embroidery were usually bright and beautiful. Ribbons, beads and threads were plaited into their hair. Every girl kept such a doll in the chest with her dowry. Parents married off their daughters early, when they were 14 years old. Most of the newly-made brides hid in the attic and played with the dolls. Then those dolls were handed down to their children and grandchildren.

Adults made plenty of toys, taking it seriously and working with spirit. They usually used improvised materials: straw, clay, wood, bast, cane, corn cobs, roots of herbs, and twigs. People believed that dolls could protect them from evil forces, take their illnesses and misfortunes, and bring them happiness. But they should be made correctly to protect people. Women never used sharp tools for it. They didn’t cut pieces of cloth and threads, but tore and tied them together. Knots served as one more amulet that got in the way of evil forces. Besides, our ancestors never painted dolls’ faces, because they thought that the toy got soul together with the face and thus it became vulnerable for the evil eye. People used such rag-dolls at all stages of their lives: birth, wedding, burial. A mother prepared a doll even before the child’s birth. Then it was put in the cradle to protect it from evil forces. The kid grew up, toddled, and pronounced first words with that doll. When he couldn’t fall asleep for a long time, the mother put a special doll made of patches into his bed. If a woman lost a baby by miscarriage, she also made a doll and nursed it like a son or a daughter. They believed that it would help the soul of the dead to get accustomed to the other world and the mother – to reconcile herself.

A mother presented a hand-made doll to her daughter before wedding. Besides, a birch bear spear decorated with the figures of a bride and a bridegroom was placed in the centre of the wedding pie. The birch symbolized the tree of life the branches of which were a base for a young family. And the husband and the wife seemed to become a centre of small world where love and understanding reigned. Decoration of the newly-weds’ car with a doll is probably echo of that tradition.

Symbolic dolls were also used during other peasant holidays and rites. They saw off winter during the Pancake Week making a straw effigy that was burnt. Semik was made of branches for the Trinity Week and was placed under the birch. People sang and danced in a ring around it and then drowned it in the river at the end of the rite. It seemed that they didn’t attach any importance to the dolls. But now, as time has gone on, it turns out that no holiday was celebrated without the dolls.

Dolls were connected not only with cults and rites in the course of time. In the middle of the 15th century, they started to manufacture toys in Nurnberg. Craftsmen united in guilds and every guild made dolls of a certain type or accessories for them. Nurnberg’s dolls were sold all over Europe. The most expensive and beautiful ones were made in France till the late 17th century where they were by-work of fashion workshops. Dolls were applied to dresses and exported to other European countries and then to the USA where they were very popular with tailors and milliners.

After the reforms of Peter I, dolls were gradually brought to Russia from foreign countries for rich people. English, German and French dolls were sold in special shops. Workshops where dolls were manufactured were founded in Moscow and other cities since the 19th century. Dolls began to turn from simple peasant women to city dwellers dressed in modern clothing corresponding to the season. The so-called “waist-dolls” have come down to us – slender young ladies wearing dresses with a high waist-line. It is known that first masters that dressed dolls were brought to Sergiyev Posad from Moscow in the first half of the 19th century. Women’s doll making craft started to develop there since that time. In the 1970s, they began to produce plastic in the Soviet Union. There were millions of industrial standard toys made by about 900 enterprises. A new kind of art – author’s doll – was created in the 20th century.

There are many various dolls at present: from a set of exact copies of national costumes to mechanically produced plastic Natasha Dolls; from the dolls filled with electronics, talking, walking, and babbling cyber-baby-dolls to the mature Barbie dolls surrounded with plenty of related products. The doll has become an integral part of our everyday life, a kind of reminder of childhood or just a beautiful accessory, an interior design item. Hand-made dolls are very popular in the modern world. People are also reviving the tradition of making rag-dolls. They become a favourite toy as they are made manually and people’s fantasy and soul have been put into them.

Most of the exhibits in the Museum of Town and District History were author’s dolls of M.N. Vasilieva, M.A. Sysoeva, Y.P. Makina and T.V. Trubnikova and dolls from the private collections of I.A. Gostinshchikova and T.V. Trubnikova.

G.A. Koryagina, research officer of the Museum of Town and District History

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