Horse. Hobbyhorse. Pony

Life of people was connected with nature. Economy and everyday life submitted to the change of seasons; sowing, mowing and harvest were holidays of all the people and were consecrated with some rites. People had a lot of work. Natural materials, wood and clay were used to make necessary household articles. They were abundantly decorated with carving and bright painting and thus turned into remarkable works of folk art. They accompanied people from birth to death.

The image of the horse was one of the most ancient in the folk art.

The significance of many symbols was lost to time, but the symbol of the horse remains one of the most important during the history of humanity. It always personified strength, good, sun, beauty, generosity, allegiance and faithfulness for people. This is probably the reason why it was widely presented in Russian folklore - songs, epic and tales; in folk applied arts – painting, wood carving, ceramic toy, metal art and folk embroidery.

Horses were necessary not only for people, but also for gods. Svarog, god of the sun, travelled across the sky in his chariot bringing the dawn. Perun was the god of thunder and lighting who rode in a chariot across the sky.

The horse was the first assistant in the peasant farm and a kind companion in all deeds. Therefore depiction of horsemen and horses was an eternal image in the peasant art. Every master depicted a usual image, but all of them were different. The guarding meaning of the horse served as a basis for ridgepoles that were not only a necessary structural detail of the house (they were cut out with an axe from a root of a large larch, the weight of its trunk supporting the roof). It was also a solar sign calling harvest and welfare to the house.

Wooden toys – horses – are displayed at the exhibition. Every craftsman works out his or her own forms of this small wooden sculpture. But all of them have the features that are inherent in all folk sculpture: conditionality of the image, generality of the form, utmost expression. But in spite of conditionality of forms and painting, the image of the horse, sometimes mighty and immovable in its grandeur, sometimes cheerful and sweeping, appears before us in all its beauty.

The distaff was a typical article in the everyday life of any Russian woman - from youth and till great age. They put a lot of emotional warmth into its decoration. Subjects of people’s life occupied a significant place in the painting of distaffs along with floral ornaments. The scenes were connected with the wedding rite: a bridegroom’s visit to his fiancee, a trip of the newly-weds in the sleigh or cart drawn by a horse. Details of the loom were also richly decorated, especially loom slays. Two conventionalized horse’s heads were painted on the upper slay (on which weaver’s arms lay). It was a traditional centuries-old composition in the decoration of this detail.

A clay toy has a special place among numerous kinds of folk art. Folk craftsmen expressed their ideas about the world, nature and people in it. Using minute amount of material and tools, they created expressive images, followed the path of generalization emphasizing only the most important, typical.

Clay toys were made in high antiquity. The most ancient clay sculptures found in our country dated from 2000 B.C.

Images of horses, horsemen, woman’s figures, and birds were repeated in the clay toys from century to century. They personified natural forces and served as symbols that connected the man with space. For example, the horse symbolized the sun, promoted vegetation of grass, cereals and fertility of animals. The idea of land productivity was also connected with it. Therefore a stack of rye bread consisting of 20 sheaves was called “kobylka” (i.e. a horse, a mare) in the North. Crested, proud horses were shaped of clay.

“My horse, horse, Slavic horse, wild and intractable”, wrote A.K. Tolstoy. It is a fantastic creature in the magic tales: with silver hair and golden mane. When it runs, flame streams from its nostrils and ears. It runs “higher than standing forest and a walking cloud, lets lakes pass through its legs, and covers fields and meadows with its tail”. Probably, the fly-away mane of the running horse was associated with tongues of flame and fire - with the sun. But perhaps, the moving horse-drawn chariot was compared with the motion of the sun in the sky. Summer sun was called “burka” (chestnut horse) in the North and winter sun – “sivka” (grey horse). The image of a rider was connected with the revival of warmth, light, life and harvest in the folk poetic notions. The mythic image of Polkan that was often made by the craftsmen of Kargopol was a symbol of fertility from time immemorial.

The exhibition also presents souvenir horses of the most ancient folk artistic crafts of Russia: Kargopol, Gzhel, Filimonovo, and author’s works of craftsmen M. Vasilieva, T. Zavarin, Z. Zirin, S. Fenveshi. They preserve and develop wonderful traditions of folk decorative and applied arts, this real spring of modern artistic culture.

L.M. Kharlapenkova, research officer of the Exposition and Exhibition Department

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