With the collapse of Imperial Russia and the rise of the Bolsheviks in 1917, the art & prayer of icon painting was suppressed. Iconographers, in need of work, developed the art of the lacquer box. It has grown in particular in four villages, one near Moscow and the other three in the Ivanovo region of central Russia.
These four villages, through a long and intricate process, produce thousands of beautiful papier-mache boxes masterfully painted with detailed scenes from Russian faerytales. In three of the villages, they still use egg tempera and gold leafing just as the iconographers did before them. Artists apply from all over to work in designing and painting the boxes, but only a handful of the best are accepted.
From the Russian Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union, those who embraced Christ were persecuted. They were not free to open a window to the Divine through iconography, but turned to the fairytale. In faerytales, we see the Good victorious over evil. We see the unexpected hero, assisted by an Inexplicable Force, triumph against all odds, sacrifice to save the Beautiful, and wed his bride.
Now in Russia, iconography is seeing a revival, thankfully. And now we also have the additional art of the lacquer box, the iconography of faerytales.
Today, in our second week of elementary art camp, we read Tsarevich Ivan, the Gray Wolf & the Firebird, learned about how Russian lacquer boxes are made, and made an abbreviated version of our own. The kids loved it, and after making their own unique drawings of the firebird on paper, did their best to hold the tiny brushes upright and execute embellishments in metallic gold around the image of the firebird on their boxes.
If you want to learn more about how the lacquer boxes are made, this is a brief explanation...