Everything traditional and ethnic is always beautiful because it shows a lot about a country’s identity. Start from the food to the dance and music. Russia has some of the most popular folk arts in the world that a lot of people desire to collect such as Gzhel porcelain, Matryoshka dolls, Tula Samovar, Vologda Lace, Zhostovo Painting, and many more. One handicraft that we are about to discuss here is the Russian Rag Doll. It is unique and special for some reasons. Let us find out why.
In ancient Russia, there were a few dolls with no faces. Most of them were simply made of fabric and cloth for children to play with. The dresses of these dolls were always bright-colored and embroidered with symbols. It was believed that keeping the dolls faceless would make them inanimate and prevent them from getting possessed by evil spirits so the children could play with the dolls safely. But it was also said that the blank face was intended to build the children’s imaginations so they could fit the mood of the story they were playing with the dolls. Russian girls were also encouraged to make their own rag dolls to teach them sewing, knitting, and weaving skills in a fun way. Another reason was that Russian peasant families were poor and with many children so they had to be creative in making affordable toys to amuse the kids.
Although dolls are generally seen as one of children’s favorite toys, in Russia they are more than just that. This is why some of its folk arts are shaped as dolls. The Russians believe that traditional folk dolls are vessels to transmit sacred values and knowledge about the mother land across generations so that the modern youth will still hold on to the tradition and love their root.
Types of Russian Rag Dolls and Their Purposes
Did you know that most of Russians believe in superstition? It is a part of their “being a Russian” thing. This will make you understand why they sometimes use the traditional dolls as mediums for some sort of supernatural purposes. There are three types of Russian rag dolls:
- Amulet Dolls; they always appear faceless and dressed in fabric with magical symbols to keep the owner safe. This type of rag doll is believed to hold the talisman role as a magic object. Like mentioned before, the faceless feature is a way to prevent the doll diverting from its purpose as an inanimate object by getting possessed by evil spirits.
- Playing Dolls; like the name, these dolls are made to entertain children. They are made by stitched or folded cloth. For the folded version, no needles needed. It only takes a wooden stick that is covered by a thick piece of fabric and then tied around with a rope for the body. The head and arms are added next, and then it is ready to be dressed with all the beautiful dresses cut out from colorful fabrics. Another version of the playing doll doesn’t even use stick. It is all thick fabric tied around with a rope all the way to the head and arms.
- Ritual Dolls; these dolls come with many purposes and each of them is made with a special “recipe”. They may look just like common rag dolls, but they hold spells in them. This is why ritual rag dolls should be kept in a special place or corner to honor them. A house that keeps a Fertility doll is believed to reap good wealth and health. There is also a bather doll that is meant to be floated down the river before the swimming season begins. This doll will take away all the illness and sorrow while purifying the water for the people who will use it. The most famous ritual doll in Russia is probably the Maslenitsa or Shrovetide doll that is made of straw and meant to be burned to say goodbye to the winter. There are also dolls stuffed with medicine herbs to heal people and cinder dolls for the newlyweds.
There are still many other types of ritual dolls around Russia although not as many as the old time. The one that is still strongly used by the Russians is the Maslenitsa doll during the pancake week.
Rag Dolls in Modern Russia
Russian children may not be taught to make rag dolls anymore today, but Russian rag dolls will always be an important part of Russian tradition. Tourists and travelers from all over the world who visit the country would look for the rag dolls to bring home as souvenirs. The appearance of today’s Russian rag dolls is definitely different from the vintage ones. First, because there are more materials available to be used to make the dolls, and second because these dolls are mostly to be sold so they have to be made with excellent quality.
You can find many types of rag dolls to choose from in souvenir shops around Russia. Some of them come in a set of a family, some common ones depict a babushka or a Russian girl. The interesting thing is, the “faceless” tradition is still loyally carried on. You can find ones with painted faces, but the authentic ones usually show blank faces. Some amazing crafters make very intricate rag dolls with jaw-dropping details on the dresses, hair, and shoes. Every rag doll is made with a unique personality that would tell its own story through the way it looks. If you ever have a chance to visit Russia, spare some of your rubles to buy one of these unique Russian rag dolls.