Matryoshka Dolls

Matryoshka Dolls

What are Russian nesting dolls?

These popular toys are sets of hollow dolls, which fit perfectly one inside of each other. Each doll is painted with a design reflecting the theme of the set - usually ordinary people but sometimes animals, fictional characters, or natural scenes. They open via a seam in the middle and can be displayed separately or together. Nesting dolls primarily come from Russia and feature Russian-inspired designs.

What are they used for?

Nesting dolls are a popular souvenir from Russia, as the designs of the dolls often represent traditional Russian clothing. If you know someone who's into Russian culture, a set of nesting dolls makes the perfect gift. However, you can buy them for yourself too! Whether separate or all together, they make a lovely, colorful display anywhere in your home. Nesting dolls are also a popular toy - children can get endless hours of fun disassembling and re-assembling their doll set!

How many are in a set?

There is no one "universal number" of how many nesting dolls can be in one set. Here at Nesting Dolls, we offer both small sets in 5, 6, and 7-piece  versions and larger sets featuring 8, 10 or even 15 distinct dolls. The "correct" number of dolls in a doll set is "however many you want there to be"!

What kind of designs can I buy?

Traditional nesting doll designs feature a family of men, women and children dressed in traditional Russian peasant clothing. Today, however, you can buy all sorts of unique doll variations. There are nesting doll sets which feature politicians, historical figures, celebrities, fictional characters, animals, natural scenes and abstract patterns. You can even purchase a blank set of dolls which you can paint yourself with any design you want!

What does "matryoshka" mean?

"Matryoshka" is a Russian word meaning "little matron" or "little mother". It is also a reference to "Matriosha", one of the most common female names among the Russian peasantry. Nesting dolls are also called "matryoshka dolls" because the largest doll often represents a mother or the head of a large family.

Why are they sometimes called "babushka dolls"?

"Babushka" is another Russian word which refers to women, but it means "old woman" or "grandmother". Some matryoshka dolls have been marketed as "babushka dolls" in countries outside of Russia by sellers who are not aware of the symbolism of the largest doll as the mother. However, "babushka" is also the word used to refer to the brightly colored head kerchiefs worn by many Russian women. True "babushka dolls" are a particular variety of matryoshka doll where one or more of the dolls are depicted wearing a babushka kerchief.

Which is the proper name, "matryoshka doll" or "babushka doll"?

"Matryoshka doll" is the proper name for all Russian nesting dolls. "Babushka doll" only refers to a nesting doll set where the female dolls (or at least the largest female doll) are depicted wearing "babushka" kerchiefs.

What do they symbolize?

Nesting dolls symbolize the fertility of the mother and her role as the protector and caretaker of the family. The largest doll is usually the mother, and she literally "contains" her children (and sometimes spouse, extended family members, pets and other relatives) within her. They also represent the Russian idea of a large family whose members live together and take care of one another. The older family members (larger dolls) have the younger family members (smaller dolls) inside them, thus protecting them.

What are they made out of?

Matryoshka dolls are made out of high quality, carefully selected and harvested wood. Woods are chosen for their soft, smooth texture, so that they can easily be carved into a round shape. Each doll is carefully carved using a machine called a "lathe".

Are they painted by hand?

Yes. All nesting dolls are traditionally painted by hand.

Can they get scratched?

It is possible, but highly unlikely. All nesting dolls are primed with a starch-based glue and covered with multiple layers of lacquer. This effectively prevents any scratching to the painted wooden surface of the nesting dolls.

How do I keep them from getting scratched or damaged?

Because nesting dolls are so well-protected from scratches by glue and lacquer, it is not likely that you will have to take much action to keep them safe. However, we do recommend storing them somewhere in your house where they cannot easily be knocked over to minimise the chance of damage.

Do they originally come from Russia?

Actually, the answer to this is both "yes" and "no". The traditional matryoshka dolls, featuring a family led by a doll representing the "mother," did indeed originate in Russia. However, these dolls were inspired by other objects from different cultures. In particular, ancient Chinese artisans created storage boxes which, when empty, fit neatly inside each other in order to save space. In Japan, series of stacking figures based on the "Seven Lucky Gods" were popular as both toys and religious items. It is believed that the first Russian nesting dolls were inspired by one or both of these items.

When did they first appear?

The Chinese stacking boxes and Japanese "lucky god" figurines have been reported appearing as early as 1000 AD. However, the first Russian matryoshka dolls were produced in the late 1890s and were first put on display in the year 1900.

What did other countries use them for?

China used nesting boxes for storage. They thought of it as a way to save space. The boxes could be stacked when empty and then taken apart when they needed to be filled. Japan used an early version of the "nesting doll" concept as religious figurines depicting the "Seven Lucky Gods", seven of the most important gods in the Shinto religion. It was believed that having figurines of these dolls in your house would result in your family being blessed with good fortune. Russia was the first country to use nesting dolls exclusively as toys, rather than for a more practical purpose.

How did they arrive in Russia?

Nesting dolls arrived in Russia thanks to a woman named Elizaveta Mamontova. She was the wife of a wealthy Russian entrepreneur, Savva Mamontov, and she loved to travel. She first encountered the "lucky gods dolls" while visiting Japan and brought a set back to show her husband. Savva was one of the founders of an organization called the Children's Education Workshop, which was aimed at educating children about Russian history and traditional cultural values. Mamontova thought that the doll was something her husband could re-work into an educational tool - and she was right!

Who made the first Russian nesting doll set?

The first set of Russian nesting dolls was made by two workers at the Children's Education Workshop in Russia. Their names were Vasili Zvyozdochkin and Sergei Malyutin. They were accomplished dollmakers, and Zvyozdochkin in particular was very fascinated by the concept of "hidden secrets," which is why the "nesting" design of the dolls appealed to him.

What year was the first set made?

The first set of Russian nesting dolls was made in the year 1890. However, it was not displayed to the rest of the world until the year 1900, with nesting dolls becoming available internationally following this point.

Why did the makers decide on a set of nesting dolls?

They were inspired both by the set of Japanese dolls Elizaveta Mamontova had brought back and by the concept of toys which "had something hidden inside of them". Toys with "hidden secrets" were popular at the time in Russia due to the use of hollow, opening eggs to celebrate the Easter holiday. They also liked the idea that the large doll could represent the mother, who was the most important member of the traditional Russian family.

Why was the first nesting doll called the "Rooster Girl"?

The first set of nesting dolls made by Zvyozdochkin and Malyutin was designed to be as accurate a representation as possible of a Russian peasant family. Therefore, many of the dolls were carrying common household items such as a broom for sweeping and a scythe for harvesting. The largest doll, representing the mother, is holding a distinctive black rooster in her arms, to represent how many families kept chickens and used them as a source of food or a way to make money through selling eggs. Because of the bold, distinctive appearance of the rooster, this doll came to be known as "Rooster Girl".

How did they spread to the rest of the world?

Elizaveta Mamontova brought the "Rooster Girl" set to the Exposition Universelle, a World's Fair-like exhibition held in Paris in the year 1900. The dolls were entered into a competition along with other toys from around the world and they won a bronze medal. After this, the dolls became very popular and many visitors to Russia sought them out as souvenirs. Mass production and international export of nesting dolls began shortly after this.

What was the biggest set ever made?

The biggest nesting doll set was made in 2003 and was crafted and painted by Russian artist Youlia Bereznitskaia. The set consists of 51 dolls in total. Lined up next to each other, the set spans approximately 11 feet, or 3.5 meters. It holds a record in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most nesting dolls in a single set.

Where is the world's biggest nesting doll?

Surprisingly, the world's biggest nesting doll is not in Russia. It can be found as part of a tourist attraction called the "Matryoshka Piazza" in China's Manchuria region. The plaza contains over 200 large and small matryoshka dolls. The largest one is 100 feet (30 meters) tall and is painted with designs of girls wearing traditional Russian, Chinese and Mongolian clothing.

How do I open a big nesting doll?

First, place the doll on a soft surface such as a sofa or bed. This will prevent the paint and lacquer coating the doll from becoming scratched. Then, hold the doll parallel to your body with one hand on the top part (above the seam) and one hand on the bottom part. Gently twist slightly and then pull the two sides apart. The doll should come apart easily with little resistance. Make sure not to drop the smaller dolls found inside once the larger doll comes apart.

How do I open a small nesting doll?

Sometimes, smaller nesting dolls can be slightly more difficult to open because the seam is smaller and it can be more difficult to get a grip on the two sides. If you're having trouble, you can gently apply pressure to the seam of the doll using your thumb and middle finger. This should create a small gap which will make the doll come open more easily. You can also insert a fingernail into the seam to gently separate the two halves of the doll.

Help! My nesting doll won't open!

If this happens, don't panic! Do not shake, hit or smack the doll - applying too much pressure to the wrong parts can only make any difficulties opening it even worse. Instead, remain calm and continue handling the doll carefully. Lay the doll on a soft surface such as a pillow, mattress or sofa cushion. Using your hand, gently apply pressure to the seam between the two halves of the doll. Continue doing this until a small gap is created. Once this happens, open the doll as described above.

Where should I store them?

Store your nesting dolls somewhere dry and room temperature. Excessive humidity can damage the dolls by causing the wood to warp and making them more difficult to open. If the dolls will be on display, pick a temperature-controlled area of your house such as the living room. If you have to put them into storage, keep them somewhere safe and dry where moisture cannot enter. Do not store them next to any sharp or rough objects which could cause the wood to become scratched.

Do they make a good gift?

Definitely! Matryoshka dolls make the perfect gift for any and all special people in your life. They're a fun toy for children and a beautiful household decoration for the older crowd. Plus, because of their unique stacking capabilities, they can be easily stored and don't take up much space in the house. Want to show someone how much they mean to you, or congratulate someone on a special occasion in their lives? Give the gift of nesting dolls today!

Why are they such a great souvenir?

Matryoshka dolls are one of the most popular Russian souvenirs, and for good reason. They're lightweight, easy to store and transport and extremely durable, so they will not become scratched or damaged during travel. Plus, their bright colors and traditional Russian flair add unique character as a decoration. Kids can also learn a lot about traditional Russian peasant life through a gift of nesting dolls!

What are some good occasions for gifting them?

You can give a set of nesting dolls as a gift at absolutely any time you want! However, some particularly awesome nesting doll gifting opportunities include Mother's Day and housewarming parties. Show your mother, spouse or grandmother just how much she means to you with a gift that symbolizes the importance of the mother in running the family and keeping it together. Housewarming parties are another excellent occasion because nesting dolls make a fantastic decoration which can provide a splash of color on any mantelpiece, shelf or table. It'll brighten up any new house in an instant!

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