The decorative art of Udmurt folk.
The decorative art of Udmurt folk masters is an age-old tradition. Its share in the cultural heritage of the region lying between the Volga and the Urals is large and important. Parallel with Udmurt folklore and other branches of folk art, decorative work remains a factor of people's spiritual life, a form of materialization of national consciousness.
Udmurtia has given birth to a vivid and original artistic culture. In this land one comes across many productions of decorative and applied arts, monuments of peasant architecture. The role of Udmurtia in the artistic development of the region can partly be explained by historical and economic reasons as well as by geographical conditions. A typical local scenery opens an expanse of coniferous and leaf-bearing forests with patches of fields and water-meadows bedecked with the embroidery of flowers and grass.
Not all the branches of the Udmurt decorative art have been sufficiently studied. It was in the 18th century that scholars first took notice of the ornamented articles made by Udmurt craftsmen. Mention of their art is to be found in scientific papers and travel notes that were left by P. Pallas, G. Miller, I. Gheorghi, N. Rychkov. Their studies of the customs and the mode of life of the peoples living in the Volga region were continued by ethnographers of the 19th century. Considerable ethnographic material on the Udmurts was collected and published in the last decades of the century. On the whole, however, the literary sources of the pre-revolutionary period contain but occasional references to ornamented clothes, woven and embroidered fabrics, wood-carving as well as to the use that was made of these products by common people. A systematic and consistent research in Udmurt art was undertaken in the post-revolutionary time. Large-scale studies were carried out in the 1920s and 1930s. This work was done by groups of scholars which were sent to the republic by different cultural and academic institutions. An ethnographic expedition of the Central Museum of National Cultures, headed by Prof. B. Sokolov, began to work in 1925. An expedition of the Leningrad Branch of the Academy of Sciences worked in Udmurtia from 1926 to 1928. Two expeditions, in 1930 and 1931, were led by N. Marr, director of the Institute of the Peoples of the Soviet East. The materials of the 1930 expedition were published in The Transactions of the Institute of the Peoples of the Soviet East. All the papers that appeared in the Transactions carried much new information. They retain their importance till the present time.
Much was done for the study of the Udmurt folk art by V. Belitser, the author of the monograph The National Costume of the Udmurts (Moscow, 1951). In the 1960s and the 1970s products of Udmurt handicraftsmen often appeared at large exhibitions which were held by artistic unions of the Russian Federation and the USSR. These expositions were at once a factor of popularization and an aid in research. Among the publications of that period the albums Udmurt Popular Ornament by V. Semenov (Izhevsk, 1964) and The Imitative Art of Udmurt Folk Masters by T. Kryukova (Izhevsk-Leningrad, 1973) deserve special notice. Works containing a critical analysis of the production of Udmurt folk artists were published in the proceedings of the research institute which was set up by the Udmurt ASSR Council of Ministers. Among the authors were S. Vinogradova, N. Koroleva, K. Klimov.
In recent years the Udmurt folk art attracted the attention of some foreign authors. Among those who wrote on the subject were Nilo Valonen and Ildikó Lehtinen from Finland, etc.
An analysis of literary publications dealing with the popular art of the Udmurts will show that their authors usually confine themselves to the examination of certain separately taken questions. No attempt has been made till now to survey the subject as a whole. Therefore, a study in which the previously collected material as well as newly obtained documents and recent findings in the field could be investigated in their entirety will be useful from the scientific, artistic and practical points of view. These considerations were taken as a principle of the present work. The album is largely based on materials which were provided by the collections of the Republican Museum of Local Lore and the Udmurt ASSR Art Museum. Use was also made of some private collections belonging to local masters.
PRODUCTS OF UDMURT DECORATIVE ART IN THE INTERIOR OF PEASANT HOME OF THE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURIES
Popular art is a mirror in which the national character, people's concepts of the world, their beliefs and ideals are reflected. The art created by folk masters exists and functions in man's immediate environment. This is primarily his home, with its specific organization of the space, with numerous objects which, serving the needs and tastes of the inhabitants, show their hierarchy of values and aesthetic standards. At the same time the character and appearance of man's home depend on the climatic conditions of the country and its landscape. In the Udmurt peasant architecture the structural-spatial correlations were established with regard for the specific features of the locality. Architecturally Udmurt villages were closely bound with the surrounding landscape with which they formed ensembles of buildings and natural scenery.
Making good use of the natural factor, the peasant architects—builders of houses and churches—devised ingenious schemes of village planning. In a finished homestead of an Udmurt peasant the general lay-out of the inner yard, the house and the outbuildings is easlily traceable.
The expressive effect of an Udmurt homestead is largely achieved owing to the outer gates which compositionally unite all the structures and buildings into a complete ensemble. The ornamental scheme of the gates is characteristic of the conception of space that was prevalent among Udmurt folk artists. This is vividly illustrated by solar symbolics-disks, ovals, rhombes, semicircles-which enter the decor of gate-posts. The ornamentation is highly diverse. The principal solar motif—an emblematic image of the sun—was done in the technique of trihedral-groove carving. The specific attitude of Udmurts to their homes was partly determined by the patriarchal tenor of life, a comparative ethnic separateness and geographic remoteness. There was a world of specific imagery and concepts in the complex system of the objective-spatial correlations forming the ensemble of the peasant dwelling. In plastic form the art expressed the beliefs of the inhabitants, their attitude toward life and reality. It was very vividly shown in the decor of the kenos an korka, two national types of dwelling which were in use in the first half of the 19th century. Kenos was a summer cottage without a stove. For the winter the family moved to korka—a hat which had an oven but had no chimney. In the second half of the century korka was replaced by a house with a flue which did not differ much from the Russian peasant house. Particularly interesting is the construction of a two-storied kenos. In the ensemble of an Udmurt homestead such cottages were conspicuous. On the ground floor kenos had a pantry and a granary. On the first floor the family slept. Kenos had an elongated form and was covered with a wooden gable roof. On the front side it had a gallery which was laid on the projecting ends of the timbers of the lateral walls. The gallery was supported by pillar-posts decorated with carved patterns. An external staircase led up to the gallery and the first-floor rooms. Well-to-do families built two or three kenoses in one homestead thus providing separate accommodation for each married couple. In these cottages the newly-weds spent the first months of their married life.
The scheme of the kenos interior is simple and rational. Usually it contains very few things, but these are chosen judiciously, with due regard for their functional and decorative value. This selection of the interior elements, strict and logical, is in itself a proof of the sense of style.
The decor usually included various kinds of loom work. Its most important details were curtains with elaborate ornament and fine-spun bedcovers. Hand-made towels, hanging on the walls and from the tie-beam, were also part of the decorative scheme. Their ornament, notable for a great variety of patterns, had many common features with the designs of the curtains, bedcovers and carpets. There was a typical composition: three transversal stripes at each end of the towel. About one third of the whole length of the towel was covered by ornament.
Fancy fabrics of utilitarian and decorative use, in harmony with the other details of the interior, created an original and vivid ensemble of various utensils and materials. In later years the Udmurts introduced the principles of the kenos interior into the decor of the winter house—korka. The schemes of the domestic interior are different in the South and in the North of Udmurtia.
The fabrics that were predominant in the decor of the northern home were made in the techniques of damask and multiple-harness weaving. The ornament was characterized by laconic geometrical forms, clarity and simplicity of structural rhythms, by gay and pure colors. In the figured weaving of the northern Udmurts one can discern stylistic peculiarities which are evocative of the art of the kindred Finno-Ugric peoples living in the region between the Volga and the Urals as well as of the art of the Russian North. Their affinity is manifested in the practice of figured double-weft weaving, in even and detailed elaboration of the pattern which for the most part is geometrical, in popularity of red-and-white compositions and prevalence of linen work.
Among the subjects covered in the book is the decorative art of the Besermyans. A special consideration is given to the role of figured weaving in the decoration of their homes. In the work of the Besermyan weavers there are features which testify to its affinity with the products of the northern Udmurts and also characteristics which are common to it and the production of the southern districts. Besermyans produced original open-work fabrics in which the threads of the warp and the weft were wound singly and in groups. Ornament of open-work weaving was used in bedcovers, towels, tablecloths, cradle napkins. The chapter contains a detailed analysis of such crafts of the southern Udmurts as figured weaving and the production of tapestries. In the southern districts the local homes are lavishly decorated with various hand-made fabrics. Their distinctive marks—opulent coloring and diverse geometrical ornament—give an idea of the national concepts of domestic comfort and good housekeeping.
A prominent role in the local homes was played by carpets. In the technique of tapestry-making the threads of the warp are parted and tied by hand. Compositionally these carpets fall into two classes: those which have no edging and those which have a central field and a border. The peculiarities of local woven articles largely depend on the chosen technique of execution. The specific quality of the work of the Udmurt weavers in the southern districts is its flamboyant coloring. Owing to the use of woolen yarn in the weft, the ornamental patterns are rather large and abstract. The arrangement of colors is asymmetric, showing lack of coincidence of linear and tonal rhythms.
By its technical methods, ornamentation, aesthetic priorities and assortment of products the figured weaving of the southern Udmurts differs from what is done by weavers of all other peoples belonging to the Finno-Ugric group.
It was always a peculiarity of the Udmurt interior that it included very few pieces of furniture. The space was mostly occupied by utensils and ornaments. Besides hand-woven fabrics there were various wooden articles: dishes and ritualistic vessels, sewing appliances and distaffs with carved ornament, saltcellars and tueses (birch-bark cylindrical vessels with a lid), baby cradles, and treasure chests which were designed specially to be kept under the pillow. Their common features were a tectonic principle of construction, plasticity of form, an imaginative silhouette and sparing use of ornament. The Udmurt woodenware and wickerwork, unlike the decorative fabrics, do not show much stylistic difference in the northern districts and in the south. It is in these branches of Udmurt handicraft production that the approach is the most uniform, especially in wood carving where most of the masters follow established aesthetic conceptions and adhere to the same norms. They have developed their own technology which allows them to show to advantage the decorative properties of the material.
Vessels that were used for rituals were diverse in shape and decor. Usually they were carved from trunk, knobs or boughs of birch, from asp or fir. One of the interesting aricles was a large scoop made in the shape of a bird or a boat. It was used by women and was a symbol of the stability of the family, its indivis-ibleness and strength of blood relationship.
A peculiar sort of domestic woodenware were bowls in which gruel was served at the betrothal, when the sum to be paid for the bride was being discussed. Usually these bowls were marked with the specific sign of the clan. They could bear it on the inner or the outer wall. These signs, known as tamgas, can also be found on other kinds of tableware and ritualistic vessels. The birch-bark tueses are diverse in style and richly decorated. Their geometrical ornament—triangles, rhombic motifs, circles—is evocative of the ancient solar symbolics.
Owing to observation and life in the natural surrounding the Udmurt master has developed a perfect sense of the material. He handles it artistically. An understanding of the specific qualities of the material is vividly displayed, sometimes in an accentuated form, in the practice of wickerwork. There were always many wicker baskets and other things of this sort in the peasant homes. No wonder: sufficient quantities of light and strong material werei at hand, while the technique of the treatment of willow twigs, pine chips and birch bark was not particularly complicated.
The Udmurt masters made wide use of different techniques of platting: checkered, spiral, longitudinal, transversal-sliding in all its variants. Thus, checkered platting was used in the production of large baskets (hampers). They were made from pine chips and were intended for keeping wool, down, textiles or linen.
DECORATIVE ELEMENTS IN THE TRADITIONAL UDMURT COSTUME OF THE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURIES
The decorative system which was predominant in the interior stemmed from a rich tradition of ornamental and tonal patterns developed by makers of woven fabrics. Ornamentation of clothes had the same basis. In the harmonious scheme of the domestic interior a special place belonged to the costume which was an essential part of the ensemble.
The most characteristic examples of the traditional women's costume and its decor are provided by the clothes of the northern Ud-murts. They still retain some features of construction and ornament that were peculiar to the ancient Udmurt costume. Women's garments, notable for simple, unassuming forms, practicalness and graceful proportions, possessed a special expressive quality. Till the first half of the 19th century the decor consisted mainly of embroidery. In the second half of the century the northern Udmurts introduced figured weave. Ornament of red damask patterns covered the sleeves and the hem of the skirt. The designs stood out against the white background of the cloth. Each garment had its particular ornamental scheme and a definite correlation of the decorated surface and the plain field. On the women's costume embroidered or woven patterns were placed in a definite order on the breast, the sleeves and the hem of the skirt. A densely ornamented chemisette (kabachi) was seen between the lappets of the dressing gown. The ornament included some complicated and labour-consuming types of traditional elements of ornamentation in the village home with those born of the contemporary life. There are also cases, though not many, when a dwelling preserves traditional appearance. Now in a living interior one can find a shift in accents: the light movable fabrics of the curtains, formerly the principal ornamental element, have yielded precedence to furniture upholstery. The new ensemble has been largely formed by factory-made furniture and fabrics. However, manufactured and handmade cloths, dissimilar as they are, do not contradict each other. They are rather correlated (in scale and color, rhythmically and seman-tically) and tend to create a harmonious unity.
Among those who in our days make woven fabrics and napless carpets there are masters of a highly personal style and no mean talent. Such well-known artists as G. Bekhtereva, 0. Timofeyeva, Z. Mazitova and many others show in their work all the variety and splendour of Udmurt ornamental motifs. They carry on the old tradition reworking it in their own idiom.
In recent years the practice of decoration of the Udmurt home has undergone considerable changes. Never before ornaments for a peasant house were chosen with such care. Wide use is made of carving and painting which have become important elements of the decor. Carved ornaments can be seen on window and door casings, cornices, the frontal as well as on the planks of the siding and the tympanum. A distinctive feature of houses which were built in the last five years or so are painted casings of doors and windows. Polychrome painting (in two or three colours) is more usual on applique ornaments which are combined with kerfs. Colour serves as a connecting link which establishes ties between the decorative schemes of the interior and the exterior. In some wooden articles the ornamental carving includes motifs similar to those found on woven fabrics.
The processes which are now at work in the Udmurt popular art are processes of revival and development. At the same time there are problems. These are problems of professional and organizational character, which are common to many regions of the country. The most important of them are connected with the widening of the sphere of art production, the revival of some centres of weaving which became extinct in the first decades of this century and activation of those which exist now, the adoption of new forms of organization and measures which will allow to increase the number of masters and heighten the prestige of the profession. Should these problems be successfully solved, it will open up new vistas for the development of popular art in the contemporary conditions.